Oscar Health Insurance: “Bike Messengers Can Blindside You”

Health insurance company Oscar is banking on fear and loathing of cyclists. Photo: Danielle Kosecki/Twitter
Health insurance company Oscar is banking on fear and loathing of cyclists. Photo: Danielle Kosecki/Twitter

Here’s one for the tone-deaf PR file.

Oscar, a “startup” health insurance company helmed by real estate heir and venture capitalist Joshua Kushner (brother of Observer publisher Jared Kushner), is hoping to sign up young, tech-savvy New Yorkers in need of health coverage. To do this, the company has launched an ad campaign that features this message: “Bike messengers can blindside you. Medical bills shouldn’t.”

Bike messengers, who are less common on NYC’s streets today than they were a decade or two ago, tend to be scapegoated like this — the embodiment of all that is fearsome about city traffic.

Statewide, the economic cost of car crashes in terms of medical expenses and lost productivity is in the billions. Last year, 168 pedestrians and 10 cyclists died in NYC traffic, while more than 4,000 cyclists and 16,000 pedestrians were injured. The last time a New York City cyclist killed a pedestrian was April 2009, when Stuart Gruskin was killed by a wrong-way delivery cyclist on a Midtown street.

Fashion magazine editor Danielle Kosecki, who also rides with a NYC-based women’s cycling team, saw the insurer’s ad on a recent subway ride and was not impressed. She tweeted to the company and called the ad “fear mongering.”

Other health insurance companies have embraced cycling as a way to market themselves in a positive light and encourage their customers to stay fit. And organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics not only see traffic crashes as preventable but encourage active transportation to improve health.

Oscar didn’t have anything to say in reply to Kosecki’s tweet except, “Our customers know what they can expect to pay for doctor visits, procedures, etc. That’s all this ad is about: price. #transparency” Streetsblog asked the company if it had any other response to criticism of the campaign. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

  • red_greenlight1

    Some truth to this. I’ve had to jump out of the way of a few bike messengers as they plow through crosswalks and sidewalks. However I look forward to seeing the “Taxis can Blindside you ad.”

  • Michael Klatsky

    The are playing on real experiences that bike messengers cause people on a regular basis.

  • Except bike messengers in NYC blindside pedestrians *all the time*. There’s a line between supporting urban cycling infrastructure and whitewashing illegal activities some cyclists frequently engage in on city streets. Like ignoring red lights, stop signs, and pedestrians in crosswalks. Why does Streetsblog cross that line so often?

  • Kevin Love

    Or perhaps “Taxis can cut off your left foot and lower leg while you thought you were safe on the sidewalk.”

  • Joe R.

    Last I checked Streetsblog doesn’t whitewash dangerous activities by cyclists which put pedestrians or other cyclists in danger. Note the operative word “dangerous”. Running a red light or stop sign at a clear intersection isn’t dangerous. I’m tired of those activities being lumped in with the dangerous kind.

    As for bike messengers, how many even exist any more? It’s mostly food delivery guys people complain about these days, but then again the same people who complain about them want their order of lo mein in ten minutes. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Fast, free deliveries implies cutting corners.

  • Kevin Love

    “Bike messengers, who are less common on NYC’s streets today than they were a decade or two ago…”

    How much of that decline is due to illegal competition? Due to lawless motor vehicle couriers double-parking and committing other illegal acts?

    We need proper law enforcement to end this illegal competition.

  • It’s mainly because of the internet

  • Kevin Love

    Actually, we can have it both ways. With proper cycling infrastructure, we get fast free food deliveries and we can go commuting, shopping, visiting friends, etc without cutting any corners.

    And so can elderly people, children and everyone else. A city for people, not cars.

  • Joe R.

    I totally agree but NYC has a long way to go to get to that point. Just removing most private autos would let everyone on foot or 2 wheels get around faster as you could remove most of the associated traffic controls.

  • Kevin Love

    Probably, but there still seem to be lots of motor vehicle couriers committing illegal acts. If proper law enforcement required them to actually obey the law, how much of those deliveries would shift to bicycles?

