NYC bike accident of "inevitable carnage" highlights the city's dangerous motorized bike and scooter situation

There was a collision of electric scooters, e-bikes, and bicycles on New York City's Manhattan Bridge Thursday night, leaving four people injured. Link to the article in Gothamist here.

According to the FDNY, four "electric scooter" riders collided at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday and were taken to the hospital with unspecified injuries. But bikers on the bridge at the time describe a much more horrifying scene — one that involved e-bikes and electric scooters traveling at unsafe speeds and a collision that left a trail of blood and wreckage more than twenty feet long.

"Inevitable carnage," Lucas Freshman, an emergency room nurse, described it. "As shaken up by it as I still am, twelve or sixteen hours later, the sad feeling I have is that I'm not surprised by this happening."

This highlights an urgently dangerous situation in New York City, in which bicyclists must share narrow bike lanes with motorized vehicles that often travel at speeds in excess of the speed limit for automobiles. The bike lanes have been built in NYC over the past few years to encourage safe biking, but e-bikes seem to have turned them into speedways more dangerous than the streets. Worse, e-bikers often go out of the bike lanes and travel on sidewalks, menacing pedestrians. E-bikes became legal in NYC in 2020.

Last summer, The New York Post (note: Rupert Murdoch-owned) set up a radar gun to tracker speeders on NYC bridges and bike lanes, and over a third of the motorized vehicles (e-bikes, mopeds, etc.) exceeded the speed limit.

At a meeting of the E-Vehicle Safety Alliance last month, as reported by the West Side Rag, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said, "The issue of e-bikes is the number one constituent complaint that we get in my Senate office. Your voices are being heard and I share your concern."

Hoylman-Sigal said he is working on legislation that addresses issues contributing to the safety problem – including a bill to increase penalties for e-vehicle hit and runs and another that requires food delivery app companies to have insurance. The senator said [Assemblymember Linda B.] Rosenthal has introduced these same bills in the State Assembly. Another proposal, not yet introduced, would require licensing and registration of e-bikes used for commercial purposes.

Of course, because this is 2023, there are huge issues of poverty, immigration and wealth disparity at play. Many of the motorized bikes are being driven by workers who are low-income immigrants desperate to make a living working as freelancers for giant tech food delivery apps.

CNN reports:

Accidents on sidewalks and intersections. Dangerously congested bike paths. Delivery workers with nowhere to pee. Exploding electric bikes and scooters.

New York City is known for fast meals and easy access to everything, but its public spaces are being severely strained by the surge in on-demand deliveries, fueled by a pandemic boom in online orders and the rise of a new crop of ultra-fast delivery services.

Andrew Wolf, a research fellow at the Workplace Justice Lab at Rutgers University said, "Before, when the workers worked for restaurants, they supplied bikes, bathrooms and rest areas. Now, companies have adopted the independent contractor model where they shift the burden to workers and the public."

It in addition to better rule enforcement for all e-bikes, it seems that the food delivery apps, like Grubhub/Seamless, who are profiting off this dysfunction, should be required to provide amenities, incentives, equipment and rules for their workers (or, as they call them, independent contractors) that allow them to safely make a living with dignity, and without speeding or breaking other traffic laws.