To the editor:
(re: “E-bikes now legal in New York,” April 23)
Having cycled well over 10,000 miles in my lifetime, I have long respected and advocated for the physical and mental health benefits that inure from cycling. My several years as a member of Community Board 8 have included active participation on its parks and recreation, and its traffic and transportation committees, where I have advocated for safe opportunities for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
In that context, I have been thrilled to observe the expanded cycling opportunities afforded to our community by the availability of e-bikes, especially for the hard-working delivery workers, who had suffered with the significant expense of owning and operating — and getting parking tickets on — an automobile. E-bikes have provided a cost-effective way to do their jobs.
(Full disclosure: I have only ridden an e-bike once, a year ago, when CB8 conducted a bike safety session in Van Cortlandt Park, and a vendor provided demo pedal-assisted e-bikes. It was fun, but I have no interest in using one again. I’ll do my own pedaling, thank you.)
However, your front page picture points out the exact problem with certain e-bikes: the brightly dressed rider is clearly operating a throttle-controlled bike the wrong way on a one-way street (Fieldston Road, between West 236th and West 238th streets). With my many years as a driver, pedestrian and cyclist, I have been shocked to experience multiple near-collisions with e-bikes in each mode — all due to throttle-controlled e-bikes, usually going the wrong way on the street, or at excessive speeds in a bike-only lane, or on the sidewalk.
Whereas pedal-assist e-bikes only provide extra propulsion when the rider is actively engaged in pedaling, throttle-controlled e-bikes operate passively and silently by using a hand-control on the handlebars. Pedal-assist requires significant attention to what the operator is doing amidst traffic. However, throttle controls are like that of a motorcycle, or an automobile gas pedal, that enables the rider to become oblivious to what they are doing on our roads, for example, dangerously focusing on their smartphone, like car drivers unfortunately also do.
I welcome the opportunity for all to use pedal-assist e-bikes — with a maximum top speed of 12 to 15 mph, who much obey all vehicle and traffic rules. However, throttle-controlled bikes should only be allowed as fully licensed vehicles (like cars, or the very similar motorcycles), subject to severe penalties for violating traffic laws, such as the operator in your cover page picture.