Hundreds of Upper West Side restaurant owners, managers and delivery cyclists crowded into a room at the St. Agnes Library on Thursday, Sept. 13, to find out how they can stay on the right side of an impending crackdown from the Department of Transportation (DOT).
The DOT has been conducting a series of forums to educate restaurant owners and delivery cyclists on existing laws (Administrative Code 10.157) that have been enforced sporadically. The rules governing commercial cyclists, which are different than for commuters or casual bikers, come from both the DOT and the police, and the DOT is planning on stepping up enforcement of the areas within their purview starting in January.
They’re first targeting the Upper West Side, and will next move to the Upper East Side, because of the high numbers of complaints the city and the local community boards have received over dangerous and illegal practices by delivery cyclists, who flout the laws in favor of quicker routes (and thus more tips).
While the NYPD is responsible for ticketing moving violations—running red lights or riding the wrong way down a one-way street, for example—the DOT is going to be focusing on restaurant owners and hitting them where it hurts when their employees don’t follow the rules.
“It’s really going to be your job to educate your cyclists,” said Kim Wiley-Schwartz, DOT’s assistant commissioner of education and outreach, at the presentation.
The law requires that employers provide helmets and upper body apparel with their business’s name and the bicyclist’s unique three-digit identification number clearly visible. The workers must also carry a business ID card with their photo. On their bikes, they must have bells or other noise-making devices, a white front headlight and a red taillight (used from dusk to dawn), reflectors on the wheels, and brakes—a requirement that some laughed at as obvious, but Wiley-Schwartz said she’s seen many cyclists just use their feet as brakes. Owners are also responsible for posting safety laws and regularly training their workers on how to follow them.
Some business owners griped at the extra expense of providing these items to their workers; others commented that it’s just one more way the city is nickel-and-diming small businesses. When Wiley-Schwartz said that the fines for breaking these laws would be levied solely on the business owners and that they are currently in the range of $100-300, the room was audibly agitated.
“I’m struggling right now, so I’m really enraged,” said Francesca Vaquero, who owns a restaurant on the Upper East Side and came to attend the session. “I think it’s a great idea, but what about regular cyclists who break laws outside my business? Isn’t the city just kicking it to small businesses?”
Dimitrios Vezyrakis owns Caesar’s Palace, a pizza restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue that employs several delivery cyclists. He said that following the laws can make everyone safer, but it will also make his deliveries slower.
“You’re delivering 20 blocks and stopping at every light, it’s going to add 15 minutes,” Vezyrakis said after the presentation.
He asked that the DOT try to educate the general public about the necessary safety laws so that they don’t expect food they ordered to arrive in five or 10 minutes.
“My main problem is the customers need to know this,” Vezyrakis said, noting that some online ordering systems like Seamless Web allow businesses to give accurate delivery times and adjust them if necessary. “If you know when to expect it, you’re going to be patient.”
For now, the DOT is focusing on educating the owners before they begin sending their special enforcement team out to issue violations. The inspectors will watch businesses and write tickets when they see a consistent pattern—for example, if one cyclist forgets his helmet one time, that might not result in a violation. If all delivery cyclists are forgoing helmets, however, the business will be held responsible.
“I think people want to know the facts, and they appreciate the education before tickets,” said Council Member Gale Brewer, who sponsored the event and works regularly with bicycle issues through her office.
Brewer said that while she believes that business owners have been aware of the laws regarding commercial cyclists, the people who actually work with them aren’t always as clear.
“When I went door to door with the police—actually, I went with the cops way before any of these programs—I learned that the managers sometimes aren’t sure what the law is, and then they can’t communicate it to the workers,” she said. “Then the manager says, ‘I tell the workers but they don’t do it.’ So the fact that the workers showed up today, that’s fantastic.”
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