Electric bikes have become a ubiquitous presence on the Upper East Side over the past few years. It’s common to see delivery drivers charging down streets, bags flailing in the wind, as they head toward their destinations at speeds of 20 miles per hour or higher.
These drivers, under the crunch of the delivery clock, take to the sidewalks, travel the wrong way down one-way streets, shoot through red lights and generally disobey traffic lights in order to ensure that the food is delivered in a timely manner.
City Council Member Jessica Lappin recently introduced legislation that she hopes will put the brakes on these reckless drivers. Currently, operating a motorized bike is a violation of New York code and carries a $500 penalty. That would be raised to $1,000 under Lappin’s measure.
“My office constantly receives complaints about electric delivery bikes speeding down our crowded streets and sidewalks,” Lappin said in a press release. “They travel at high speeds and are incredibly dangerous. We need higher fines and better enforcement, which should make pedestrians safer in their own neighborhoods.”
Lappin’s office conducted a constituent survey in the middle of February to see just how much of a danger these bikes posed to Upper East Side residents. Of 1,305 respondents, 72 percent said that they had been hit or had close calls because of callous operators. The report also stated that 70 percent of those questioned believed that the NYPD did not enforce the existing $500 fine for operating one of these bikes and 69 percent said that the city should increase fines to curb the usage of the bikes.
“What gets me is when they go the opposite way on one-way streets,” said Robert Alfieri, a father of two. “There have been times when they have almost hit the stroller because they will make turns coming from the wrong way on one-way streets.”
Residents of the Upper East Side, who are already plagued by increased traffic and construction from the Second Avenue Subway, said that the bikes are just one more safety hazard that they must endure.
“People find themselves walking on the defensive here as much as driving on the defensive,” said Sandra Bertrand, an Upper East Side resident. “There is so much that you have to be aware of now.”
The law currently states that if a driver using an electric bike in a professional capacity is caught breaking the law, he or she will be held accountable for the ticket, not their place of business. Upper East Side State Sen. Liz Krueger plans to introduce legislation of her own that would ticket both the employer and the rider.
Juan Martinez, general counsel and policy analyst for Transportation Alternatives, an organization that lobbies for increased bike use, equates the law to a health inspection at a restaurant. “If a kitchen get inspected and one of the chefs is not wearing gloves, the business is penalized, not just the worker,” he said.
Evan Chen, a manager at Ging Asian Bistro, located at 1564 3rd Ave., said electric bikes were an invaluable tool in the delivery business. They have allowed the restaurant to increase their delivery area as far as 110th Street.
“We are able to deliver to a much larger area and we can get the food there faster because of the speed of the bike,” Chen said.
While some of the restaurants in the area see the bikes as a way of increasing their operating area, many restaurants in the Upper East Side have opted out of using the bikes in favor of focusing on their immediate neighborhood.
“We already use regular bikes and no one complains about food not being delivered on time,” said Hassan Daud, a manager at Two Boots pizzeria at 1617 2nd Ave., who employs six delivery men. “Our delivery area is nearby, we are not going far.”
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