The City Council Transportation Committee is on a mission to bring bike delivery workers into compliance with traffic laws, but council members appear unsure as to how to go about it.
Concern over sidewalk riding, red-light running and other behaviors by restaurant workers led to the creation of a DOT commercial cycling unit, which is charged with educating businesses and delivery cyclists on the rules of the road. The six-person crew is also tasked with making sure tens of thousands of delivery cyclists use safety equipment, including bells, lights and reflective vests.
Though the cycling unit was “deputized” to issue citations to businesses that are out of compliance with those measures, DOT employees do not enforce traffic laws, a point that seemed lost on members of the council transportation committee, which met for a hearing with DOT and NYPD officials on Thursday.
“The extent of the problem I see is tremendous,” said committee chair James Vacca. Addressing DOT staff, Vacca repeatedly cited problems with behaviors such as wrong-way riding, and the proliferation of electric bikes, which he called “frightening.”
A package of council bills would create civil penalties for violations of existing laws relating to safety equipment and delivery cyclist identification, and would empower DOT to conduct inspections of businesses and impose fines, which would be adjudicated by the Environmental Control Board. Kate Slevin, DOT assistant commissioner for intergovernmental and community affairs, and Leon Heyward, deputy commissioner for sidewalks and inspection management, explained several times that traffic violations are the purview of police. But in an odd display that would be hard to imagine if the subject were truck driving or cabbie conduct, Vacca peppered DOT with questions about commercial cyclist enforcement.
“There has to be a two-pronged approach, which we can take immediately,” said Vacca. “The police department can let it be known that they will mean business when it comes to these characters who do these types of things. I mean business, and the council means business, and I hope action is truly taken this time.”
A proposed bill to mandate a bike safety course for the city’s 50,000 commercial cyclists “would be a significant administrative and financial burden on behalf of DOT and the delivery industry,” Slevin told council members. DOT also believes requiring delivery cyclists to carry a safety certificate, to be presented on demand by police, would be unenforceable, given the likelihood of forgeries. More effective, said Slevin, would be voluntary education and DOT outreach, including that conducted by the commercial cycling unit, which is offering bike safety forums and distributing equipment and information packets to businesses.
The safety course bill, Stuart’s Law, is named after Stuart C. Gruskin, who was struck and killed by a commercial cyclist in 2009.
Slevin noted that NYPD summonses to cyclists increased by 50 percent overall from 2010 to 2011. NYPD attorney Susan Petito endorsed the proposed bills, assured Vacca that cycling enforcement is a “focus” of the department, and said police and DOT are working cooperatively. On that point, Vacca suggested that traffic enforcement agents could supplement DOT efforts by, for example, checking for bike bells.
“I will certainly take that back [to the department],” Petito said. “I would say that traffic enforcement agents are specifically trained and specifically designated to deal with motor vehicle parking violations.”
Upper East Side council rep Jessica Lappin was unconvinced that the city’s approach would get the results she is looking for. “We’ve done a lot of education. It’s not as if we haven’t tried this,” Lappin said. “But after we educate people, I think we have to do enforcement that’s really going to be meaningful enforcement. And I think that involves summonses for traffic violations that are putting peoples’ lives at risk.”
With reporting by Stephen Miller