North Brooklyn

E-scooters, bikes took Navy Yard by storm last week, as NYC hopes for transit solutions

September 9, 2020 Mary Frost
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Boerum Hill resident Ann Villaveccs, a nurse at Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, had been trying to get her hands on a bicycle since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, her wish came true, via Transportation Alternatives’ bike match program.

“My family and friends sent me links to the program,” she said. “I’m so happy. They don’t know how much this means.”

Villaveccs was one of 50 health care, transportation and food workers who were gifted new bicycles on Friday through the program.

Boerum Hill resident Ann Villaveccs, a nurse at Brooklyn’s Methodist Hospital, has been trying to get a bicycle since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, she got one for free, courtesy of Transportation Alternative’s #BikeMatch program and Superpedestrian. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

The bikes were donated by the micro-mobility company Superpedestrian. And for fun, recipients got a chance to test-drive Superpedestrian’s new “smart” LINK electric scooters.

With bicycles in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sturdy 3-speed bikes, worth roughly $1,000, are a godsend, the recipients said. The workers registered for the bicycles through Transportation Alternatives, as well as through Make the Road New York and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

Aneta Wojtowicz, a physical therapist at Montefiore Hospital, tried on helmets for size. The helmets were donated by the NYC Department of Transportation. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

Aneta Wojtowicz, a physical therapist at Montefiore Hospital, said she has been on a waiting list for a bike for months. Wojtowicz was thrilled to receive one on Friday, and plans to ride it to work — a distance of 17 miles.

“I have to take a bus, then a subway, then another subway to get to work,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. Her regular commute takes her more than two hours, so, “I prefer taking a bike,” she said.

Park Slope resident Sam Faria says he is going to ride his new bicycle to work at the Trader Joe’s in Soho.

Sam Faria rode his new bicycle. Faria, a resident of Park Slope, says he plans to ride the bike to his job at Trader Joe’s in Soho. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

“Everyone’s biking right now,” he said. “My coworker got a bike through the program. When I saw that I said, ‘I need this,’ and signed up.”

“To have my own bike is wonderful,” said Jasmine Billups, an essential worker with the MTA in Downtown Brooklyn. She plans to ride her bike for exercise.

The program (aka #BikeMatch) usually matches New Yorkers who have an extra bike with essential workers who need one, Transportation Alternative’s Em Friedenberg told the Eagle.

Jasmine Billups, a Queens resident, works for the MTA on Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn. “To have my own bike is wonderful,” she said. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

“The program has been running through the pandemic. We’ve matched about a hundred essential workers in New York City,” and the concept has spread to roughly 30 other cities, she said.

But in this case, Superpedestrian donated 50 bicycles all at once — a big win for essential workers.

As an added perk, the NYC Department of Transportation gave the recipients free bicycle helmets.

From left, Transportation Alternative’s Christine Hsu, Jessica Medina, Oscar Canada and Em Friedenberg discussed the features of the bicycles donated by Superpedestrian. Medina is a supervisor for the 2020 Census and also the regional director for the nonprofit Borgen Project, which fights poverty. Canada works for a pharmacy in Long Island City. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

Taking a smart e-scooter for a spin

This lucky reporter also got a chance to try out Superpedestrian’s LINK e-scooter at the event (Woo hoo!). I was curious how hard it would be to ride, since I’d never been on an electric scooter before.

Here’s the report: The scooter is quite easy to ride. It takes about 15 seconds to figure out where the brakes and throttle are (on the handlebars), then push off and get rolling. It’s just like riding a regular scooter, except you don’t have to expend any effort. The center of gravity is low, so it feels stable. The top speed is 15 mph, which puts it in the bicycle category (so please, wear a bicycle helmet.) The city can set lower speed limits if it wants to.

The scooter is equipped with onboard geofencing, which prevents the rider from venturing into no-go zones like sidewalks. The company set up a hot zone in a lot at the Navy Yard, and the scooters successfully slowed, then stopped, as they approached it.

Brooklyn Eagle reporter Mary Frost took her first ride on a LINK electric scooter, made by Superpedestrian. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

Get ready for e-scooters, Brooklyn

Shared e-scooters have been approved by New York City for all the boroughs except Manhattan, and Superpedestrian will be one of the companies responding to the city’s upcoming request for proposals. A pilot program could launch as early as March, 2021 — so get ready for Brooklyn to be e-scooter central next year.

Other companies likely to participate in the RFP include well-known names like Lime, Bird and Lyft. However, Superpedestrian thinks its scooters will shine because they were designed by a spinoff of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, which zeroes in on the particular challenges faced by cities.

Brooklyn Eagle reporter Mary Frost prepared to test drive one of Superpedestrian’s LINK e-scooters. Superpedestrian’s Paul Steely White helped her with her helmet. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

Besides onboard geofencing, the scooters also carry out automatic systems monitoring. They know if they have fallen over, if the brakes are failing, or if someone is trying to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge (that’s a no-no). The scooters are also extra sturdy, with thicker necks than other e-scooters.

“They’re engineered to take abuse and protect pedestrians,” Superpedestrian’s Paul Steely White told the Eagle.

“We load the geofencing maps directly on the scooters, and they don’t rely on cell connections to talk to the cloud,” he said. “Talking to the cloud takes time, and [by then] the scooter could be well inside the pedestrian area or sidewalk.” With onboard geofencing, “Even if you hit the accelerator, you can’t go into the sensitive zone.”

Sho Haw, who was recently called back to his job at the Big Bus Tours company, buckled a bike helmet donated by NYC Department of Transportation. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

The scooters can travel up to 55 miles on a single charge, so the company will have to recharge them less often than the typical e-scooter, he added.

In Chicago and other cities, one problem e-scooters posed during initial pilots was that piles of scooters were discarded in the public right of way. Steely White said LINK’s technology prevents users from parking scooters where they’re not wanted, such as on sidewalks.

In its first pilot, Chicago also failed to make sure the e-scooters were available in areas lacking transit options (Chicago has fixed that during their current pilot program). New York City’s pilot aims to give priority to areas underserved by public transit or existing bike share programs.

Representatives from LINK and Transportation Alternatives posed with LINK e-scooters and bikes at Friday’s bike match event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo: John McCarten/Brooklyn Eagle

Steely White says that LINK has “fewer safety issues and it’s cheaper to operate. So it can serve the entire city, not just the wealthy areas.”

E-scooter rides usually cost $1 to start and 20-30 cents a minute, which will likely be NYC’s price range. But Steely White said that people on public assistance will get a roughly 90 percent discount, making their average trip 50 cents or less.

The City Council in June voted to legalize the use of electric bikes and scooters in the city. E-bikes and e-scooters were legalized statewide when the state budget was passed on April 1. Helmets will be required of delivery persons and all riders under 18.

LINK operates in several U.S. cities already, and will launch in Rome in September.

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