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Electric bikes elude 112th Pct.

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Officers from the 112th Precinct are serious about cracking down on two-wheeled vehicles in Forest Hills and Rego Park, but one variety remains out of their jurisdiction: There are still no laws governing the use of electric bicycles in New York City.

At a Community Board 6 meeting earlier this month, Capt. Ralph Forgione announced that officers have been vigilant in ensuring that motorcyclists and moped drivers who ride in the 112th Precinct have the proper documentation.

“If I stop you, I’m taking your bike,” Forgione said of cyclists who rode without papers.

But one area where police cannot write tickets for lacking insurance or a valid license is with electric-assisted bicycles.

Instead, the 112th has to write tickets for infractions it would normally give to cyclists, like riding against traffic or riding on the sidewalk.

“They are bikes,” said Community Affairs Officer Thomas Rang.

Rang did outreach to local businesses that employ delivery drivers who use the devices to ensure they are following traffic regulations.

Residents have long complained that the bikes, which are powered by electric batteries, quietly zip around the neighborhood and pose hazards for pedestrians.

“They are silent, you can’t hear them,” said Steve Goldberg, who is a member of CB 6 but was speaking solely as a concerned citizen. “They should be regulated. This is a little bit more than a guy riding a Schwinn or a mountain bike.”

The law regarding the bikes is unclear in Queens, since the city and state do not regulate the vehicles.

But a bill is currently in the state Senate that would bring the electric-assisted bikes in line with federal regulations, and those regulations would treat the vehicles like normal bikes as long as they go under 20 mph and use less than 1,000 watts of power.

Unlike bicyclists, riders of the vehicles would need to be 16 years or younger and wear a helmet.

But Goldberg said the law should regulate the machines instead, many of which he said operate on less than 700 watts but can reach speeds of up to 50 mph.

“This is a mistake,” he said. “It’s a powered vehicle. It would be the same to say a Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf should not be subject to normal traffic situations because it’s electric powered.”

Goldberg said the vehicles should be subject to the same rules as a motorcycle or moped, especially since they could cause harm to pedestrians yet would be difficult to prosecute without a paper trail.

“You should be able to walk down the street with the assurance that if you get hit with one of these, you have recourse,” he said. “As is often the case, somebody will get hit, somebody will die and there will be a big investigation in City Council about why something wasn’t done.”

And he thinks that just because it looks like a bike, it should not be treated like one.

“This product looks like it was designed to get around regulations,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:52 am, October 12, 2011
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