As scooters and e-bikes proliferate in New York City, safety challenges increase

The coronavirus pandemic has upended many of the familiar routines that make up daily city life, causing tectonic shifts in office culture, classroom learning and online shopping.

Now he’s transforming the way people travel in the country’s largest city. A boom in mobile electric devices is bringing what is likely to be lasting change and a new safety challenge for New York’s vast and congested road network.

Devices have sprouted everywhere. Office workers on electric scooters walk past the towers of Manhattan. Parents take electric bicycles to drop their children off at school. Young people have turned to electric skateboards, technically illegal on city streets, to roam the far corners of New York City.

Although many of these passengers initially gave up their metro and bus trips due to the lower risk of the virus from traveling outdoors, some say they are sticking to their electric mobility devices even as the city begins to overcome the pandemic.

“I use the scooter for everything – it’s really handy,” said Shareese King, 41, a Bronx resident who deleted the Uber app from her phone after she started shopping on an electric scooter.

A man rides an illegal electric unicycle in midtown Manhattan on September 30, 2021 (Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)

Bikes, scooters, and other electrical devices are, in many cases, designed for city living because they are affordable, better for the environment, take up little or no street space for parking, and are just fun to use. , said Sarah Kaufman, partner. director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.

“In cities, a lot of people understand that there is a vehicle that is the right size to get around – and it’s on a human scale – you don’t need to emit the carbon equivalent of an SUV just to go to work, ”she said.

Across the country, cities are embracing electric bicycles and scooters as a way to get more people out of cars and fill the void in city transportation systems for trips too far on foot but too close for the metro or train. bus, according to transport officials. and connoisseurs.

Even before the pandemic, electric scooter sharing programs had spread to more than 100 cities, including Los Angeles, Washington and Atlanta, since 2017, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The total number of trips jumped 130% to 88.5 million in 2019, from 38.5 million the previous year.

Many cities have seen scooter ridership skyrocket during the pandemic. Seattle’s scooter-sharing program has reached 1.4 million trips since its launch just over a year ago. In Portland, Oregon, trips nearly doubled to 762,812 this year through September, from 385,422 trips for the same period in 2020.

Yet the electric mobility boom has posed significant safety concerns on the already congested streets of New York City. At least 17 people have been killed while driving electric mobility vehicles this year, according to city officials. Revel, which runs an electric moped sharing program in the city, voluntarily shut it down for a month last year after three drivers died.

A man and a girl prepare to set off on an electric scooter in the Bronx on September 29, 2021 (Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)

Electric mobility accidents have also killed three pedestrians this year, including actress Lisa Banes, who was run over by a hit-and-run scooter driver on the Upper West Side.

Many pedestrians and cyclists complain about riders of e-bikes and e-scooters accelerating, riding on sidewalks, running red lights and taking the wrong road in the streets.

“E-bikes don’t care where they need to go, how they’re going, where they’re going, even if they’re going on the sidewalk or the other way around on a street,” said Jacqueline Aybar, 53, who has recently had a virtual accident with an electric bicycle in a pedestrian crossing in Queens. “Now when you cross the street, it’s not just looking for a car, you have to look to see if a bicycle is coming. “

City and state officials have struggled to keep up with the rapid expansion of electric mobility. Most e-bikes and e-scooters didn’t become legal on city streets until last year, although delivery guys have been using them for a long time. Unlike cars, they are not registered or authorized, nor required to have insurance or cited by automatic speed cameras.

Other types of electric mobility devices are illegal, including skateboards, unicycles, hoverboards, and Segways.

“I know there is a concern and a perception about the safety of new forms of electric mobility devices,” said Hank Gutman, the city’s transportation commissioner. “This is an issue that we are looking into.”

City officials said they have installed more protected cycle paths; launched a public education campaign on electric mobility devices that are legal; define strict safety instructions; and closely followed the city’s first electric scooter-sharing pilot program in the Bronx.

The city speed limit is 25 mph for e-bikes and 15 mph for e-scooters. Cyclists are required to stay off the sidewalks and are permitted to ride on cycle lanes and streets with a top speed of up to 30 mph. They must stop at red lights, go in the same direction as traffic and give way to pedestrians.

While the total number of electric bikes and scooters in New York City is not tracked, many businesses and stores have reported increased sales. Unagi, a high-end electric scooter company, has seen its sales and subscriptions in New York City increase tenfold, which provides personal scooters for $ 49 a month.

Chartior in SoHo has sold thousands of its premium electric scooters and gets about 60 calls a day for new orders, owner Ben Hen said.

Samuel Schwartz, a former city traffic commissioner, said the city needed a comprehensive plan to deal with the electric mobility boom. “The streets were not made for electric mobility vehicles,” he said. “We need to look at this systematically and not just distinguish between e-bikes and e-scooters. We need to redefine our streets.

City officials are testing electric scooters in the northeast Bronx by providing up to 3,000 stand-and-sit electric scooters unlocked via phone apps. Each scooter starts at $ 1 and costs between 30 and 39 cents per minute, with discounts for low-income residents. Scooters are parked in designated corrals or on sidewalks.

The city requires program users to be at least 18 years old, complete safety training, and pass a safety quiz on the app.

Some locals complain that people are riding the sidewalks, fighting over scooters and leaving them everywhere. “I think they bring more problems to the community,” said Awilda Torres, 76, a retired hospital worker.

But others rely on scooters.

Tyasia Washington, 29, drives one from her home to the nearest subway station, where she boards a train for her marketing work in Manhattan. “It’s a long walk,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.