Text and Photos By Daniel Krieger
On a recent evening, several dozen members of the E-Vehicle Safety Alliance gathered on the corner of West 88th Street and Columbus Avenue for the group’s first in-person get-together. They had turned out in pursuit of their mission to advocate for street safety at a monthly meeting of the West Side Democrats at Goddard Riverside Community Center that was devoted to the issue.
Carol Van Deusen, a vice president of the West Side Dems, kicked things off by explaining that the danger of e-vehicles (e-bikes, e-scooters, mopeds, etc.) was something that club members and especially the “electeds” needed to hear about.
The group had invited police officials, State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, Councilmember Gale Brewer and others, but thirty minutes in, none of the “electeds” had yet arrived. A woman in the audience asked why no one seemed to be solving the problem of e-vehicles and pedestrian safety. Attendees offered various theories, blaming it on the delivery app companies, the city’s Department of Transportation, the bike lobby, and local politicians. “We have zero support from elected officials,” declared one man, right before Sen. Hoylman-Sigal arrived and promptly expressed his support.
“We can’t have our sidewalks be unsafe,” said Hoylman-Sigal. “The issue of e-bikes is the number one constituent complaint that we get in my Senate office. Your voices are being heard and I share your concern.” Part of the issue, he said, stems from a lack of police enforcement of existing laws. Hoylman-Sigal said he is working on legislation that addresses issues contributing to the safety problem – including a bill to increase penalties for e-vehicle hit and runs and another that requires food delivery app companies to have insurance. The senator said Rosenthal has introduced these same bills in the State Assembly. Another proposal, not yet introduced, would require licensing and registration of e-bikes used for commercial purposes.
“It’s going to require a campaign from all of us to advance it,” said Hoylman-Sigal. “Councilmember Brewer told me, ‘you guys have to do something about this in Albany. This is out of control.’ We agree and this is a step forward,” he said, inviting comments from the audience.
“I beg you not to leave out privately owned e-bikes” from licensing requirements, said one woman, while several others in the audience agreed. Someone suggested licensing all bicycles, but Hoylman-Sigal, a cyclist himself, said that would be going too far. Another woman asked if there’s a way to just get people to follow the traffic laws that already exist and are supposed to be enforced by police.
“We are victims and potential victims,” said Janet Schroeder, a co-founder of the E-Vehicle Safety Alliance. “We refuse to accept or live with what’s happening on the streets.” She explained that the group of nearly 100 includes 15 victims of e-vehicle recklessness. Several had come to share how disruptive, costly, painful, and traumatic their experiences had been.
Karen Sughrue, a longtime Upper West Sider, said she was hit last summer on Broadway by an e-skateboarder who ran a red light and then fled the scene. “My injuries have mostly healed,” she told the group, “but I get very nervous crossing the street.”
After the meeting, Sughrue told the Rag she had come “because of what happened to me, but I am also just concerned about the decline of the quality of life here in the city because of this problem. The resentment about this issue has really been bubbling beneath the surface and needs an outlet, and that’s what Janet is tapping into.”
The alliance presented the draft of a seven-point plan; the point that got the most enthusiastic endorsement was a call to cancel the recently launched NYC Parks Electric Micromobility Pilot program, which allows e-bikes and e-scooters to use park drives and greenways — paved, off-road paths for cyclists and pedestrians — and is part of Mayor Adams’ “Charge Safe, Ride Safe: Electric Micromobility Action Plan.”
Sen. Hoylman-Sigal praised the group’s engagement. “Bills begin with ideas and community activation, and that’s what we’re seeing tonight,” he said, urging the group to build a movement that could help get bills passed in Albany – and to press for enforcement of them.
“We can pass all the laws we want,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal, who arrived at the end of the meeting. “But if there’s no enforcement, what’s the use?”