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New York landlords, including a major Hell’s Kitchen management company, are moving to put the brakes on e-bikes — with buildings increasingly banning the technology over concerns around fire safety, following a series of battery-fueled blazes.
As first reported by THE CITY, management companies including Glenwood Management, which owns luxury Midtown West residences Emerald Green and Crystal Green on W38/39th Streets as well as The Sage on W38th Street, have handed down e-bike bans after fires were caused by the bikes’ lithium batteries, according to investigators.
The most recent large fire in November, on E52nd Street, injured 40 people and was caused by a lithium-ion battery. It prompted the action by Glenwood and other owners and managers such as Douglas Elliman, who have called for an embargo on storing e-bikes inside residential complexes. New York City House Authority has also considered a ban on the devices, citing 31 e-bike fires in NYCHA properties over the past two years, including one fatal blaze.
In June a two-alarm fire at 725 11th Avenue, a residential building next door to The Daily Show between W51st and W52nd Street, injured one resident. The fire was found to have started in pedicab storage area below the building’s apartments and 200 lithium-ion batteries were found at the site of the blaze.
According to data given to THE CITY by the FDNY, there have been 191 fires, 79 injuries and four deaths related to lithium-ion batteries this year alone. Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries accelerate quickly and are difficult to extinguish, the FDNY added.
According to the department, the cause of most lithium-ion fires is improper battery maintenance and charging. They say overused and overcharged batteries are the ones most likely to explode, although they have stopped short of calling for an all-out ban or recommending that people stop charging indoors.
Asked during a council hearing by City Council Member Robert Holden whether the FDNY would advise against indoor charging of e-bikes, scooters and other lithium battery devices, acting chief of fire prevention Thomas Currao said: “That’s a complicated issue because it does straddle that line. We want it to be safe, but we understand that it has a legitimate use.”
City Council Member Gale Brewer said that although lithium-ion batteries pose a significant risk when misused, safe e-bike ridership was possible, and a full-scale ban would negatively affect the livelihoods of delivery drivers reliant on e-bikes and scooters to work.
Brewer said: “While it’s tempting for landlords to ban e-bikes, they are essential to workers who need them to earn a living and to reduce our dependence on cars. Fireproof storage areas with charging ports may be a better, albeit temporary, approach until safer battery standards are adopted.”
Brewer added that her office is actively working with the FDNY to develop further safety regulations and training on the devices — introducing two bills “which would require FDNY to conduct an education campaign on the dangers of lithium-ion batteries, and [a second] which would ban the sale of second-use batteries, which are reconditioned or manipulated and sold on the secondary market.”
She added: “We must educate all New Yorkers about the need for careful charging of e-bike batteries, develop infrastructure for workers to charge their batteries during their shifts, and ban the reconditioned and manipulated batteries that are most susceptible to overcharging.”
- Buy an electric bike that is certified by a qualified testing laboratory.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage.
- Always use the manufacturer’s cord and power adapter made specifically for the bike.
- Do not leave an electric bike unattended while it is charging, and don’t leave it charging overnight.
- If a battery overheats or you notice an odor, a change in shape or color, leaking or odd noises, stop using it immediately.
- If the battery reacts in an alarming way, and it is safe to do so, move the device away from anything that can catch fire and call 911.
- Keep batteries and devices at room temperature. Do not place them in direct sunlight.
- Store batteries away from anything flammable.
- Do not use aftermarket batteries.
- Do not block your primary way into and out of the building with an e-bike.
- Do not leave an e-bike in a child’s room.