Vacca Lectures DOT on NYPD Delivery Cyclist Enforcement

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.

Image: CBS2

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

  • Joe R.

    It’s amazing the kinds of ideas these people come up with living in an ivory tower. This reminds me of NYC’s requirement to keep spray paint locked up. All it’s done is impose an additional burden on stores and individuals. Meanwhile, graffiti is as prevalent as ever.

    Maybe it makes more sense to look at exactly why these delivery cyclists do certain things, and then see if there’s a way to allow them to efficiently make deliveries while posing less of a hazard to the public (note that I’m playing devil’s advocate here by allowing that delivery cyclists are a major threat to life and limb rather than just a low-level annoyance). Contraflow bike lanes aren’t a bad idea for a start. Legally allowing cyclists to pass red lights if they can safely do so is another. The problem here is applying the same standards to bicycles as you do to automobiles. It just never made any sense.

    The aversion to electric bikes makes even less sense. So let me get this straight-they expect a delivery person to pedal around for 8 or 10 hours, and stop at every single red light? How about some of these people try that? I’m a reasonably fit, strong cyclist, and I would be spent after about 2 hours if I stopped for every traffic light I would encounter on Manhattan streets. You’re probably talking about 40 to 60 stops per hour once you include the stops for deliveries. I invite anyone here to get on a bike and try it. Accelerate to 15 or 20 mph, stop every minute or so, wait 20 seconds, accelerate back up to speed. Now do this for entire work day-if you can. I’ll bet good money even Bradley Wiggens couldn’t do it. Electric bikes at least make it possible to have some semblance of compliance with traffic laws for the duration of a shift. Of course, this still greatly increases delivery time, but the free market will fix that when enough people get cold food (and I hope that includes Vacca and Lappin).

    Exactly what “results” is Lappin looking for here? You’re not going to get a bunch of delivery cyclists all happily complying with every law while still getting your lo mein piping hot. Take your pick-cold food or lots of illegal cycling. How about trying to accommodate delivery cyclists somehow with infrastructure and changes in the law so they can still make fast deliveries? The police can still go after those who do reckless things like ride an e-bike at 20 mph on a crowded sidewalk. That’s where the focus should be. If delivery cyclists need any training, then it should be in pedestrian etiquette. Don’t buzz pedestrians, don’t fly through crowded crosswalks, treat every pedestrian as if they were a member of your family because they’re a member of someone else’s family.

  • Reader

    The driver of a flatbed truck — a very large delivery vehicle, if you will — recently struck Jessica Dworkin on Houston Street and dragged her dead body for two blocks up 6th Avenue.  Emma Blumstein was killed by another type of delivery vehicle, a lumber truck, when the driver failed to yield to her right of way.  Mathieu LeFevre was also killed by the driver of a commercial vehicle. 

    What these awful incidents all have in common is that the deliverymen responsible were not delivering pizza and Chinese food.

  • Jesse Greene

    “… 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.”

    At least we agree on that…

  • Anonymous

    I feel — and I hope I’m not the only one here who does — that food-delivery cyclists put me at risk. Not as a walker, but as a cyclist.

    The bulk of my daily riding is in lower Manhattan, much of it in the Financial District, where I work, and from which I bike-commute home every day. On a recent evening, in the eleven short blocks straight up William Street from Beaver (where I work) to the street’s T at Beekman, 9 of the 10 food-delivery cyclists I saw were riding the wrong-way, i.e., toward me. A few of those interactions were dodgy.

    I’ll guess that the advent of electric bikes has resulted in a 40% average increase in speeds for those cyclists. And for what? To shave 30-60 seconds off delivery times? Probably more to extend the geographical reach of each kitchen, providing more “consumer choice” subsidized by other street users being put at greater risk.

    Please spare me, in comments back, the obvious lecture about disproportionate dangers — I’ve literally “written the book” on that score, more than once. What I’d like to discuss is whether there’s a way to tackle the dangers this sector poses in a way that is not only humane but that could give us greater leverage to focus culture, enforcement and street design on the far far greater dangers from drivers and their motor vehicles.

