In Fight Against Unsafe Delivery Cyclists, a Focus on Employers
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER- The New York Times
Published: July 13, 2012
They churn their legs against the traffic, dart between sidewalk-clogging pedestrians, and, according to city officials, pay only occasional mind to the signs and signals that govern the streets.
A food deliveryman riding the wrong direction down Columbus Avenue on Friday in Manhattan. A city campaign is seeking to curb such traffic violations.
Deliverymen from Lenny’s restaurant listening to a news conference on the city’s new initiative for bicycle delivery safety.
But some of the delivery cyclists who run afoul of the law do so with a quintessential New York City goal: making sure the hot food in their bags remains that way.
With a plan that the Transportation Department announced on Friday, though, the city is hoping that the tug between speed and safety for delivery cyclists may skew toward the latter.
Beginning next week, a six-person team of department inspectors will patrol, door to door, across the Upper West Side, providing information to businesses about commercial cycling laws. The plan is expected to extend into other areas of the city, and by early 2013, businesses that continue to violate the laws may receive fines of up to $300, the agency said.
“New Yorkers want everything in a New York minute,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner. “But businesses that depend on bike deliveries can’t cut corners on safety.”
Commercial cycling guidelines, often ignored and only sporadically enforced, require cyclists to ride with the flow of traffic, stay off sidewalks and yield to pedestrians, among other stipulations.
The six inspectors will be empowered to issue citations to businesses, not to individual cyclists. Owners who employ commercial cyclists are required to provide a courier with a helmet, upper body apparel with the business’s name on it, a working headlight and taillight, and a bell or other audible signal.
Last year, the police issued more than 14,000 violations to cyclists, up from less than 4,000 in 2010. (The city does not keep records specifically on commercial cyclist violations, a spokesman for the Transportation Department said.)
But Councilman James Vacca, the chairman of the City Council’s transportation committee, estimated that only 10 percent of commercial cyclists comply with existing law. “What we’ve had are commercial bicyclists who think this is the wild, wild West,” he said.
Any added emphasis on enforcement, or even voluntary adoption of the existing rules, can place businesses in a difficult position, said Herve Flota, the manager of the Famous Original Ray’s Pizza on Columbus Avenue, near 82nd Street.
Safer riding is in the best interest of the bicyclists, he said, but perhaps not the business’s bottom line. “It takes a little more time if they have to go the right way,” Mr. Flota said. “Some customers, they don’t care.”
The restaurant’s efforts to curb illegal cycling from its delivery crew in recent months lengthened some delivery times by as much as 50 percent, Mr. Flota said.
One deliveryman, Marcos Capolin, 23, said any further delays could hurt his tips. “The customers are going to complain,” he said. “What can we do?”
Still, a savvy cyclist should be able to complete his deliveries safely and legally with only a mild delay, said Kevin Bolger, 40, a longtime bicycle messenger known as Squid.
Corner-cutting, of course, will not dissipate overnight.
“I don’t stop at every red light,” Mr. Bolger said. “But I stop a lot more than I used to.”
Of course, New Yorkers may adjust their dining decisions if faced with longer delivery times. Aaron Smith, 25, from Far Rockaway, Queens, said he made a habit of blacklisting any restaurant whose delivery took much longer than 10 minutes to arrive.
Besides, Mr. Smith said, he is a very good cook.
“I try to treat my lady — not order out so much,” he said.