“To get the most out of its vital investments in protected bike lanes, the city should pull every lever at its disposal to increase access to personal and shared e-bikes.”
Odds are you’ve seen an e-bike by now—and you may not have even noticed unless you felt that extra boost when you pedaled, helping inexperienced and expert cyclists alike cruise across the Manhattan Bridge without breaking much of a sweat, as I did on my way to visit friends in Bay Ridge recently.
It’s a difference maker for accessibility, unlocking clean and efficient micromobility for those who can’t power the full distance. That means a daunting bike commute can suddenly become a breeze, or a car trip to the grocery store can become a quick bike ride. Or maybe it’s just a typical commute to work for Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who, shortly after a hip replacement, rode an e-bike across the Brooklyn Bridge on “Bike to Work Day.”
With traffic rising, it’s more important than ever to rethink how we get around in New York City. On the heels of the recent rally held by Transportation Alternatives, New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) and others, the city’s new budget includes funding to implement the NYC Streets Plan, including a robust bike lane network. To get the most out of its vital investments in protected bike lanes, the city should pull every lever at its disposal to increase access to personal and shared e-bikes.
Encouraging low-carbon transportation is a top priority in the climate fight. According to a recent study, active mobility such as walking, biking, or e-biking—even if it replaces just one car trip per week—“significantly lower[s] carbon footprints, even in European cities that already have a high incidence of walking and cycling.” But according to Dr. Audrey de Nazelle, a co-author of the study, people need to be nudged in the right direction—or given the opportunity to walk or bike in the first place.
There are several policy decisions within reach that could allow the city to harness this mushrooming demand for e-bikes and help meet its ambitious targets:
Incentivize e-bikes: The government can offer subsidies or tax credits for consumers who buy e-bikes—a $900 credit as part of the Build Back Better act never made it through the Senate last year, but any success on this front would make adoption easier. Likewise, the Bicycle Commuter Act would give employees up to $83/month in pre-tax dollars to invest in bike commuting expenses, including bike share memberships and e-bike costs. At the state level, there is legislation to establish a 50 percent rebate, up to $1,100, for the purchase of an e-bike or e-scooter that we hope to see adopted in next year’s budget.
Fund station electrification: Right now, bike share providers like Citi Bike have to drive vans around to swap out fresh batteries for dead ones. That means a lot of unnecessary vehicle miles on the road. Mayor Eric Adams’ recent “City of Yes” initiative offers an opportunity to reshape zoning laws to incentivize or even require developers to fund the electrification of Citi Bike stations close to their building site. That would cover the costly process of running wire to the station and provide the developers and their clients easy access to bikes. The city could also tap federal EV and safety funds to electrify Citi Bike stations, keeping the e-bike fleet more consistently charged.
Boost e-bike fleets: We need to introduce more e-bikes in bike share programs to account for widespread demand. Last year’s Citi Bike data, for example, shows that each e-bike was ridden about three times as many times per day as a pedal bike, with reduced-fare bike share members riding e-bikes at even higher rates than full-paying members. Close to 40 percent of rides were on e-bikes, although just 20 percent of the fleet is electric. This shift is crucial because e-bike trips tend to replace car trips, while traditional bike trips almost never do.
The bottom line: Transportation, which accounts for 30 percent of New York City’s carbon emissions and 27 percent of emissions across the U.S., needs to get greener, fast. In a study in Brighton, UK, providing access to e-bikes led to a 20 percent reduction in car mileage. Multiply that access across Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and beyond—and America’s transportation future could be transformed.
If New York City hopes to achieve its goal of reducing emissions from public and private transportation methods by 80 percent by 2050, we need to start pedaling.
Julie Tighe is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.