E-bikes are a fast-growing segment of the bicycle market. We see them throughout Hudson County being used for recreation and business purposes, as these zippy devices are frequently used for delivery services. An e-bike store has announced plans to open in Hoboken later this year. At the same time, many residents complain about the ubiquitous vehicles: going too fast, in the wrong places, at the wrong times. Three Hoboken councilmen introduced a resolution at the February 7th City Council meeting that would create a licensing schema for e-bike users. The proposal passed on first reading. Read on for more about the proposal for e-bikes in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Electric bikes, known as e-bikes, are traditional bikes that have been outfitted with a battery-powered motor, according to Trek, a major bicycle manufacturer. The bikes are broken down into three classes, organized by the vehicle’s top speeds. Per Trek,
Class 1: A bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
Class 2: A bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.
Class 3: A bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 28 mph.
According to People for Bikes, a national non-profit bicycling safety organization, electric bikes are a natural extension of bicycles used for recreation and exercise. “More and more cyclists are using e-bikes, especially those who wish to continue riding a bicycle but are limited by age, disability, or physical capacity, including aging people who bike and people who are just getting started. As a new recreation option, their use can bring the pleasure and freedom of bicycling to many more types of users and facilitate recreation for many new demographics.”
At the same time, the organization calls for safety regulations for e-bikes and users. It has worked with several federal agencies to develop guidelines for e-bike use on public lands, such as national parks. It has also developed model legislation for states and other governmental bodies to follow. New Jersey has followed this model legislation in its governance of e-bikes.
In New Jersey, Class 1 and 2 e-bikes are considered under traditional bicycle laws. This means that e-bikes, like regular bikes, are prohibited from being operated on pedestrian sidewalks. Class 3 bikes are considered motorized bicycles. There is a 15-year age minimum for motorized bicycle use and motorized bicycle riders must carry an operator’s license and are subject to registration and insurance requirements.
In Hoboken, vehicles are prohibited from being on the sidewalk except for limited purposes of loading and unloading, with a fine beginning at $250. Bicycles are also prohibited from the sidewalk. The City has also banned all three classes of e-bike from the sidewalk: No person shall operate a low-speed electric bicycle or motorized bicycle, as further defined herein, on the public sidewalk, regardless of motor operation.
About the Proposal
The proposal will be introduced by Councilmen Paul Presinzano, Dr. Michael Russo, and Ruben Ramos. It is called the Complete Sidewalks Amendment.
As written, the proposal calls for licensing e-bike delivery drivers, which requires passing a test on the City’s laws and policies regarding electric vehicles on sidewalks and the payment of a $5 registration fee. Licensed operators then must wear a high visibility bib and carry their license at all times. Fines will be $50 per offense and can be administered by the Hoboken Police Department and the Hoboken Parking Unit.
The Hoboken Girl spoke with Councilmen Paul Presinzano and Ruben Ramos about the background of the proposal. They said that the structure of the proposal was taken from the City’s taxi driver ordinance and that it came after months of comments and complaints from constituents.
“This was a campaign promise for me,” Paul said. “I heard it at the doors throughout the campaign
I live near the commercial district of Washington Street — so I’m out there all the time. Since covid, it’s gotten exponentially worse.”
Ruben said that by proposing this legislation, they are thinking about the future of Hoboken. “We’re looking forward. The biggest thing is that there are residents in Hoboken that want us to do something,” he said. “Putting our heads in the sand and ignoring it is not working so that’s why we’re taking legislative action.”
Paul said that in putting the proposal’s language together, he spoke with local leaders from Jersey City and New York City to get ideas, as well as delivery platforms and delivery drivers to learn about their point of view. But Paul said that one of the most useful resources was Hoboken’s Vision Zero Plan. “The sidewalk is supposed to be the safest place to be, in Vision Zero,” he said. “But with people driving on the sidewalk, it’s not. We know that people get hit and we want to prevent a fatality.” The proposal would apply to Class 1 and 2 e-bikes.
In his conversations with drivers and delivery platforms, Paul learned that there was a significant educational gap between what drivers know about local laws. “This whole thing will start with education. Should this pass, there will be three months before it takes effect,” he said. “During that time, we will be doing a big educational push with drivers. We will have resources in different languages and educating people about Hoboken’s sidewalk ordinances.”
