Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion: Bikes aren’t the danger — it’s illegal mopeds, cars and trucks

BY GERSH KUNTZMAN | The other day, a top city journalist asked me, “Some people feel bikes should have license plates. What is the rationale for New York City not having bike licenses?” This question comes up a lot, especially as our roadways have become more frightening to some. So let’s go over some basics.

For one thing, people calling for bans or restrictions on bikes need to be more specific about what they’re talking about. Standard bicycles (with no motor of any kind) and electric bikes with pedals do not require licensing or registration under state law. Nonetheless, the users of these devices are subject to speed limit laws, red-light laws and can be summonsed for failing to yield to pedestrians.

Many cyclists are in fact given $190 tickets by police for passing through red lights — even after stopping and when no pedestrians are present — the same price that drivers of 4,000-pound cars pay when they endanger the public at high speed. Some of these tickets to cyclists are not about safety, because if they were, the N.Y.P.D. would be enforcing red light, failure-to-yield and speeding laws on the busiest avenues of the city, which the cops are not. Instead, red-light tickets to cyclists are being issued disproportionately versus those given to drivers — probably because cyclists are easier for police to catch.

The most recent change to the streetscape has, in fact, been illegal mopeds, which are proliferating partly because the city’s delivery workers are buying them because there is no place to recharge electric bike batteries during their long workdays. Plus, delivery workers (like all New Yorkers) are afraid of fires caused by the substandard lithium-ion batteries that they can afford. The Council’s recent battery buy-back program and efforts to create charging hubs for workers are definitely steps forward to help underpaid workers whose companies treat them as independent contractors.

Mopeds without Vehicle Identification Numbers are always illegal. They cannot legally be in bike lanes. They have been involved in high-profile crashes — but such crashes received disproportionate news coverage, probably because they are, in fact, so rare. All of us in the fight for safer streets share many of the concerns of new groups such as the E-Vehicle Safety Alliance (EVSA), which bills itself as “victims and potential victims of rogue e-vehicle riders.” But those of us who have been advocating for decades also wonder, where was this group for the last 30 years, when its members were victims (not just potential victims, but actual victims) of car and truck drivers, who have killed close to 3,000 pedestrians in the last 20 years?

These new groups would have far more credibility if they joined the rest of the safety groups in focusing not only on bikes but on all the threats to safety, starting with the main danger to pedestrians: car and truck drivers.

The number of people hit and killed or maimed by car and truck drivers is, frankly, horrifying. And cars and trucks are registered and plated — yet that has done nothing to reduce crashes. Where is the concern about those vehicles?

So far this year, according to the city’s own stats, car and truck drivers have caused 64,917 reported crashes, or more than 250 per day. Those crashes have injured 33,957 people, including 5,333 pedestrians, killing 62 people.

Now, to answer the question about whether bikes should have license plates: Bike ridership is something that it is in society’s best interest to encourage. Bike riding is great from a health perspective, and great from the perspective of the environment and basic road safety, given how few people are injured by cyclists. Mandatory registration would dramatically reduce cycling — especially among casual riders — and reduce the well-documented “strength in numbers” effect of cycling. (It is well known that when there are more cyclists, drivers tend to drive more safely.)

Registration would also arm the police with a new weapon to harass people of color, which has also been well documented. (Just search “Perth Amboy” and “registration” and you’ll see how widespread this practice is.)

I agree that pedestrians are afraid right now: They are afraid — I would argue, wrongly — of cyclists who rarely exceed 10 miles per hour. And they are afraid of illegal moped riders who go faster on heavier vehicles. But, in fact, the greatest danger to pedestrians, by far, is car and truck drivers.

No matter what is driving the fear, there are ways to address it beyond seeking to persecute people who choose to get around in an environmentally friendly way or are forced to do a job for wealthy people ordering food who want it fast. In short, we need to design our roads to be safer for the most vulnerable road users. In some parts of the city, pedestrians far outnumber car drivers and cyclists — yet pedestrians are given mere inches at corners to wait their permission to cross the road, whereas drivers are given almost every inch of space. Those areas need pedestrianization, a common practice in virtually every other city on the planet.

In areas where there are lots of cyclists, as on First and Second avenues in Manhattan, we need wider lanes for micro-mobility and fewer lanes for automobiles.

Clearly, we need a much larger solution than merely putting license plates on bikes.

Kuntzman is editor in chief of Streetsblog, the transportation news Web site. He has lived in multiple neighborhoods in New York City since 1989.


  1. Phyllis Eckhaus Phyllis Eckhaus October 7, 2023

    Bikers biking on the sidewalks are a terrifying menace.

