NYC to Use Inspections to Combat Dangerous Bicycle Delivery Riding

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Delivery rider Tomas Almenares has been zipping deli delicacies to offices and homes for the same company since 1989. (Photo Kate Hinds)

(Guia Del Prado -- WNYC) City inspectors will start going door-to-door at restaurants to make sure their bike delivery men have safety gear and obey the rules of the road.

Tomas Almenares has been delivering  for Lenny's restaurants since 1989. He says he wants his younger colleagues to learn the rules of the road.

"Because I want education," Almenares said. "I want good information for the new people working in the company." Riding delivery in Manhattan can be a chaotic and dangerous job. Oftentimes employers demand rapid delivery speeds that push commercial cyclists to break the law, running red lights or going the wrong way down one-way streets.

Starting today, yellow-shirted inspectors from the Department of Transportation will begin stopping in to teach restaurant owners bicycle safety laws. The first phase is on the Upper West Side and then the Upper East Side over a six-month trial period.

Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says educating businesses on bike safety rules will lead to fewer bicycle accidents. “Our emphasis here is making sure that everybody knows you need to wear a helmet, 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,” Sadik-Khan said.

City officials announced the program in front of Lenny’s deli in the Upper West Side today. The deli chain is known for fleets of sandwich delivery like Almenares riding restaurant-issued bikes with "Lenny's" vanity license plates. Most restaurants provide far less noticeable equipment to delivery staff, making it harder to report lawbreaking delivery riders.

Under the new city rules, the seemingly omnipresent delivery riders will soon be easier to identify with required reflective vests, helmets and bikes equipped with lights and bells. Commercial bicyclists are already required to wear helmets, vests and carry ID cards as well as use bikes equipped with reflectors, lights and bells.

The DOT will now require business owners to hang a blue poster (pictured) inside the workplace that details bike safety rules.

The DOT inspectors can fine any businesses not following the safety rules starting in early 2013. Fines will range from $100 to $300. This is the first time the DOT has been empowered to impose fines on businesses for not using proper bike safety equipment, Sadik-Khan said.

“We think its going to bring more resources to address this issue,” she said.

The DOT is planning to expand the program in areas with a large number of commercial bicyclists.

City Councilmember and transportation committee chair James Vacca said, despite the new DOT program, city agencies haven’t taken enough responsibility in dealing with wayward commercial bicyclists. He said he plans to introduce legislation cracking down on errant commercial cyclists.

“At the next meeting, because much of what the commissioner has indicated today cannot be done by the department of transportation, it has to be done by city council,” Vacca said. “I’m going to make sure all the laws that we’ve had on the books all these years are finally enforced.”

A bike counts as a vehicle in New York City and is required to obey all traffic laws. The New York Police Department is responsible for issuing moving violations, not the DOT.

He also said that the New York Police Department needs to ticket more commercial bicyclists running red lights and going against traffic.

Hector Lebron, the safety director at Lenny’s and a former police officer, said he thinks the DOT’s program is just a start when it comes to reducing the number of bicycle accidents.

“Do I think it’s enough? I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Lebron said. “I think the key point is the level of enforcement.”

A commercial cyclist ID card. Not quite a driver's license, but required by law.