  • Reader

    You can’t get to the root of the problem until you change the economics of food delivery, as Joe mentions.  Proposals to fine restaurant owners for employees who break laws are a start, but we all know that the owners are just going to pass those fines onto their employees in the form of longer hours, lower pay, or lost jobs.  For example, I know that some restaurant owners that are already required to provide lights, helmets and vests to their employees simply make their deliverymen pay for the equipment out of their wages.  What are these low-paid workers and sometimes illegal immigrants going to do?  Complain and risk getting fired or deported?

    If you want a humane solution I think you’d have to unionize delivery workers and allow them to organize for better pay and working conditions.  Absent that admittedly impossible task, the City Council could pass laws that put limits on the number of trips a delivery person can make in a shift, mandate breaks, and guarantee a living wage that makes their dependency on tips less vital. 

    The problem is that the restaurant industry would go bananas. They, not poor delivery guys, have Vacca’s phone number.  Restaurant owners would have to hire more workers to keep up with demand and their already razor-thin profit margins couldn’t sustain it without a rise in prices, which the same people who complain about reckless e-bikers would never allow. 

  • Joe R.

    @Komanoff:disqus I’m sure you’re familiar with the anecdote of a school which had a problem with students taking a short cut through the lawn to get to a building instead of using the designated path. The school tried enforcement, fencing off the grass, etc. but nothing worked. Eventually what did work was to just make the path where the students were going to walk anyway.

    Here we’re facing a similar problem. These delivery people are going to do what they’re doing regardless. It’s therefore incumbent upon the city to see that the delivery people can make their rounds without creating a risk to others. When it comes to wrong-way cyclists, you’re preaching to the choir here. I’ve said time and again that wrong-way cycling is at least an order of magnitude more dangerous than all the other illegal cycling behaviors combined. Just the other day I had a dodgy encounter with a wrong-way cyclist (without lights at night!) at a closing speed of close to 40 mph. That’s the problem in a nutshell-you don’t expect to see a cyclist going the wrong way, and you have little time to react given the relative speeds. This is why it makes sense to have a designated contraflow bike lane on streets which are likely to have delivery people, and then enforce it. There will no longer be any excuse to ride on the sidewalk if you’re going against traffic. You’ll add predictability to the traffic flow. If the contraflow bike lane comes at the expense of a parking or travel lane, then you have the bonus of also calming motor traffic somewhat.

    As for electric bikes, their additional speed wouldn’t be an issue if their movements were predictable. Suddenly seeing one flying towards me at 20 mph (while I’m also doing around 20 mph) is an unacceptable situation. Same thing with riding on sidewalks at 20 mph. These bikes need to have designated places where they will be expected, and that is what needs to be enforced. Even though electric bikes have gotten a bad rap due to their reckless operation by delivery people, they have a growing place in the city’s transportation network. They open up utility cycling to the infirm, which in turn increases the demographic who will support bicycle infrastructure. For this reason alone they shouldn’t be banned.

    I’m confident that if cooler heads prevail the delivery cyclist problems can be solved in a manner acceptable to all. Nothing good will come from the draconian measures being debated by Vacca et al.

  • Anonymous

    You need to look at the incentives that delivery workers and restaurants have. The delivery worker has a strong incentive to deliver as many orders as possible per hour, to try to get more tips. What’s pissing off pedestrians and a little risk on the road here and there (it “won’t happen to you”, you think) when you are living day to day and have to pay food and rent?

    If you make the worker pay a fine, they probably won’t be able to pay it, and will rather try to evade paying it. What are you going to do, send them to prison for nonpayment? It’s not like you are going to garnish their wages, when many delivery guys are likely paid off the books.

    If you make the restaurant pay the fine, they’ll probably fire the worker, who will try to find a job at another restaurant. The only way of preventing that, and I hate to say it because it seems to be a taboo here, would be to license the delivery worker. If they incur too many fines, revoke their license. And if a restaurant gets caught hiring an unlicensed delivery worker, then make the restaurant pay a very steep fine (not in the hundreds, but in the thousands). Then everybody will have an incentive to follow the law.

    You could do without having a testing requirement for the license, to save on bureaucracy, as long as there is identity verification. Since many people don’t have an official state-issued ID, you could use a biometric ID. Probably expensive, though.

  • Station44025

    If only there were a robust and extensive network of safe bikelanes…wait, that’s a ridiculous suggestion. I’m sorry.