    A couple of months ago, I was reading on a 6th Avenue park bench adjacent to a sidewalk. It was a beautiful day, the novelist actually instructed the reader to relax, and I obliged by stretching my legs.

    “Why would you do that!” a surprised delivery biker screamed at me as he sped across the sidewalk, swerving to miss me. “I have no insurance!” he admonished me.

    I am still stunned. No pedestrian—or reader on a park bench—should have to navigate speeding vehicular traffic on a sidewalk.

  2. Moe Moe October 2, 2023

    Kudos to Kuntzman for this important thought-out piece. I understand people that are frustrated here, but policy should not be a product of blind rage and knee-jerk reaction. Deliberation is necessary so new problems are not created when trying to fix older ones.

  3. john campo john campo September 24, 2023

    The masses can’t discern a bike from an E-bike, they just see it as a bike. And this person can’t discern a moped from an E-bike. It is a waist of time even trying to explain it. I’ve been trying to alert the public on this for 20 years since they allowed E-bikes to flourish by eliminating the Hunan-Powered law. And the dead and injured keep piling up…

  4. Lin Lin September 24, 2023

    GK knows that regular bicyclists, Citibike, spandex all menace pedestrians — along with dangerous ebikes, stand-up scooters, skateboarders, moped/vespas.

    But the NYC bicycle lobby (including Streetsblog) is a very powerful, connected and well-funded group…like REBNY.

    LOL, the dangers to pedestrians now officially depicted in popular culture — check out last frame of trailer for upcoming animated film “Migration.”

    • DuchessofNYC DuchessofNYC September 30, 2023

      wow, that’s a twisted trailer…

  5. Katharine B Wolpe Katharine B Wolpe September 23, 2023

    I was personally knocked down by a boy on a bicycle going the wrong way on 1st Ave. in the East Village of Manhattan with so much force that my elbow went through the arm of my wool jacket. He stopped briefly, but did not even apologize. On my block recently, I witnessed a man have his wrist hurt by being knocked down by a wrong-way bicyclist.

    Delivery bikers and people on rental CitiBikes constantly ride on sidewalks in my neighborhood. Unlike motorcycles, you can’t hear them coming. In some European countries, bicycles do have licenses. Delivery workers should have to wear vests or something else to identify the businesses they work for. Elderly people are very likely to suffer serious injury if struck by a bicyclist. I’m a member of SASS (Seniors Advocating for Safe Streets) in the East Village, and similar groups are active in other Manhattan neighborhoods.

    • Lin Lin September 24, 2023

      The bicycle lobbying community is mostly interested in the young and upscale – sadly not concerned with elderly or others.

      NYC of 2023 is a massively stratified city.

      Even 15 years ago, bus and subway was one of the few things that was a commonality and brought New Yorkers together.
      That is no longer true.
      Transportation is now another massive area of conflict.

  6. alissa alissa September 23, 2023

    Mr. Kuntzman describes Streetsblog as a “transportation news” web site but IMO it would be more accurate to say Streetsblog is a news site focused on bicycle interests. And per google search is actually a part of bicycle lobby group Open Plans.

    And seems even more disingenuous for Mr. Kuntzman to cite “….wealthy people ordering food who want it fast…” since bicycle groups Streetsblog, Open Plans, Transportation Alternatives are funded by some very wealthy 1% people.

    Streetsblog does not speak for me and my family — pedestrians and bus and subway riders.

  7. Susan Susan September 23, 2023

    I’ve lived in Manhattan all my adult life and never experienced a more terrifying time than the last 2 years. Having lived through the crack epidemic in the ’70s, that’s saying a lot.
    Last week I narrowly escaped being hit by a BICYCLE which a middle-aged man rode down the middle of Broadway, going southbound on the northbound side through the red light! While I was focused on him coming at me as I crossed in a crosswalk with a green light, I failed to notice the moped coming straight at me from the other direction, also through the red light at a high speed! This is the circumstance that this city has left me and millions of others in on a daily basis by a dereliction of duty to protect its citizens. The writer here, in a word, is wrong! E-bikes and e-scooters and I’d include regular bikes must be licensed because they are vehicles capable of driving recklessly at high speeds. The riders flagrantly ignore traffic laws and many of them, not all of them, believe they rule the road. The rest of us be damned.
    As for enforcement, I am out daily and have NEVER seen the NYPD stop anyone running through lights, riding the wrong way down a street, or riding on the sidewalk. I contend that other than confiscating unlicensed mopeds, there is an unspoken moratorium on enforcing any laws against bike, e-bike or scooter riders. So we can count on more deaths like the 69-year-old woman in Chinatown last week, killed by a Citibike rider who left the scene.
    It’s more than deeply disappointing that on the UWS our City Council leaders have decided not to sign onto the Bob Holden Bill to license e-vehicle riders. It’s mystifying that the safety of pedestrians, the elderly, the disabled, the hearing-impaired and young children in their constituencies are somehow not important enough to require licensing like every other vehicle this city requires.