Paul said that ultimately, the goal is to make things safer for the community, whether it be drivers, e-bike operators, bicyclists, and pedestrians. “I am happy we have cycling, and different modes of transit, but we need to have the sidewalks safe,” he said. “[With this legislation] creating accountability — want to be able to keep track of what’s happening in the city. Hopefully we can get to a really great place where everyone works together. Delivery people are part of our community, are welcome here. We want everyone to be on the same page as safety.”
What People Say
Bike Hoboken, a local bike safety advocacy group, shared the following statement with TapInto:
“We’ve all experienced the increase of e-micromobilty on our streets and we’ve come to rely on it in our daily lives. During COVID, delivery people were hailed as essential workers, delivering food directly to our door, often via e-bike. There are challenges with these new modes of transportation and clearly it will take a new way of thinking and a re-allocation of our limited street and curb space.
No one wants e-bikes riding on sidewalks, but the ordinance in front of Hoboken’s city council is taking the wrong approach. Rather than simply enforcing the existing rule banning e-bikes on sidewalks, the proposed ordinance mandates that e-delivery workers obtain a yearly license, pass a test, and wear a numbered vest to operate in the city. However, burdening an already strained workforce with additional requirements isn’t the solution. Such policies unfairly target a vital segment of our community while sidestepping the root issue: the absence of safe bicycle infrastructure in Hoboken. These workers require safer streets and clear bike lanes devoid of illegally parked cars.
We know that protected bike lanes deter sidewalk riding. Hoboken had several opportunities to enhance safety, namely the 2016 Washington Street redesign, which included an option for protected bike lanes, as well as a pilot for protected bike lanes along Jefferson Street. However, the city council opted out of these safety measures, leading to the current challenges exacerbated by the surge in e-micromobility. The city council now has an opportunity to remedy this by implementing protected bike lanes, which are proven to safeguard pedestrians and cyclists while reducing risks for drivers.
In addition to prioritizing infrastructure improvements, the city council should focus on educating all delivery personnel, regardless of vehicle type, about road regulations: no riding on sidewalks, no double parking, and enforcing existing laws that prohibit such behaviors. This comprehensive approach can create safer streets and better integration of e-micromobility into our city’s landscape.”
The Hoboken Girl chatted with Chris Adair, president of Bike Hoboken, to learn more about the organization’s take on the situation. “We all want the same thing, which is for people to be safe on the sidewalks,” she said. “But this particular ordinance doesn’t get the job done. There are already other laws on the books that address the same issue, which aren’t being enforced. So it’s hard to see how this will solve anything.”
Chris said that the date of the meeting was poignant, as it was the eight-year anniversary of Bike Hoboken’s attempt at getting protected bike lanes during the 2016 effort to redesign Washington Street. “Protected bike lanes have been Bike Hoboken’s biggest priority, and the idea was voted down,” she said. “Now, we are living in the consequence of that decision, with cars double parked up and down Washington Street, and people riding bikes and e-bikes on the sidewalks.”
In addition to the fact that other laws address the same issue and that the City has had the chance but passed on making meaningful structural changes to the bike lanes in town, Chris also brought up that this law will be an additional burden on the delivery drivers. “It’s a complicated and challenging issue to address because it also deals with a population of delivery workers that tend to be people who are potentially undocumented, and come from overburdened communities already,” she said. “There’s an element here where are we unfairly targeting people who are already disenfranchised, who may be afraid to walk into City Hall.” She went on to say that many drivers may instead choose to risk a fine or simply not work in Hoboken anymore.
After the meeting, Chris said, “We were hoping that the proposal would be tabled and then some more work done. Maybe the sponsors are amenable to different ideas. One of the ideas I had was that if we’re going to hold e-bike delivery people to this standard, we should apply to car drivers. It’s a lot harder when you’re a car driver to find the space [to park].”
In addition to having safety as a main goal, for pedestrians and bicyclists, Chris mentioned the importance of consistency among communities. “Other cities are dealing with the same issue. New York City has formed a group to examine how to make e-bike deliveries safer and more sustainable,” she said. “It should be consistent among communities especially in Hudson County to make it easier for the drivers.”
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At the February 7th City Council meeting, the proposal passed on first reading. The date for the proposal’s second reading has not yet been set.