  • Len diamond

    First you have to look at this issue through the eyes of the non cycling public (which is the majority of folks).  They have all seen delivery cyclists go through red lights, go the wrong way on streets and ride up on sidewalks.  It is rare to be killed by one of these cyclists but there are doubtless many collisions and pedestrians have fear and their anger is real.  These non cyclists also tend to group all bicyclists together and don’t necessarily differentiate commuters and folks running errands from delivery bikes. 

    NYPD doesn’t write many summonses to this group for many reasons.  Shockingly enough part of it is that they don’t want to be accused of targeting the minority groups that are a large part of this profession.  Also they don’t want to be seen going after undocumented aliens.  And as others have mentioned, these are poor folks and the summonses would be a huge financial burden.

    Another way to go after this issue then is to penalize the employer for the employees actions.  This is a common thing, ask OSHA.  In fact OSHA is tasked with worker safety, which helmets and safety vests as well as complying with traffic laws promotes.  I don’t know the economics of the food industry but wonder what the pay model used by supermarkets who provide delivery service or peapod is.  Maybe folks need to pay a bit more for their take out so the delivery men can be paid more.  Or if those guys are also underpaid maybe we should let their trucks do whatever they need to speed things up?

    If following traffic rules is unrealistic with the current economic set up for these delivery guys, then instead of ignoring the laws, putting pedestrians and other cyclists at risk and allowing large swaths of the public to paint all cyclists as a problem, we should do something that causes the situation to change.  Hitting restaurant owners in the pocket book for their employees behavior might be the way to do it if education doesn’t.

    And in the spirit of full disclosure, Bike New York (which I am on the board of), does have a curriculum ready for this need although we have not at this point been in talks with any of the parties about the issue yet.

  • Anonymous

    Ya know in Holland as well as the town I was in last night (Blois, France), they have narrow ass streets and one-way streets.  And a funny little thing I saw. Do Not Enter signs for the wrong way, followed by a Sauf Velos sign.  That’s right. Bikes are allowed to ride the wrong way!

    Finally some sensibility. If someone riding the wrong way is doing so recklessly, then give them a ticket.  Is it that hard?  Do we really need hearings over this shit, meanwhile, people get killed on the reg by cars/trucks and nobody important gives a shit. I’m moving to Europe. 

  • Joe R.

    @JarekAF:disqus I think just about everyone here agrees that reckless riding, not technically illegal but safe riding, should indeed be what we should be giving tickets for. Sadly, the NYPD seems utterly incapable of distinguishing between the two.

  • Redbike


    When you have a moment, read the early installments of a five-part series titled “The Bicycle Uprising”. You can find it on the website. It’s written by this guy named Charles Komanoff.

    The early installments focus on what, with benefit of hindsight, this guy Komanoff considers the core strength of the uprising: including and supporting the bike messengers. Indeed, the bike messengers were at the center of the uprising. Read and learn from what this guy Komanoff wrote. About the only substantive differences between the bike messengers then and the food delivery cyclists today: some of today’s food delivery cyclists are riding cycles with motors; and most of today’s food delivery cyclists seek a low profile.

    Setting the motor-assisted cycles aside (and I’ll admit: that’s a biggie), don’t let Vacca et al divide and conquer. Re-read what this guy Komanoff wrote: all the bicyclists were in it together. According to this guy Komanoff (Heard of him?), that’s why we won. Us and Them? We all lose.

    For starters: legitimize two-way bicycling in separated bike lanes that already exists today. (BTW: it’s not just food delivery cyclists….) All that’s required: paint and signs.

  • fj

    Laughable as a potential storm surge 1 foot higher than Irene’s will greatly impact this city’s subway & electrical grid and $4 billion per day economic activity for a month or more when these cyclists and many more will be — even more — the lifeblood of this city.

  • fj

    Yes, bike bells are really really important!

  • fj

    Motor assisted is a biggy in a good way: it makes low cost net zero mobility accessible to virtually everyone far beyond any other modality. It is on the critical path to high performance net zero mobility solutions that exceed the practical capabilities of cars: kill & injury rates, environmental devastation, excessive costs, etc.

  • Anonymous

    @d1285b7626e45a5f9a1a7d201e7facf9:disqus — Touche, Redbike. Thanks for the wake-up call and for delivering it in such a positive spirit.