    • GG GG September 29, 2023


  8. alissa alissa September 23, 2023

    Actually NYC bicycle riders are huge menaces to pedestrians and it was bad even before Covid and ebike proliferation.

    Bicyclists are more dangerous than vehicles because though vehicles are inherently more dangerous, most drivers follow the law.

    Virtually all bicyclists ignore traffic rules – bicyclists routinely and proactively go through red lights, many go the wrong way and many ignore bike lanes.

    On a daily basis, I see numerous near-hits by bicyclists. Several of my relatives have been hit, several friends have been hit (including bicyclists hit by other bicyclists) and numerous acquaintances have been hit, including some with serious permanent injury.

    Moreover, data does not reflect serious injury/eventual death from a bike hit. For example, an older person who breaks a hip due to a fall from even a light bicycle hit or a fall trying to avoid a bicycle.

    “Regular” bicyclists/Citibike pedal/Citibike ebike/racing bicyclists — The Worst in their entitlement, flouting traffic rules, endangering pedestrians and, incredibly, their Routine Viciousness in Cursing pedestrians who object!

    Delivery ebikes — I feel sorry for exploited workers. Actually many do stop for red lights. But UberEast/DoorDash and an increase in the number of workers make a dangerous scene and many of the newer workers egregiously flout traffic rules.

    Moped/vespas – These users seem to break the law for sheer entitlement.

    Regarding the assertion, “People who choose to get around in an environmentally friendly way”… No mention of bus and subway riders? Wow. Also a disingenuous statement as many NYC bicyclists do not have “environmentally friendly” lifestyles at all (flying all over the world for cool vacations is not EF).

    “Wealthy people ordering food who want it fast” – I am sure Mr. Kuntzman is well aware the biggest users here are affluent young people – and quite a few of them are bicyclists.

    As a pedestrian, bus and subway user, I don’t want any expansion of bike lanes and I don’t want any funds going to bicycling.
    It is outrageous to expand funding of bicycling when bus/subway fares have gone up and service keeps declining.
    In fact, the City should stop funding bicycling and instead send those funds to support essential MTA bus and subway.

    • LES3025 LES3025 September 23, 2023

      If you think that “most drivers follow the law” you must be blind. Every time a light turns red in this city, a car drives through it. Drivers frequently fail to yield to pedestrians. They constantly park or stand in bike lanes, loading zones, and other no-parking areas.

      • subway-bus subway-bus September 25, 2023

        “Every time a light turns red in this city a car drives through it”……?

        LES – So you are stating you know this to be 100% fact in all of NYC….

      • Miggie Warms Miggie Warms September 25, 2023

        I routinely stop at red lights (though I may slip through a yellow light to avoid “stopping short” and potentially getting rear-ended as a result.) Only very rarely do I see a driver run a red light, but I frequently see pedestrians ignoring the “Don’t Walk” blinking warning and “get caught” in an intersection after the light has turned red against them, sometimes actually STARTING to cross after the light has already turned red. Most of the drivers I see running red lights are slipping through just after the light has turned, probably not deliberately, and several seconds BEFORE the pedestrians waiting to cross in front of those drivers have gotten a “green light” or “Walk” sign. Obviously, there ARE drivers who blatantly run red lights, just as there are pedestrians who “play chicken” with drivers by jaywalking when drivers with the right of way are approaching. Both are at fault and should be ticketed — and drivers who are repeat offenders should have their licenses suspended or revoked, for which there is a “point system.”

  9. Kathy Arntzen Kathy Arntzen September 23, 2023

    There are many unreported accidents between bikes and pedestrians, so to site statistics and comparisons is not valid. And it seems that many bikes, e-bikes, scooters, etc. don’t know that pedestrians have the right of way. Licensing and education are badly needed.

  10. BrklynSandy BrklynSandy September 22, 2023

    My husband is 85, walks with a cane, and I’m 78. As pedestrians, we’re feeling terrorized on sidewalks and crossing streets. We’re dodging e-bikes…startled by e-scooters whipping past us and… just missed by motorcycles and, yes…also pedal bikers…also guilty! None seem to recognize a red light!

    There’s a sense that there are no laws, no enforcement and certainly no respect for anyone who might inconvenience self-entitled bikers speeding mindlessly to their destinations. No licenses, no registration, no I.D.s and no insurance are required — so when someone is knocked down by a biker who speeds away, there is no accountability. No fines, no penalties, no punishment…no fix of the problem. It’s a growing menace.

