Which electric bikes are legal? NYC to clarify rule

Electric cycles are booming in popularity in New York City. But they are technically illegal. Now city officials are clarifying what kind of electric cycles are legal and which are not.

This is not about the statistics. It is about what neighborhoods think. Areas like the Upper East Side consider e-bikes a menace, according to the Department of Transportation. Yet immigrant-popular neighborhoods like Jackson Heights in Queens see e-bikes as valuable tools for deliveries.

The city has decided to crack down on electric bikes with throttles but to allow e-bikes that rely on some human propulsion from pedaling.

"We're clarifying what we think is New York State law, which is that e-bikes, true electric bikes, which can generally go over 20 miles an hour, are not legal on the streets of New York," DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. "But pedal-assist bikes, which typically go at speeds lower than that, can."

 She delivered news of the crackdown, making good on a promise by the mayor in October.

More than 800,000 New Yorkers now ride bicycles in the city on a regular basis, which directly reduces congestion.

And other cities, including Washington, D.C., have shown that allowing pedal-assisted bikes leads riders to take the bikes twice the distance, especially helping people who are older.

Citi Bike and other bike-share programs soliciting the city are all looking at bringing pedal-assisted bikes to New York.

"They are proving to be a popular mode," Trottenberg said, adding that officials in cities with pedal-assisted bikes were confident they were helping get cars off roads.

Trottenberg said the DOT will present a final proposal to the public for comment in a few weeks.

Mayor Bill de Blasio could sign the new rule this summer.

"As cycling continues to grow in popularity for commuting, deliveries and tourism, we are seeing the demand for pedal-assist bicycles that can help cyclists travel longer distances and more easily climb steep hills," de Blasio said in a news release. "With new and clear guidelines, cyclists, delivery workers and businesses alike will now understand exactly what devices are allowed."