“The crash on the Manhattan Bridge calls attention to the immediate need for visionary leadership as well as difficult conversations about the purpose of the city’s precious bike lane real estate, food delivery worker equity and the role NYPD should play in enforcing existing rules.”

Flickr/New York City Department of Transportation

A cyclist approaching the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in 2015.

Multiple high-speed motorized vehicles collided on the Manhattan Bridge bike path—where both illegal and legal mopeds are forbidden—at around 11:30 p.m. on July 26, according to Streetsblog NYC. The publication called the crash “horrific,” saying it underscores the “moped crisis.” Four of the injured riders were taken to the hospital.

Streetsblog also shared jarring images that included a pool of blood, where apparently one of the riders involved in the collision lay waiting for FDNY to arrive, by foot, up to the spot where the collision occurred.

The crash on the Manhattan Bridge calls attention to the immediate need for visionary leadership as well as difficult conversations about the purpose of the city’s precious bike lane real estate, food delivery worker equity and the role NYPD should play in enforcing existing rules.

The night of the crash, emergency room nurse Lucas Freshman, who arrived at the scene right by bike right after it happened, said the carnage that night was inevitable. “As shaken up by it as I still am, twelve or sixteen hours later, the sad feeling I have is that I’m not surprised by this happening,” he told Gothamist.

As a long-time bicycling commuter who crosses either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge on an almost daily basis, I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps I’m growing old and cranky, but my nerves are increasingly rattled by close encounters with fast moving, hefty-sized mopeds on narrow bike lanes, not only on the bridge paths, but throughout the city. The sheer weight and volume of a moped makes them far more hazardous. 

That said, a boom in moped popularity could prove positive for New York City commuters were city and state leaders willing to invest in street redesign that could carve out a space for higher-speed alternative transportation vehicles, including mopeds.

Such transformative investments could potentially get more and more people out of automobiles and onto alternative transportation. Unfortunately, we’re probably years away from that happening in any truly significant way.

For example, the NYC Streets plan, which requires the City of New York to build at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes in 2023, has only seen a paltry 9.7 miles installed so far this year.

As most New Yorkers know, a huge portion of the city’s mopeds are being driven by food delivery drivers who are essentially incentivized to drive as fast as possible. Profit-driven apps such as Uber, Door Dash and Grub Hub pay poverty wages, which means the only way to take home any real money is to make as many tips as possible.

It’s also probably true that those delivery workers, as well as other moped riders who use them for transportation, feel a whole lot safer riding on a bike lane that’s somewhat protected from automobiles. And moped riders can bypass automobile congestion by scooting across the East River in a dedicated bike lane.

At eight feet wide, the two-way Brooklyn Bridge bike path really only has enough space for a single file line of bicycles in each direction. The path is way more narrow than the 12-foot width outlined for two way bikeways by the National Association of Transportation Officials. At nine feet wide, the Manhattan Bridge bike path is hardly spacious itself. And there are also plenty of media reports about the Queensboro Bridge, where thousands of pedestrians and cyclists share an 11-foot-wide, two-way path that’s also seeing an increase in high-speed moped traffic.

None of this diminishes the fact all three of those bike lanes are still far more safe than riding alongside two-to-three-ton, bone crushing automobiles in an unprotected bike lane or a street that has no bike lane at all. Cyclists are human eggshells on wheels when compared to an automobile.

Still, it was a sad day when the bliss I’d been feeling over the September 2021 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge got reality checked by a too-close-for-comfort near-collision with a loud, fast-moving gas-powered moped—basically a mini-motorcycle—that was erratically passing slower moving bikes.

After yet another close call with a blazing moped, I vented my concerns to the police officers who “patrol” the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge and asked them: why doesn’t NYPD seem to be doing anything to address the issue?

On paper, motorized vehicles such as mopeds are illegal on the bike paths, but there was very little she could do, the officer said. She told me she wasn’t going to put herself in danger by standing in front of a fast moving mini-motorcycle. The officer also pointed out there is no signage—not one sign installed by Department of Transportation (DOT)— that states mopeds are not allowed at the bike path entrance. The same is true at the other three bike path entrances at the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

After the bloody Manhattan Bridge incident, clear DOT signage that clearly states mopeds aren’t allowed on bridge bike paths seems like a no-brainer. But so too does more proactive enforcement of the law.

While a number of city leaders and activists rightfully blame greedy delivery apps and City Hall for not building better e-bike charging infrastructure and wider bike lanes, the current hazard motorized vehicles pose on existing crowded bike lanes is immediate, and will likely grow more problematic without consistent enforcement of the rules.

The greater worry? We’ll see more horrific incidents like the July 26 Manhattan Bridge collision happening again in what is meant to be a safer space for bicyclists. 

Cody Lyon is a former journalist and a Manhattan Community Board 1 member.