    I have been in places with a lot of cargo bikes making deliveries. Cities for people, not cars.

  • Kevin Love

    Very true. One of the features of urban car-free zones is that they tend to be entirely free of traffic lights and signs. Without cars, these things are not needed.

    For an example, see:

    http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/06/no-cars-no-traffic-signals-no-deaths.html

  • A regular basis like, “half of all health insurance holders may have to deal with this at some point in their lives?” Or a regular basis like, every day in a city of 8 million people there are maybe 1-2 serious bike-on-ped collisions?

    Because at that later rate, it would take approximately 5,000 years for half the population to have been in such a collision. And I don’t even believe it’s that high… cyclists don’t want to collide with people because the cyclist gets injured too, and cyclists can often extract a lot momentum energy from the bike with the brakes in a very short timeframe, during a close call or imminent collision. Full-speed collisions are rare by any metric, or else we’d be hearing more about gravely injured cyclists in such collisions.

    The whole point of the claim of fear-mongering is that this is something that could happen, but it is not something that you should think would be worth thinking about as a likely scenario. And this ad takes this rather unlikely scenario and uses it as a setup to a pitchline about pricing… but does so at the expense of the image of tens of thousands of daily commuters – honestly no one knows the difference between an aggressive messenger and a mild-mannered commuter nowadays – who are human beings (most often very responsible ones) and are just trying to get to work and back without being killed or harassed. People on bicycles are not just soulless hazards that need to be thought of as a risk rather than a neighbor. And certainly not just because someone’s trying to sell something to the public.

  • Michael Klatsky

    Trust me, I can tell the difference between a law abiding citibike rider in the bike lanes and the reckless bicycle messengers riding the wrong way up church street, cutting in between buses and zooming around corners, almost hitting pedestrians. You know that bike messengers are reckless (as are cabbies, commercial garbage trucks and others), dont place them in the same category as bike commuters.

  • I’m sure you’re very smart. But there’s not enough time in your day for you to visit all of the confused subway commuters and dispel their notion that ALL cyclists are fucking nuts, not just the hundred-or-so complete maniac cyclists who ARE rather reckless but also have a funny way of not actually hitting anyone/anything very often, or else they wouldn’t be working at that job for long.

    You are confusing a factual claim with toxic branding. No one’s ad should consist of the message, “Hey, you hate this other guy, right? But you should LOVE us!” What is that supposed to achieve?

    Also, demonizing messengers is like demonizing cabbies. I can recite a long list of offenses I’ve seen by cab drivers in the past week or so, but I’m clear-minded enough to know that it’s not all of them who are doing that stuff, and 9 out of 10 of my cab rides are solemn, safety-consistent rides. I would never show approval for an ad that asked me to think of them all poorly, in order to set me up for the flip where I’m supposed to think of a selected brand name as the opposite.

  • carma

    bike messengers (generally speaking) are a bunch of douchebag cyclists.

    please dont put them in the same category as many cyclists.

    as a cyclist, i really get pissed off from the messengers that cut you in with a fraction of an inch on the side.

    and yes, these are the guys that ride salmon, run red lights without and yielding, cut in between cars, cut off pedestrians. you name it, they do it.

    they get a bad rap because they ARE bad cyclists.

  • carma

    food delivery cyclists are nothing compared to messengers with no regards for others safety. at least food deliveries although they salmon and also cross reds, do yield.

  • Alex

    The irony is that bike messengers ride the way most drivers in NYC drive. I completely agree that they are terribly reckless and make all cyclists look bad. I watched one blow a light on the freaking West Side Highway last week, nearly killing himself as he cut in front of traffic. But what’s the difference between that and a car doing it? Well, about 3,000 lbs, which explains why cars kill far more people I suppose.

  • Rabi Abonour

    As opposed to cars, which never ever blindside pedestrians.

    The problem with this ad is that it makes no sense to jump to bicyclists as the preeminent traffic danger in this city.

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