NYC Debates Reining in Rogue Bike Messengers & Food Delivery Cyclists

A NYC DOT staffer handing out examples of educational material to members of the New York City Council (photo by Kate Hinds)

Businesses should be financially liable if their delivery people disobey cycling rules.

That's a goal of a package of four bills under discussion in the New York City Council. The legislation aims to educate commercial cyclists, as well and put teeth into rules that are already on the books. One of the bills would give the Department of Transportation the authority to issue civil fines to employers who don't post signs in the workplace about traffic laws, or fail to provide lights, helmets, bells and vests to their delivery people.

Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the council's transportation committee, said one of the main goals of the legislation is to take some of the burden off of the NYPD. "The New York City Police Department has been asked to do more with less for long enough," he said, "and commercial cycling enforcement in that agency has not been a priority."

The legislation piggybacks on a campaign currently underway in the DOT. This summer, the agency created a six-person unit tasked with educating businesses about commercial cycling rules. "This unit has already gone door-to-door to over 1,350 businesses," said Kate Slevin, an assistant commissioner for the NYC DOT, at a City Council hearing on Thursday. Its efforts are focused on Manhattan's restaurant-heavy West Side right now; it will expand to the East Side, as well as Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood, by the end of this year.

Enforcement starts in January, when the unit's inspectors will begin issuing $100 tickets to businesses that aren't in compliance.

But whether a six-person unit can ensure that thousands of businesses are obeying the law is a big concern of the council -- not to mention the fact that moving violations are still under the purview of the NYPD.

"The extent of the problem that I see is tremendous," Vacca said, citing complaints about delivery people riding on sidewalks or against traffic. "I want to make sure that this unit has enough people in it to make everyone understand that the days of yesterday are gone."

He said he agreed with an idea that Council Member Peter Koo had floated earlier in the hearing about using the city's traffic agents to help enforce the rules. "What are they trained to do, just give summonses to people? ... It's an extension of their existing responsibility."

Sue Petito, a lawyer for the NYPD, tried to put the kibosh on that line of thinking. "It's a different body of laws and regulations," she said, "completely different from what their current mandate is."

Meanwhile, Robert Bookman of the New York City Hospitality Group said he wanted the council to cut restaurant owners some slack. "I just can't understand the logic of why an employer should get a summons for an employee who is provided with a helmet who chooses not to wear it," he said.

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said her office was reviewing the legislation and the findings from today's hearing.

(Minutes from the meeting can be found here. Read the legislation on the City Council's website.)