E-bikers threatened with tickets for trying to ride Prospect Park loop

cops ticketing e-bike riders at prospect park
NYPD and Parks Police stand sentry at an e-bike ticketing checkpoint in Prospect Park.
Courtesy of Morgan Crawford

NYPD officers stood sentry over the weekend at a checkpoint set up at an entrance to Prospect Park, enforcing Parks Department agency rules by threatening anyone attempting to ride the loop on an e-bike with a summons in another sign of the city’s often-conflicting policies on micro-mobility.

Morgan Crawford, a systems analyst who lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, was biking home with his 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter in a booster seat when they were stopped at the Machate Circle entrance to Prospect Park in Windsor Terrace, and told by NYPD and Parks Department police not to go any further, lest they be assessed a $150 fine and have the bike confiscated.

“She really wanted to go through the park, she loves riding through the park, we do it all the time,” said Crawford’s husband, Shay O’Reilly, by phone on Tuesday. “She was pretty sad.”

O’Reilly’s tweet lamenting the situation received over 3,500 likes across Memorial Day weekend. He said that he and his husband share a RadPower e-bike, which can be powered either by throttle or pedal-assist technology, and typically ride it through the Prospect Park loop to take their daughter to daycare in Windsor Terrace.

“This is how our family gets around, this is how we get our kid to daycare,” O’Reilly said. “It’s a 25-minute walk or a 7-minute ride.”

Most e-bikes are legal under city and state law. Pedal-assist and throttle e-bikes were legalized statewide in 2020, and the city’s Department of Transportation permits riding throttle bikes with “operable pedals” traveling up to 25 miles-per-hour on city streets. But the Parks Department classifies e-bikes, e-scooters, and mopeds as “motor vehicles,” which are banned from operating in parks except on “designated park roads, greenways, and parking areas” under agency bylaws regulating “disorderly behavior.”

Prospect Park and other municipal greenspaces now have signs at various entrances reading “no motorized or electric bikes, scooters, and ATVs.”

Despite seemingly conflicting with state law and city policy, the Parks Department often deputizes both its own police force and NYPD officers to write tickets for e-cyclists riding in parks or even on greenways. That’s because the legalization language in the 2021 state budget created a massive carveout for any municipalities to further regulate e-bikes however they see fit. While DOT has its own guidelines governing e-bikes on city streets, the far stricter Parks Department guidance remains in effect in that agency’s domain.

e-bike rider
A delivery worker on an e-bike in March 2020, when their work was declared essential. File Photo by Ben Verde

The enforcement also conflicts with the fact that city parks, including Prospect Park, house Citi Bike docks where riders can stow and unlock one of the bikeshare program’s thousands of pedal-assist two-wheelers.

“[The officers] seemed to think the rule was bulls—t too, honestly,” O’Reilly said. “They did that kind of wink wink thing, if you continue on we have to fine you $150.”

The Parks Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment asking why it continues to enforce rules dating to before the legalization of e-bikes, or as to how many e-bikers at Prospect Park were ticketed over Memorial Day weekend or this year. An NYPD spokesperson said it does not track enforcement to that level of granularity.

Agency honchos at the Parks Department have acknowledged the inconsistency between state law and its own policies, but Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue — who formerly headed the Prospect Park Alliance — punted a decision on the issue to a task force, Streetsblog reported in February.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

O’Reilly says that, after the family’s recent brush with Johnny Law, they might start taking a longer, more inconvenient route to daycare along the Parkside Avenue bike lane, much to the chagrin of their daughter, a big fan of Brooklyn’s backyard.

“Surely there are better things for them to do than stop a kid going to the park on an e-bike,” he said.