Brooklyn Boro

Survey shows Brooklyn motorized bike-riders won’t stay in their lane

Overall, 65% of all cyclists ran red lights

May 19, 2023 Michaela Keil
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“The bikers may be winning, but someone at some point had better institute fines to them for breaking traffic laws. It’s no wonder bikers are hurt or killed. They do not obey traffic laws,” wrote commenter Cindy under an article about expanding bike lanes in New York City.

Cindy is not alone in her thinking, the Park Slope Civic Council with help from Good Neighbors of Park Slope, conducted a survey of how well cyclists follow traffic laws in the Park Slope area. 

Prior to their survey, they could find no other research into pedestrian safety around e-micromobility (transportation using lightweight electric vehicles such as e-bikes or e-scooters) in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the Park Slope Civic Council found that of the two-wheeled vehicles surveyed — whether on e-bikes, human-powered bicycles, e-scooters, or mopeds (which aren’t e-bikes) — 65% ran red lights, and a notable number put pedestrians at risk by not following other bicycle traffic laws. 

While the Park Slope Civic Council supports e-micromobility for its environmental, economic, and accessibility benefits, the results of the survey provided an overview of obstacles in the streets that threaten pedestrian safety.

A moped utilizes the bike lane at 7th Street and 4th Avenue in Park Slope.
Photo: Daniel Cody/Brooklyn Eagle

NJ Smith, a commuting cyclist, relayed his experience: “All of a sudden [mopeds] will come from behind you and fly past you going like 20 or 30 miles an hour. It just makes you stop and wonder if they should be in a traffic lane and not in a bike lane.” Mopeds are considered licensed vehicles and therefore illegal to operate in bike lanes. But that doesn’t stop moped drivers from using bike lanes — or from being the survey’s biggest violators of bicycle traffic laws. 

The survey included mopeds, as they are often seen in bike lanes, and “Found extensive violations by all categories of two-wheeled vehicles, but particularly by mopeds and what are called throttle e-bikes.” 

“It’s a very alarming finding,” said Timothy Gilles, the President of the Park Slope Civic Council, told the Eagle. 

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Juan Restrepo held a sign that read “E-Micromobility Is The Future” at a press conference for e-bike policy on Wednesday, May 17. Restrepo, along with Transportation Alternatives (TA) where he is the Director of Organizing, sees e-bikes as the future of transportation. 

At the press conference, held in a double-wide bike lane near the intersection of 19th Street and 9th Avenue, TA called for new infrastructure for e-micromobility. Representatives from Los Deliveristas Unidos, the Equitable Commute Project, New York League of Conservation Voters, People for Bikes, Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, and the National Association of City Transportation Officials, were present and took part in crafting a policy agenda position paper on e-micromobility with recommendations for the city. 

Juan Restrepo, Director of Organizing for Transportation Alternatives, at the Transportation Alternatives press conference on May 17, 2023.
Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Among the recommendations were laws to protect delivery workers, such as safer e-bike regulations so that e-bike batteries stop catching fire, and a call to expand e-bike access to include parks — a pilot program for expanding e-bikes in parks is already in place. 

“New York City’s parks and greenways serve as critical connectors for an incomplete network of bike lanes,” TA said during the May press conference. “Restrictions on e-micromobility access limit the extent to which e-micromobility can succeed as a transportation alternative.” 

But where e-bikes come, it seems mopeds tend to follow. Gilles and the Park Slope Civic Council are most concerned about this in their nearby Prospect Park. “We have a very strong concern about riding where they’re not supposed to ride. It’s a particular problem with mopeds. It’s also a problem with the throttle e-bikes. Riding where they’re not supposed to ride. Riding on sidewalks, riding the wrong way against traffic on one-way streets, and mopeds riding in bike lanes.” 

Pedestrians are attuned to looking for traffic where traffic is supposed to be coming from, Gilles explains. Therefore, when mopeds come from a direction of traffic that pedestrians don’t expect, or on a sidewalk where they’re not supposed to be, it can result in a serious collision.

Gilles notes the catch-22 of the situation: “It’s a policy direction that we support […] but there are risks, there are risks in particular to pedestrian safety.” 

TA’s policy agenda position paper provides partial recommendations to make streets safer. “Research shows that when we build safe, dedicated space on the street for bicycling, people are more likely to choose to ride a bicycle and more likely to abide by traffic laws, such as not riding on the sidewalk,” reads the position paper. “This evidence should guide how we redesign streets for e-micromobility.” 

One of TA’s suggestions is to create dedicated e-micromobility lanes that are spacious enough to accommodate passing. But the paper doesn’t cover the Park Slope Civic Council’s concerns.

A vibrantly colored e-bike is kept locked to a pole in Park Slope, Thursday, May 18.
Photo: Daniel Cody/Brooklyn Eagle

“We are not professionals,” Gilles laughed, when talking about the survey. “I would not expect policymakers to all of a sudden make policy decisions simply based on our findings, but on the other hand it has been somewhat concerning that policy decisions are being made without any evidence as to the impact on pedestrians.”

Smith, who still cycles, wondered “How are we going to regulate the use of bike lanes? I don’t see people out there patrolling them, I don’t see New York City Police on bicycles or anything.” 

“Our systems haven’t caught up. We’re developing these technologies, these vehicles, letting the public have them before we have the urban design that’s suited for them.” Smith pointed to Amsterdam’s cycling infrastructure, which once was a chaos of bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles and is now a bicycle haven. 

The hope is that New York City can become a micromobility haven, too.

Update: The definition of e-micromobility was clarified.

Juan Restrepo led the Transportation Alternatives press conference. An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the person leading Transportation Alternatives’ press conference.

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