Two months after New York State legalized e-bikes and e-scooters, the City Council passed legislation, on June 5, 2020, to create a pilot program for the operation of shared electric scooters to exist for a duration of no less than one year and no more than two years. Earlier this year, NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the east Bronx as the pilot zone and selected three companies, Bird, Lime and Veo to participate in the pilot starting with 3,000 e-scooters.
Why NYC DOT chose an area that lacks bike infrastructure is so confusing.
NYC DOT proposed 24 e-scooter corrals not fully installed as of yet, according to the agency, along a stretch of Pelham Parkway. E-scooters are allowed on streets with speed limits no greater than 30 mph and usable bicycle lanes provided. They can’t be ridden on sidewalks. Pelham Parkway has no bike lanes, and the speed limit was recently reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph on Pelham Parkway from White Plains Road to Stillwell Avenue, since it was identified as one of the roadways having some of the highest rates of crashes in the city. This should come as no surprise to many of the residents of Pelham Parkway who have not only heard of these crashes but witnessed them as well. So where can these e-scooters be ridden legally and safely, I and others asked the DOT. Their response was that Pelham Parkway has a greenway that is accessible to bicyclists and hence e-scooters.
Our greenway path is accessible to bicyclists alongside pedestrians, runners, walkers, jogging, children playing, mothers with strollers, seniors, pet parents with their dogs and the disabled community. Our path is not dedicated or reserved for bicyclists, and is unmarked for solely such use. Our unmarked path measures between 9-10 feet wide and is too narrow for an e-scooter to travel safely side by side within the path. There is also no signage or lights directing pedestrians crossing through the parkway from north to south or vice versa on several of the paths. Instead, there are yellow signs in our greenway prohibiting the use of motorized or electric bikes, scooter and ATVs.
Friends of Pelham Parkway, founded in 2017, is made up of residents and volunteers that care for our greenway through advocacy, cleanups, tree care and planting. Our concerns are the insufficient number of park enforcement patrol officers and their inability to enforce since they can’t chase after these motorized and electric bikes or scooters without endangering others on the greenway. Also, we can’t support a pilot that has not been carefully planned, had no community outreach, no announced launch date and several questions remain unanswered. DOT should have known these answers before the pilot zone and corrals were chosen.
NYC Parks prohibits the use of e-scooters on Pelham Parkway Greenway, and I don’t expect them to change the rules to permit the pilot to operate in their area. Parks may not listen to our concerns, but they are risk averse due to potential liability. It is NYC Parks, not the three companies participating in this pilot program, that will be held responsible and liable when — not if — an accident occurs resulting in severe injuries and even death.
As an environmental group that advocates for equity in park maintenance and environmental justice in the park’s tree planting, we support alternative transportations. E-scooters have a short lifespan, are not disposable and not recycled which makes them not that eco-friendly.
Instead of DOT following venture capitalist-fueled toys, they should expand Citi Bikes that prioritized the wealthiest parts of our city. Also, as a county that is the unhealthiest in the entire state, we should encourage physical activity instead of displacing people off the parkway with e-scooters.
In short, we ask NYC DOT to focus on making our streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers and keep the problems on the streets out of our greenway.
Roxanne Delgado is the founder of Friends of Pelham Parkway.