BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A pedicab pioneer and longtime bicycle activist, George Bliss has had it with mopeds Bogarting the bike lanes — bike lanes he and other pedal-powered advocates fought long and hard for.
While many New Yorkers are freaked out about the mass of e-bikes that now zip through the bike lanes at high speeds, Bliss’s main beef is with mopeds — both gas- and electric-powered.
In fact, he was the unnamed, masked artist The Village Sun reported on a year ago who planned to stencil no-moped signs — a moped in a red circle with a red slash through it — in bike lanes. He never got around to it — his construction-style canvas overalls outfit he planned to wear was just too hot, he found — but now he’s coming forward publicly for the first time.
In short, he plans to take his message directly to Mayor Adams — in the form of a bike trailer he’ll circle City Hall Park with, while banging on a drum mounted on his handlebars. He’ll pull the trailer — only 30 inches wide, he proudly noted — with a pedal-assist electric tricycle. A tripod sign on the trike’s back sports the name of his ad hoc group, Campaign Against Lawless Mopeds a.k.a. CALM. One side of the trailer proclaims, “STOP THE MOPED MENACE,” and the other, “A Moped or Scooter With No Pedals or Plate Is Against the Law In New York State Unless Max Speed 15 mph.”
He’ll hand out fliers. On their back will be the Department of Transportation’s chart of what vehicles are legal and what aren’t, which Bliss called “very comprehensive.”
“It says any moped — even if it goes [only] 25 miles per hour — has to have a [license] plate and a V.I.N.,” he noted, referring to a Vehicle Identification Number.
Earlier on, Bliss mulled also dragging the carcass of a moped on a sled behind the trailer for added emphasis — “I think it’s legal,” he noted at the time — but apparently has since dropped that idea.
In addition to being a pedicab pioneer, Bliss is known for these kind of colorful street protests. Back in the 1980s, to call attention to the city’s looming demolition of Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden, he crafted a contraption with a metal barrel drum and sponges, filled it with purple paint and then rolled it along the sidewalks all over Manhattan — leaving a winding trail of purple footprints leading back to the garden.
Police say it’s dangerous trying to catch speeding mopeds. Bliss says there’s an easy way, though: Just set up dragnets at the ends of the East River bridges. And he said the city should create a program where a person who voluntarily turns in an illegal moped, in exchange, gets an electric bike.
It’s the bridge traffic that most irks Bliss and is what sparked his campaign. He bike-commutes to Brooklyn daily and used to use the Manhattan Bridge. But he’s through with that bridge since, he feels, with its narrow bike lane, tricky “S” curve and volume of moped traffic, it’s no longer safe.
“Why is the mayor not implementing the law?” Bliss asked. “Is he aloof? Does he not care? Is he afraid? He has the tools. Why isn’t he using the tools?”
While his focus is on mopeds in the bike lanes, he’s also not happy about the blazing speed of some e-bikes and other electric micro-mobility vehicles. He said he saw a stand-up electric scooter being sold at The Last Mile store on W. Fourth Street in the West Village, where he lives, that can hit a top speed of 60 miles per hour.
“The technology is just astounding,” he said. “But you can’t allow that in cities. And you can’t allow things that you can’t enforce.”
City rules say stand-up scooters cannot go above 15 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, e-bikes are only allowed to go as fast as 28 miles per hour in New York City, but as Bliss noted, “Many exceed that.”
It’s a problem that’s spiraling out control, many New Yorkers cry.
“Start with these that are the biggest and fastest,” Bliss said of his moped campaign.
Surprisingly, the cycling activist had good things to say about cars — at least in relation to micro-mobility vehicles that violate the rules of the road.
“Yes, cars kill more people — but there are so many more cars,” he said. “Well, gee, there are a lot more cars than mopeds — thank God. A car is a very predictable thing; it will stop at the light. They have a culture. There is a discipline there, which allows bikers to ride the way we do.”
Bliss also predicts the East River Bridge bike lanes will be even more hammered by mopeds once congestion pricing kicks in.
“A lot of people will take mopeds over the bridge” due to the tax, he predicted.
So, with his trailer, fliers and drum, he’ll be making a stand — he hopes not his last — to keep the bike lanes for bikes.
“I’ve been here 45 years,” he said. “To give up on a city that holds so much promise for biking — and under Bloomberg it was fulfilled — is really sad.”