Wide Angle: E-bike Encounters

Ebike

Editor’s Note: This week we introduce a column by Stowe Boyd, a Beacon resident who specializes in the economics and ecology of work and the “anthropology of the future.” It will focus on the local impacts of larger trends.

In June 2021, the actor Lisa Banes, best known for her role in the film Gone Girl, was hit and killed by an e-bike on a Friday night while she crossed the street near Lincoln Center. The driver, who fled, pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

I had my own scary encounter recently with an e-bike on Main Street in Beacon. A car stopped for me to use the crosswalk; the impatient rider couldn’t wait and sped around, missing me by about two steps.

A driver going the other way was so concerned he pulled over to ask if I was alright.

An e-bike is a bicycle with an electric motor and battery. In New York state, they are treated by the law as bicycles, rather than motorcycles; you don’t need a driver’s license or insurance. Some e-bikes only assist the rider while pedaling and others will run without pedaling, but all legal e-bikes max out at 25 mph. There are commercially available e-bikes that operate at higher speeds, but these are (nominally) illegal in New York.

The e-bike that nearly clipped me on Main Street seemed to be going faster than 25 mph, but who knows? At the least, he was breaking the law. Like bikes without motors, e-bikes can’t use the sidewalks, nor can bicycles, scooters, skateboards, roller skates and other “human-powered or motorized vehicles.” (Note: Wheelchairs, walkers, baby strollers, tricycles for children under age 7 and electric scooters are exempt if used “as a necessary means of ambulation.”) Fines up to $150 can be given to those violating the rules and their vehicles impounded, which I think recognizes the degree of danger involved.

I’ve seen dozens of infractions to this law, especially people riding bicycles on sidewalks, but have never seen anyone stopped or ticketed.

I’m seeing more e-bikes in Beacon, but they haven’t reached a critical mass where they are creating widespread problems. Lt. Thomas Figlia of the Beacon Police Department did some digging and said that, year to date, officers had responded to four crashes that involved bicycles (none with pedestrians), and two were reported after the fact. Further, he said, the department had received only a single complaint about a bicyclist violating traffic laws.

Cold Spring’s traffic regulations make no mention of e-bikes, or bicycles, for that matter. Clearly, my near-collision on Main involved the violation of traffic laws, but since e-bikes are unlicensed, how would I go about reporting it?

Even with that close call, I still think e-bikes and e-scooters are a positive development: 

  • They decrease emissions by replacing car travel for short trips.
  • They make bicycling easier but still a workout.
  • They decrease car traffic, congestion and demand for parking.

But e-bike riders should still get tickets.

4 thoughts on “Wide Angle: E-bike Encounters

  1. Forty thousand Americans are killed every year in car crashes, and 3 million are injured — that’s the real safety menace we should be talking about. If we want to reduce bike/pedestrian conflicts, we need to create dedicated space for biking in Beacon, where we currently have zero. [via Instagram]

  2. The affordability and access afforded by e-bikes for the less advantaged should not be discounted, overlooked or sabotaged. Think of the proverbial story of the person who walks miles to/from work daily until someone gives them a car. For every one of those stories, there are thousands who don’t have or can’t get a free car. [via Instagram]

  3. Stowe Boyd says bicycle riders should be ticketed if they use sidewalks — technically that’s how the law reads, but since there are no bike lanes, what’s the alternative? More fatalities? I use uncrowded roads when I can, but sometimes that’s not an option, and if the street feels too congested, I use the sidewalk. [via Instagram]

  4. It’s a problem when bicyclists ride between cars, pass cars or run red lights on Main Street. It’s not safe for pedestrians, other cyclists, people getting out of cars or drivers. I don’t think the column was an attack on e-bikes; it was pointing out problems that need to be addressed. [via Instagram]

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