BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It was a blustery day last week when councilmembers and New Yorkers demanding “accountability” for e-bike riders rallied outside City Hall. Despite the chill, they were fired up by the hope that a bill requiring all e-bikes to sport license plates could be passed before the end of the year.
Bill No. 0758-22, introduced by Councilmember Robert Holden, until recently had 34 co-sponsors, which, according to advocates, was enough to force a City Council hearing on the measure. However, after allegedly being pressured by cycling advocates, two of the councilmembers — Sandy Nurse and Rita Joseph — withdrew their support.
Holding a hearing before year’s end is significant because, if it doesn’t happen, the bill would then need to be reintroduced in 2024 and co-sponsors would need to be rounded up all over again.
However, earlier this week, Councilmember Carlina Rivera told The Village Sun her understanding is that Holden’s 0758 would not have a hearing this year. She explained that the last City Council “stated meeting” of 2023 is set for Dec. 20 and that, per usual procedure, councilmembers recently met to preview its agenda items. Holden’s bill is not listed on the agenda, she said. She confirmed that the bill would need to be reintroduced in the new year and co-sponsors collected all over again.
Rivera, however, does not back Holden’s bill.
“I think that licensing all the bikes would be really hard,” she explained.
Instead, Rivera said, she and Councilmember Gale Brewer would be introducing their own bill on regulating e-bikes.
The East Village politician added there are “a couple of bills” on e-bikes at the state and city level that could help address the situation. She said she also supports licensing mopeds at the point of sale.
Similarly, Christopher Marte, who represents Lower Manhattan, does not support Holden’s bill, although Erik Bottcher, whose district covers the Lower West Side, does.
Nevertheless, leading members of the new ad hoc group NYC E-Vehicle Safety Alliance (EVSA), remain confident they will get their desired hearing — if not this year, then the next. They say license plates are a must since e-bike, as well as e-scooter riders often flee after striking pedestrians.
Told of Rivera’s statement, Janet Schroeder, an EVSA co-founder, said her coalition of advocates and e-vehicle collision victims believe they will “prevail.”
“Bob Holden’s bill has 32 co-sponsors of the 51 possible councilmembers and that is very good,” she said. “This includes councilmembers from across the political spectrum. We did have 34 co-sponsors, which is the ‘supermajority’ and automatically earned us a hearing on this bill. But, Transportation Alternatives, a bike lobbying group, wrote to councilmembers and asked them to not support this commonsense bill that will ultimately save lines and mitigate injuries, and we lost two co-sponsors because of their letters. It is disappointing because we are the voice of the majority. Legislators should listen to the majority of New Yorkers over the well-funded few. After all, isn’t this is a democracy where the many should lead the few?
“But we believe,” Schroeder said, “that we will prevail for Priscilla Loke and all of the victims killed or injured by e-bikes.”
Similarly, Andrew Fine, another EVSA co-founder, voiced confidence that a hearing will happen sometime soon.
“The chairperson of the Transportation Committee, Selvena Brooks-Powers, could call a hearing whenever she wants, regardless of the number of co-sponsors, but claims that there is not enough time left in the year,” he noted.
“The two newly elected councilmembers that I spoke to, Susan Zhuang and Kristy Marmorota, both indicate support. We should be at the same level of support, more or less, in the new year. I do believe we will get our hearing early in the new year.”
Meanwhile, at the Dec. 6 EVSA press conference, e-bike collision victims shared their pain and frustration at what they called a crisis on the streets — and on the sidewalks. They slammed City Hall as unaccountable on the problem.
The crowd held signs saying, “Priscilla should be alive” and “0758 Before It’s Too Late.”
Speakers included Sook Ling Lai, the executive director of Chinatown Head Start, where Priscilla Loke, 69, a longtime preschool teacher worked for decades. Loke was fatally struck on Sept. 5 by a cyclist on an electric Citi Bike — who, as The Village Sun first reported, ran a red light at Chrystie and Grand Streets and was ticketed for it, as confirmed by police.
Lai noted that “for 15 days, [Loke’s] family and friends had no idea [who the] killer” was as police tried to track down the cyclist — after officers let him go at the scene without recording his personal information.
“Chinatown Head Start strongly requests the City Council to pass the law which requires all e-bikes to be registered and licensed,” she said. “At a minimum, the victim and the families need to know who the e-bike drivers are. They need to be held accountable for the accident they cause.”
“Priscilla should be alive” and “0758 BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE,” read signs in the crowd.
