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New York City Makes (Some) Space for E-Bikes

After a controversial crackdown, city officials will legalize one class of battery-boosted bicycles.
Large numbers of e-bikes are used by delivery workers in New York City. But they're not technically legal.
Large numbers of e-bikes are used by delivery workers in New York City. But they're not technically legal. Seth Wenig/AP

On any given afternoon in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens, a pedestrian is sure to encounter—probably within seconds—an e-bike. The battery-boosted bicycles are popular among the 50,000-plus delivery cyclists registered in New York City, who zip down streets and avenues carrying take-out food, laundry, documents, booze, and anything else New Yorkers care to order online. Practically overnight, the city has become a haven for them.

The problem is, this hasn’t been entirely legal: In October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would crack down on the swarm of e-bikes on its streets in response to safety complaints from residents. E-bikes have been technically forbidden since, though scofflaws are legion. But on Tuesday, de Blasio reversed, instructing his Department of Transportation to loosen its ban and recognize “pedal assist” bikes—or bikes that use a rechargeable battery to boost their speeds—as a legal means of getting around the city. Any e-bikes with a motor capable of pushing its speed above 20 miles per hour, however, will remain effectively banned. “With new and clear guidelines, cyclists, delivery workers and businesses alike will now understand exactly what devices are allowed,” the mayor said in a statement.