David Stone
"Pedal assist" bike parked after cruising up the sidewalk in Manhattan Park.
"Pedal assist" bike parked after cruising up the sidewalk in Manhattan Park.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

On a quiet, cool weekday evening, as I waited for the next Red Bus across from Nisi, five things surprised me, waking me up to a danger I'd missed - as had RIOC. I was, after all, sitting in front of the Public Safety Department with a clear view of Main Street.

The surprises were five straight "pedal assist" bikes coasting, without hint of a pause, through the Stop sign across the street. That sign protects our most heavily used crosswalk with access to the Senior Center, Good Shepherd Plaza and our busiest bus stop.

First though, calling them pedal assist bikes is an achievement in marketing and public relations worth noting. It's like getting you to call your car a "Nike assist auto" because you can get out and push it if you suddenly feel the urge or have lost your marbles.

These are lightweight motorcycles where next to nobody pedals. It's a gimmick intended to condition public acceptance. A successful one.

It's also how delivery services skirt the law by integrating electric two-wheeled vehicles without licenses or registrations into the traffic flow.

And here on Roosevelt Island, apparently without any rules.

Startling as it was to see the bikes roll right past a Stop sign in front of Public Safety's own headquarters, a clear message was sent: RIOC's  not enforcing any rules of the road for "pedal assist" riders, and they know it.

My curiosity - and, I admit, irritation - aroused, I kept an eye out over the next few days.

Of the first ten electric bikes I saw whizzing along Main Street, only one followed the rules enacted to make streets safe.

That's not far off the average for bicyclists in general where running red lights and going the wrong way on one-way streets is common all over Manhattan, but hazards increase when the bikes are propelled by motors...

And when Public Safety gives them a free pass on law-breaking.

It's a given that the signs are there for a reason, and ignoring them unnecessarily risks the safety of pedestrians, including many elderly and disabled.

While I found "pedal assist" riders blowing off road signs was nearly universal along Roosevelt Island's Main Street, the most hazardous, commonplace violation involved joining pedestrians on sidewalks when the street just wasn't convenient enough.

One rider pointed confidently toward a nearby building when I reminded him he was on the sidewalk, as if his Southtown destination freed him from normal behavior. Another said, "Oh," and continued on his way.

After a week, no doubt remained that the "pedal assist" cyclists took for granted that PSD was not going to interfere short of their arranging naked drag races past the subway.

Most, if not all, of the offending riders were delivering food to residents who had no idea their dumpling cravings inspired hazardous behavior by cyclists hot for tips.

Because delivery services wisely avoid identification by using generic plastic bags, we're not singling out any by name, but a good guess is -- all of them.

But we are singling out RIOC and PSD for passively allowing violations to continue directly in front of their eyes.

Let's hope awareness, not the event of someone being injured, prompts them to dust off their ticket books and put a stop to it.