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Cuomo vetoes bill to allow electric bikes, scooters

Arian Horbovetz with his e-scooter on the banks of the Genesee River
Jacob Walsh
CITY Newspaper
Arian Horbovetz with his e-scooter on the banks of the Genesee River

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP & WXXI News)  New York's governor has vetoed a bill to allow electric scooters and bikes statewide, his office said Thursday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's veto message said the bill overwhelmingly passed by lawmakers this year didn't include enough safety measures, such as a helmet requirement.

"Failure to include these basic measures renders this legislation fatally flawed," he said.

Lawmakers may try to pass a bill with more safety measures next year. Cuomo said electric bikes and scooters must be regulated to protect public safety and said he looks forward to working with lawmakers on the issue in 2020.

Cuomo had publicly expressed concerns about protecting pedestrians from e-bikes earlier this year. His veto message cites a 16-year-old boy who died in November after being hit by a tow truck while riding an e-scooter.

Meanwhile, e-scooter manufacturer Lime and environmental advocates and municipal supporters have argued the bill fits into New York's push to address climate change.

The vetoed bill would have allowed local communities to regulate or ban e-scooters.

"Safety is our top priority and we look forward to discussing with state leaders how to ensure the safest possible environment for micromobility to thrive," said Lime Senior Government Relations Director Phil Jones.

Rochester City Council earlier this year approved entering into an agreement with Zagster, the company that runs the city’s bike share program, to establish a similar program for e-scooters if the program got approval at the state level.

Councilmember Mitch Gruber was involved in the effort to get Rochester ready for the scooters. He said he read Cuomo's veto letter and he's hopeful that state lawmakers won’t give up.

“My sense from the letter is that it will be opened again during this legislative session, and I really hope that there are substantive conversations about how to make this work the best possible way throughout New York state,” said Gruber.

He also believes the push has been a positive for Rochester, forcing the city to have conversations that are overdue.

“We had multiple meetings about scooters, and what it’s done is it’s morphed into a more regular opportunity for experts to sit around and talk about how to make our city ready for things like scooters but also how to make it more amenable to bikes and pedestrians now,” Gruber said.

Gruber said experts like Arian Horbovetz were valuable to the city’s planning. Horbovetz writes the Urban Phoenix blog, which focuses on urbanism in Rochester and beyond. He said we’ve over-prioritized cars for decades. 

“What cities are trying to do is get back to pedestrian-safe areas, walkability, cycling infrastructure, and different modes of micromobility such as e-scooters,” said Horbovitz.

Gruber said these conversations led to revamping the city’s codes, which included making it illegal for drivers to park or stand in bike lanes and allowing bikes on sidewalks when the weather is bad or roads are blocked. 

He also said making Rochester pedestrian-friendly is a big part of the city’s 2034 comprehensive plan, which passed this fall. 

The city’s policy director, Kelly Miterko, told City Newspaper that the city can roll out scooter-sharing by late summer if new legislation is passed.

Horbovitz, who owns an e-scooter, agreed that users should be careful, but he said Cuomo's safety concerns are overblown.

“We look the other way at the fact that cars are very deadly and destructive and we’re hyperfocusing on scooters,” said Horbovitz.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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