As a longtime resident and community advocate, I applaud Community Board 7’s disapproval of a sidewalk café permit last month for a restaurant with a record of chronic delivery bicycle infractions. In a Feb. 9 committee meeting, the permit application had been approved by the committee under the condition that the restaurant begin complying with all bicycle codes immediately. A representative from the restaurant agreed to the condition at that time.
Nearly a month later, the restaurant was found to be non-compliant with bicycle codes, as promised. Among one of the more serious violations was delivery bicyclists continuing to ride on sidewalks.
When I was president of the 20th Precinct Community Council from 2000 to 2003, the number one safety and quality of life issue in the area was the dangerous conditions posed by delivery bicyclists. With the continuing proliferation of eateries in the neighborhood, the delivery bicycle safety problem has grown exponentially. In my book, no matter how popular or successful a restaurant is, its bicycle policies, or lack thereof, are a direct affront to our community. Just because you serve a wonderful maki roll does not give you license to turn our sidewalks into the Tour de France.
For those who may question the wisdom of limiting sidewalk café permits to establishments with strong records of bicycle safety, the connection is not so farfetched. As a board member so eloquently stated at a recent meeting, both issues deal with safety and pedestrian traffic. A sidewalk café is not an entitlement, but a privilege afforded to restaurants by local residents vis a vis the community board. If an operator disregards the safety of the community, by failing to comply with bicycle laws, for example, consideration for a sidewalk café should be forfeited, in my opinion. In fact, I believe that restaurants that presently have sidewalk cafes should be in jeopardy of losing the privilege if its delivery people are proven to be chronic offenders of bicycle laws.
Of course, the Police Department will offer statistics on bicycle violations issued during a certain period of time (month, year, etc.), but if enforcement is so effective, where is the deterrence? I don’t see it. One answer would be to allow traffic enforcement agents to issue summonses for cyclists who break the law. The last time I checked, an expired meter never caused me bodily harm; a delivery bicyclist did.
Business owners who share a common interest in our community do not have to be convinced of why bicycle compliance is important. They understand its merits. Unfortunately, many don’t share that concern unless it affects their bottom line.
I believe that Board 7’s vote to disapprove the café was a milestone in protecting our residents, today and tomorrow. In my opinion, it was a courageous and bold resolution on an issue that has long been ignored by those responsible for enforcing bicycle laws effectively. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s a darn good start.
Joseph Bolanos is a community advocate and president of the group Landmark 76.
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