Getting around in NYC can be a struggle, but many steps have been taken to ease the burden. Bike lanes have been added, new laws have been put in place to protect pedestrians, and the MTA has largely recovered from the pandemic. The newest development, though, is the rise of e-scooters and e-bikes. You may have noticed a lot more of them recently, zipping by you in bike lanes and sidewalks. There are even e-scooter ride-sharing businesses in the city now, meaning anyone can rent one just like a Citibike. This mode of transportation isn’t going away anytime soon, so how does the city like it?
During the pandemic, people loved them. They were relatively cheap, and a great alternative to the subway. People were even deleting their rideshare apps in favor of e-scooters and e-bikes. It makes sense when you think about it. Bikes and scooters are cheap, so just slap an electric motor on there and start zipping around. Suddenly you have a fast, reliable, and green mode of transportation. With all of that going for them, they seem like they might be the future of transportation. So how is the city reacting to them now that the pandemic is over?
It’s complicated. The people who ride them still swear by them, but pedestrians are much more skeptical. They have a reason for said skepticism too, considering three have died after riders crashed into them. Many people have been injured as well. It’s debated who’s at fault when these accidents occur. However, it is worth noting that, while NYC does have extensive laws regulating e-scooters, too often riders ignore them. E-bikes, for example, are restricted to a top speed of 20 MPH no matter where they are. For E-scooters the top speed is 15 MPH. Neither vehicle is allowed to travel in a street where the speed limit is over 30 MPH. Sidewalks are also off-limits. They must follow the flow of traffic and obey traffic laws, like stopping at red lights.
If you’ve been in New York City for more than a day, you’ll have noticed that many riders follow absolutely none of those rules. What’s worse, these vehicles don’t require a license, registration, or even insurance, so they’re hard to track when accidents do occur. It’s not just pedestrians getting hurt either. 17 riders died in e-scooter and e-bike crashes in 2021. These safety issues are concerning, which is why the city has tried to step up its efforts to stop these accidents. They’ve added partitions to many bike lanes and have required helmets for those under the age of 18.
Even with these added measures, people are still speeding and riding on sidewalks. ABC 7 even went to a park, where e-scooters are banned, and witnessed over a dozen of them in a ten-minute span. This isn’t new, either. E-scooters and bikes have been a reality long before they were actually legalized in 2021. We’re seeing a similar trend with electric skateboards, though those will likely not be legalized anytime soon, especially given the negative stigma already attached to e-scooters.
The sad part is, e-scooters could revolutionize city travel, but bad actors are making that a difficult transition. However, unsafe riders are only part of the story. Advocates will tell you that e-scooters, especially Citi Bike-esqu rentals, are cheaper than several other transportations options. Many ride-sharing scooters only cost $1 a ride plus 15 cents a minute. They are great for short commutes, they make less noise than cars, and they are better for the environment…sort of. While they produce less greenhouse gas emissions, they have a lithium battery that needs to be replaced very often. Additionally, places like San Francisco have an issue with people ditching the scooters, meaning they have to be picked up in a van. So additional carbon emissions stack up anyway.
Granted, New York City hasn’t seen that issue yet, but it does have another issue that multiple cities have already seen: Oversaturation. Owners of scooter rental services are competing in a rapidly growing market, which means sometimes corners are cut in order to keep up with demand. This is not a good way to introduce e-scooters to the city, especially when safety has already been a major issue.
So how can e-scooters and e-bikes coexist peacefully in NYC? They aren’t going away anytime soon. After all over 70% of people who have tried them really enjoy them. A big step the city can take is to register and insure these vehicles. They have motors and they go fast. Accidents are unavoidable, so the victims of these accidents need a way to recover both physically and financially. Riders should also have a license so repeat offenders can have theirs stripped. These simple safety measures could vastly improve the situation.
That said, riders need to stop acting like they’re the only ones on the road. It’s dangerous for pedestrians and the riders themselves. It’s sad when people ignore basic safety measures for selfish gains. Many people, regular cyclists included, want to see cities move away from relying on cars. That’s an admirable goal, and I think it can be achieved. But the fact is that the current reality is very different, so it is best to ride with traffic and actually stop at red lights.
To be fair, many riders use e-scooters and e-bikes responsibly, and those people should be praised. It’s unfair to demonize all riders of these vehicles, but it’s smart to take a serious look at the safety issues related to them. Transportation in NYC is tricky, and we should be trying to limit our need for driving in the city. E-scooters and e-bikes could be the future people want to see…but so could public transportation. The future is very uncertain, but it seems like the trend of slapping a motor on a traditionally human-powered vehicle isn’t going away. While these vehicles are here, we might as well make them as safe as possible.
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528