NYC Reining in Scofflaw Delivery Cyclists with Six Restaurant Inspectors

Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 03:38 AM

One-third of the NYC DOT bike inspection team: Demel Gaillard (L) and Ronald Amaya. (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY - WNYC) When it comes enforcement of cycling laws, New York City is willing to employ the stick. But first, the city wants businesses -- and their delivery men -- to eat carrots, at least until January.

On a recent afternoon, Department of Transportation inspector Demel Gaillard paid a visit to Haru, a Japanese restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The manager, Jamyang Singye, greeted him at the door.

"How can I help you guys?" Singye asked. "We’re just here to see if you guys have your posters posted," said Gaillard. "Outlining the commercial bicyclists law?"

Gaillard is one of six DOT inspectors, and his job is to make sure business owners know the commercial cycling rules and are communicating them to their employees. Singye brings him downstairs to the kitchen, where the rules are displayed on one of many text-heavy postings. "I’d be happy to give you a new poster," says Gaillard, offering up the newer, full-color edition.

"Do you also have it Chinese?" asks Singye. In fact the poster comes in seven languages -- a necessity in a polyglot city where bicycle food delivery men often hail from abroad. Haru, which has a Japanese sushi chef, Chinese delivery staff, and a manager from Nepal, is no exception.

Jamyang Singye, Haru's manager (photo by Kate Hinds)

"That would be great," says Singye.

What's not great is the public's perception of bike delivery guys. Speaking at a hearing earlier this month, New York City Council member Jimmy Vacca said the city's rogue cyclist problem is "tremendous."

"There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in Manhattan where I don’t see a commercial cyclist on the sidewalk, going the wrong way on a one-way street," he said. "This is a constant occurrence.”

Delivery bikes parked on Amsterdam Avenue (photo by Kate Hinds)

DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan hears these complaints all the time. Her inspectors can't enforce moving violations -- that's the domain of the police. In July, Sadik-Khan explained what her department can enforce.

"Our emphasis here is making sure that everybody knows you need to wear a helmet," she said, ticking off the requirements. "You need to wear a vest, you need to have bells and lights and have a bike that's in working condition and follow the rules of the road."

Commercial bicyclists also need reflective devices on their bikes or tires, and a numbered business ID card. Business owners must provide this equipment for their employees.

From the DOT's "commercial bicyclist safety" poster

Since July, the DOT has visited over 2,100 businesses to tell managers like Singye what he needs to do to follow the law and, as Inspector Ronald Amaya explained, what will happen if he doesn't.

"In January 2013," Amaya said, "if you’re not in compliance with all the rules and regulations – like your delivery men not having their vests, their helmet, ID cards, and the poster’s not up in your establishment, we will be issuing a fine, anywhere from $100 to $250."

Here's the important distinction with enforcement: if a DOT inspector sees a delivery guy riding without a vest, the inspector will issue a ticket to the business. If a police officer sees a delivery guy breaking a traffic law by, say, riding on the sidewalk, the officer will ticket the bicyclist. Brian McCarthy, a deputy chief for the NYPD, told TN the department has expanded enforcement and so far this year has issued 8,959 commercial bicycle summonses. That's about 25 percent of all bike tickets.

Meeting notice on door of St. Agnes Library (photo by Kate Hinds)

The DOT is holding public forums to hammer this point home. At a recent meeting on the Upper West Side, DOT staffers handed out posters, bells, and even samples of reflective vests to over a hundred managers and delivery workers. Department educator Kim Wiley-Schwartz explained details of the coming crackdown to a standing-room-only crowd of managers and bike delivery workers. She spoke about the need to wear helmets and vests and carry ID. Then she did a little consciousness-raising about the need to follow the rules of the road -- and yield to pedestrians.

NYC DOT staffer Kim Wiley-Schwartz, explaining commercial cycling rules

"You do not have the right of way. I don’t want a ‘ding ding ding ding’ as people are crossing the crosswalk when they have the light," she said, imitating the sound of a frustrated bicyclist leaning on his bell. "They have the right of way."

After the meeting, a lot of workers said the rules made sense. But Lawrence Toole, who works at a restaurant in the theater district, said he felt a little picked on.