Another woman was seriously injured on Sept. 15 in Murray Hill when she was hit by a regular Citi Bike going the wrong way in the bike lane at 38th Street and Second Avenue. The last word from police was that she was in a coma. The cyclist has not been found.
Sarah Pratt, originally from England, related her ordeal of being rammed from the rear by an electric Citi Bike as she walked on a sidewalk in Harlem.
“I was catapulted from behind,” she said.
As she told it, the cyclist then turned around only to berate her, shouting, ‘What the f—?'”
Pratt said she called Citi Bike to report the incident but was told, “Citi Bike is not responsible for any accidents once a bike is hired.”
Noting it’s illegal for anyone above age 12 to bicycle on a New York City sidewalk, she fumed, “My assailant should have learned the rules of the road before he ever got an e-bike.
“Many New Yorkers are more afraid of being hit by an e-vehicle than being hit by a car,” Pratt said. “New Yorkers will be left with no option but to seek legal action against New York City, Grubhub, Citi Bike and the manufacturers of illegal e-bikes.”
Another collision victim, Carol Wilson, noted she was hit not once but twice by e-bikes, the first time causing a skull fracture, vertigo for a year and the inability to read for two and a half years. Making it even more dangerous for her, she’s on blood thinners. The second time she was hit on Sixth Avenue. Fearful of being hit again, she now pays a fare to use a subway tunnel to cross under the avenue.
After the first hit, Wilson asked a detective if police would find the rogue cyclist, but he told her, “Probably not. Citi Bike does not cooperate with police.”
“I used to enjoy walking around New York City,” she said. “But now I know, leaving my apartment, my life is in danger.”
Sean Sweeney, the director of the Soho Alliance, echoed the cry of EVSA’s leaders in demanding that City Hall listen to “the majority” on the e-bike issue.
“I see people from all over the city wanting to register e-bikes,” Sweeney said. “When are the mayor and the so-called commissioner of the Department of Transportation going to listen to — not the lobbyists and Transportation Alternatives — but the majority!”
“Hearing now! Hearing now!” the crowd chanted.
Upper West Side speakers were not only unhappy Councilmember Gale Brewer won’t support Holden’s bill, but that she also backs siting an e-bike battery charging station at the hectic intersection of 71st Street and Broadway, where Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue crisscross and a heavily used subway station is located. EVSA’s Fine worried that a bad battery could explode in the charging station and send “shrapnel” shooting into the crowded crossroads.
“Gale Brewer is working against my bill,” Holden declared toward the rally’s end. “I couldn’t believe it.”
“We feel being against this bill is ageist and ableist,” Schroeder added.
Unlike Councilmember Rivera, Allie Ryan, a former political candidate who has run against her twice, said she’s all for 0758.
“We need to pass Bob Holden’s bill,” she said. “I 100 percent support it.”
In related news, Priscilla Loke’s friends, family and supporters were denied a full sense of closure after a mixup deprived them of knowing when the cyclist who fatally struck her would give his plea before a judge in Traffic Court. According to a source, a police Traffic Division detective had been in touch with a family member, pledging to let him know the court date. Yet, for some reason, the detective then chose not to call or text from his cell phone — which he had always done before — but from an office phone number the family member did not recognize.
The Citi Bike e-cyclist, who remains unidentified to the public, on Nov. 17 pled guilty in court to running a red light and was slapped with the maximum penalty — a $200 fine. Also, his driver’s license was suspended for 90 days — yet, galling Loke’s family and friends, there was no prohibition against him riding electric Citi Bikes.
“So, technically, he could be on the street riding an e-bike now,” noted Liz OuYang, a civil rights attorney and friend of Loke.
“Very, very disappointed,” OuYang said of the failure to adequately notify the family about the court date. “We would have packed the courtroom. The officer did claim he reached out. But he didn’t take affirmative steps to confirm the family was aware of the court date. He should have made additional effort. The officer said repeatedly he would notify the family.”
The attorney stressed that all e-bikes need clearly visible license plates — even Citi Bikes, which admittedly have small ID numbers on them already.
“We don’t want Priscilla’s death to be in vain,” she said. “The law needs to be changed — and it begins with e-bikes being licensed.”
Correction: According to surveillance video, the wrong-way cyclist who struck a female pedestrian in Murray Hill, who was critically injured in the collision, leaving her in a coma for months, was riding a regular, pedal-powered Citi Bike not an electric, pedal-assist Citi Bike, as stated in the original version of this article.