    Council Member Holden introduced a Bill in 2022, Intro 758, which would require all e-bikes and e-scooters to be registered and display a license plate. While 27 — a majority — of the 51 City Council members have signed on — in order to bring it to the floor for a vote, 34 members are needed to co-sign it. Strangely, our Central Brooklyn Council Members have thus far not done so — why not? Council Members Lincoln Restler, Che Osse and Crystal Hudson have not… why not? They join Gale Brewer and Carlina Rivera, among others — lackeys for Lobbying org Transportation Alternatives. The man who un-coincidentally pays Gersh Kuntzman his salary to push the “safety narrative” while laughing all the way to his hedgefund stakes bottom line is TA’s foremost donor. Small world…huh?

    The utter chutzpah Kuntzman shows — unembarrassed by his appropriation of what the definition of “safety” is — as long as his biker bro’s are bubble-wrapped — the rest of us will just have to suck it up, it seems.

  11. Seth Seth September 22, 2023

    Gersh, I love the work you do about illegally obscured license plates. So unfair that people (including some cops and firemen!) use this to evade tolls as well as red light cameras and speed cameras. With congestion pricing coming, this issue will be even more important.

    But I disagree with you about bicycles. Yes, illegal mopeds (they are ALL illegal) and e-bikes, whether pedal-assisted (like those white Citibikes) or not (like the ones with exploding batteries) are a total menace to pedestrians. The riders seem to think that since they are on an illegal vehicle anyway, none of the other traffic laws apply to them either.

    But regular bikes are also a menace. They constantly take unreasonable risks, and they are not only risking their own safety, but the safety of pedestrians. How often have I seen a bike get a ticket? NEVER. How often do I see a bike breaking the law? All the time. How often have I had close calls myself? At least once a week. How many times have I actually been hit by a bike? Once (fortunately I did a rolling fall — in the middle of Houston St. — and was not hurt. And, yes, I had the right of way).

    I occasionally drive a car to leave the city, and being a driver with a lot of reckless bike riders around is almost as bad as walking with a lot of reckless bike riders around.

    I grew up in Queens, and I never dared to ride a bike in the street. Times have changed. But the proliferation of bikes without a culture of following some basic rules has created a seemingly intractable problem. It is a failure of government (like so many other failures of government — witness the continued presence of illegal cannabis shops even after legal shops have opened. And look at what is happening with transit fare evasion.).

    The worst of all are the illegal mopeds and the (illegal? I’m not even sure) throttle e-bikes speeding every which way, the wrong way, through lights, on sidewalks, etc. All because young people are too lazy to go out and pick up their own takeout food. I would crack down and confiscate all of them. That won’t happen because it would hurt the struggling delivery guys. But licensing them and enforcing the laws would be a good start.

  12. Kibby Rose Kibby Rose September 22, 2023

    The first step for safer roads is to find a way to make e-vehicles less dangerous. Cars, for the most part, obey traffic laws. They don’t ride on sidewalks, go the wrong way on one-way streets or speed through red lights.
    Rarely exceed 10 mph? Where do you live?

  13. Leslie Clark Leslie Clark September 22, 2023

    Couple of questions for readers of this op-ed: 1. When was the last time you saw a police officer ticket a bicyclist for going through a red light? or going the wrong way? Would “never” be your answer? 2. When was the last time you saw a police officer tell any bicyclist to get off the sidewalk because cycling on the sidewalk is illegal? Would “never” be your answer again? 3. When was the last time you were frightened — of bikes — when walking on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk? Would “all the time” be your answer? Yeah. One of the reasons that all bicycles should require licensing is so that they can be identified, fined, and stopped from harming pedestrians.

  14. Stuart Waldman Stuart Waldman September 22, 2023

    Kuntzman can’t seem to hold two ideas at once. Yes, cars and trucks can be very dangerous. That’s why the drivers are licensed and the vehicles are registered. But because cars and trucks are dangerous doesn’t mean that e-bikes and scooters aren’t. I don’t own a car. I bike, walk and take a subway. As a pedestrian and a cyclist, I find e-vehicles terrifying. They’ve made bike paths into speedways, and made sidewalks into danger zones. And, yes, Gersh, they go much faster than 10 mph. His fear of the police stopping people of color riding e-vehicles is justified. They do that to drivers of cars and trucks. Is he suggesting that we shouldn’t license and register motor vehicles because of racist police practices? That would be giving in to racism.
    Kuntzman is a big advocate of getting people on bikes and e-bikes. By regulating e-vehicles the way that you do for cars and trucks, you get the bad actors off the road and make cycling safer and more attractive to everyone.

Leave a Reply

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.