"These are small businesses, and what they’re doing is they’re hiring people that need jobs," he said."It’s bad enough that there are no jobs out there. Now you’re going to penalize the people that are giving the jobs to people."

But a few seconds later, he reached acceptance. "But we got to follow the law all the same."

City Council woman Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, says there needs to be a culture change -- and it won't come easily.

"It is a very challenging job to convince the delivery people and their managers -- the managers change often, the delivery people change often," she said. There needs to be "constant education that safety comes before a customer who wants their food right now."

Starting in January, businesses that don't follow the rules could pay the price.


Comments [9]

mustafa from nyc

I undersand

Jan. 26 2014 05:57 PM

I think a lot of the conflict regarding bicycles is that cyclists (who are really just pedestrians on bikes) are and feel about as vulnerable and capable of doing damage as a pedestrian in almost all cases, so many of them use the same standards that pedestrians use to decide what's acceptable. People who don't ever cycle hold cyclists to the same standards as cars in some ways, but also aren't afraid to jaywalk right in front of a moving bike. If you walk out in front of a bike, the cyclist is probably more likely to get hurt than you are, and if he has to slam on the brakes, he will then have to pedal hard for a while to regain momentum. I cycle a lot in NYC, and the biggest threats to me on a daily basis are pedestrians who don't follow the rules and people opening doors without looking. These are both incredibly common (much more common than the rude acts I experience as a pedestrians from other cyclists, which are of course still a problem) and extremely inconsiderate. If I can get through my 25-minute bike ride to work without a single pedestrian threatening my well-being by ignoring the rules of the road, it's a miracle.

Sep. 29 2012 11:23 AM

Read Joe Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality to understand how the rules of the road have corrupted the rule of law to benefit the rich with the streets jam packed with cars ultimately to the benefit of no one.

Sep. 28 2012 06:33 AM
Lonny Salberg

I agree about the bike racks. Removing them to the ends of streets while adding curb extensions is a win-win for everyone. If a business wants bikes to be able to park right at their door or inside, they should have a uniform sign (design provided by the city) that says "Walk It to Park It" with a catchy logo - or something to that effect, as a polite reminder to us cyclists to not just hop the curb and barrel on up to the business. Yes, we are more aware of our surroundings than 90% of pedestrians walking on that sidewalk, but a little 3-second delay to walk it can have a huge impact on people's opinions about cyclists. Respect is a two-way street (no pun intended).

Sep. 28 2012 02:46 AM

You show a photo of a bike rack that the city put on the sidewalk. Such a tempting reason to ride on the sidewalk. Put the bike racks in the street where they belong, and you'll see more street riding for the delivery guys and gals.

Sep. 27 2012 09:01 PM

I am so glad that WNYC is finally reporting on this terrible NYC hazard. Why would Bloomberg not think this problem is a priority. It is insane to be making a comment how much the business is helping people out of work. Most of them are illegal immigrants. That is a fact. If there is not a specific lane for cyclists, then the cyclists shouldn't be on streets in a major urban area. It makes NO sense! And, by the way, I have seen cyclists on the sidewalk 3x this week alone on the upper west side.

Sep. 27 2012 06:59 PM

It's all about the fact that cyclists, most especially delivery guys do NOT follow the rules of the road. I see it every single day on the upper west side (60's and 70's- broadway, west end and amsterdam). The cyclists totally ignore the lights; They go right through them and they make turns on lights where they could literally knock someone down. It is so frequent as to be one of the most dangerous aspects of walking in NYC. We cannot continue like this. At the very least, the delivery guys absolutely must wear something that easily identifies what establishment they are working for. Florescent signs on their bikes or helmets so we can report it.

Sep. 27 2012 06:56 PM

What about the delivery motor bikes? Are they bicycles or motorcycles? Does the bike law or motor vehicle law apply to them? Are they allowed in bike lanes?

Sep. 27 2012 05:57 PM

Meanwhile the NYPD sits by as pedestrians and bicyclists are killed by motorists with absolutely no punishment or investigation... Glad the city is focusing on the true danger!

Sep. 27 2012 05:09 PM

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