    I disagree with your overall take, however. There are many more differences between messenger cycling “then” and food-delivery cycling now than the two you cite. While percentages differ between neighborhoods, I’ll wager that a good 40% of food-delivery cycling is done wrong-way or on sidewalks, versus single-digits for messengering then and now. While those figures are just my best guesses, no more, they would fit the respective situations: short-haul vs. medium- or long-haul, streets vs. avenues, massive vs. standard economic incentive to deliver ASAP. And they translate to big differences in respective dangers, both real and perceived.

    It’s no “accident” (sorry) that the two pedestrian deaths in memory from collisions with food-delivery cyclists were on a sidewalk (Arthur Kaye, Upper West Side, 1997) and wrong-way (Stuart Gruskin, Midtown, 2009), respectively. Nor is it incidental that, to my knowledge, during the same 13-year period (1997-2009), no pedestrian was killed in a collision with a bike messenger, despite the fact that total messenger miles cycled were roughly triple total food-delivery miles cycled.

    I think it’s past time for cyclists and the rest of the livable streets community to acknowledge that something is seriously wrong with the food-delivery business model and sector, that none of the attempted solutions have worked thus far, and that the situation is impeding progress on livable streets. I don’t presume to know the right course. (Though I hardly think that making too-narrow bike lanes two-way is a smart idea.) I’ve asked TA several times, for several years, to convene a working group including food-delivery cyclists and business owners to wrestle with the problem. I’m still waiting. Maybe you and I should do it ourselves?

  • fj

    Important conversations should center on city-wide net zero mobility solutions and smart electrical grids and not this inane frivolous stuff

  • fj

    btw:  Tornado watch today Sat, Sep 8, 3:20 PM to Sun Sep 9 1 AM

  • Anonymous

    Komanoff has the history right.  There are a lot of similarities, but also a lot of differences between bike messengers and food service delivery cyclists. 
    I was a bike messenger 45 years ago, and advised the legal team fighting the midtown bike ban.  I have not delivered pizza nor noodles, so I have not been on all sides of this problem.

    Food delivery is not a newly recognized problem.  The NYC Bicycle Advisory Committee – hosted by NYC DOT – tried some 25 years to get an outreach program going.  The committee wanted the city to distribute multilingual safety posters with bike safety laws to all the restaurants.  Much like the Heimlich Maneuver Choking signs every restaurant posts.  We even had translators lined up to help with the text.  The city staff just couldn’t get their act together and the effort fell apart.  The Bike Advisory Committee  was disbanded by the city not long after.

    There are some real differences between messengers and food deliverers.
    First is language.  Messengers primarily are fluent or at least very comfortable with English.  It’s needed for the job – there are often complex interactions with customers at both ends.  Restaurant workers have a wide variety of languages, and English often isn’t even their 2nd.
    This means communications to both delivery cyclists and restaurant managers will have to be in many languages, not always the same even within the same restaurant.

    Culture, not just the economics of delivery, affects behavior. 
    Immigrants from East Asia and 3rd world countries have a culture where car owners come first, bicyclists next and pedestrians are often overlooked.  Driving and cycling culture in home countries assume a very high street density, where “near miss” close encounters are the norm, and not the exception. 

    I served in Vietnam and lived in Asia.  The distinction between “street” and “sidewalk” is very vague – sometimes non-existent.  Traffic direction, for bikes as well as pedestrians, is often “advisory” and “optional.”  Back streets are “traffic calmed” by default of their crowding, not by design.  But Northern European adherence to traffic law is not part of Asian traffic calming.  To talk food deliver cyclists about following “the law” in NYC, we have to recognize that not only don’t these riders not know any traffic law, they have all the wrong instincts when they are told the law.  If you don’t see, much less understand the problem, it’s hard to solve the problem.

    One similarity is both messengers and food deliverers are looked down upon as lower class marginal people.  Both even more marginal than “normal” cyclists.  There is a lot of the Gucci-Mercedes Syndrome here: the rich guy in his $900 Gucci loafers being passed by this kid on a $29.95 toy bike moving faster than him, and the same guy in his $90,000 Mercedes stuck in traffic, being passed by this kid on a $29.95 toy bike.  Oh, the outrage.  The delivery cyclists are recipients of cultural bias from their detractors.  The people complaining are part of the problem – both as dinner customers who want rush delivery, and as biased observers on the streets.  This is much more complex than clicking your heels together and repeating three times: “don’t pass red lights going the wrong way on the sidewalk.”  We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

    Bashing food delivery cyclists is NOT a solution.
    But the solutions needed won’t be quite the same as what worked to (mostly) calm and rationalize the bike messenger industry.  Charlie’s call for a task force to focus on the food delivery industry, cyclists, on pedal bikes and electric bikes (and driving cars too), and their managers, is the necessary next step.

  • Redbike

    ?Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough replies. My main concern — and this seems to have gotten across: Vacca et al want to villainize one segment of bicycling in NYC. Who’ll be next? Yes, I, too, have had nasty head-on encounters with salmons and ninjas. And no, I haven’t a clue how to effectively and successfully reach out to food delivery cyclists.

    Unlike bike messengers, I’d guess the status of many food delivery cyclists is sketchy. And “sketchy” includes: I doubt most food delivery cyclists are employees in any formal sense. Other comments mention: restaurants will just pass any additional enforcement burden on to the cyclists. What’s at the top of food delivery cyclists’ to-do list: keep a low profile and scrape out a meager existence.

    I suggested legitimizing 2-way bike traffic in protected bike lanes because, for better or worse, it already exists. For better or worse, it’s working. One clear benefit: more bike traffic in the bike lanes forestalls the bike lanes becoming sidewalk extensions. And the 2-way bike traffic — salmons and ninjas and all — isn’t just food delivery cyclists. Don’t make them the villains.

    NYC’s DOT deserves high praise for building protected bike lanes. What’s next? Observe how the newly-implemented infrastructure is being used, and adapt the paint and signs to reality. It seems to me it’ll then be a whole lot easier to reach out to food delivery cyclists in various cultures and languages: “Bike lanes good; sidewalks bad.”

  • Anonymous

    Excuse me but Redbike provokes me to go off-topic when he says, “Observe how the newly-implemented [bike] infrastructure is being used, and adapt the paint and signs to reality.”   
    The bike path on Broadway between 42nd and 35th Sts has come to be an attractive nuisance, and a real danger. The success of calming this section of Broadway with tables, chairs, and plantings means more pedestrians — and invites more people to heedless step off the curb into the bike lane.  

    We’d do better to adapt to reality here. Tturn over this bike lane to the street furniture and plantings. Let us ride in the now wonderfully calmed lanes of Broadway ‘traffic’. I already do this. The bike lane filled with pedestrians is simply too dangerous.

  • Fredjame

    Ski the conditions & your ability; same goes for cycling. In crowded conditions go slow & if necessary walk. Really strange that some cyclists have to be told this.

  • Some wise and sensitive answers here!

    The bike delivery modal share in NYC is something to be proud of. The problem here is that “busy New Yorkers” are simply delegating this work to others on or below the margins! The labor and the safety risks! It is simply too cheap — people need to pay more (in tandem with legalization and union-forming), cook their own food more often or… get on their bikes and pick up the stuff themselves (with smart phone apps, this can easily be done on the way home from work or somewhere else). All of this will change the industry, 
    but right now it is weighed too heavily on the narcissism of the people ordering the food.

    What is missing with the last suggestions? 1 – Bikes need to be set-up to safely carry a bunch of to-go sized things. This means a large basket or crate — not all “commuter bikes” have this. 2 – Bikes need to be parked in front of residential buildings, or at least on street level. Who is going to get their bike out of a bike room to ride 6 blocks round trip? Sure, bike share will help with this, but only for people who don’t want to walk a block or more with food that they want to keep hot.I share the opinion of the “disagree” contingent on making existing one-way bike lanes two-ways. The “contraflow” example mentioned in Belgium is about sub-20mph streets which mix modes, not about streets with bike lanes. The simple – just kidding – solution is to make it a NYC regulation that all streets have two-way provision for bikes (in Manhattan the mixing crosstown streets and the big Avenues too) with the possibility of exceptions. This will benefit all cyclists and help food delivery people use less energy and gain time. This also means that these mixing two-way streets need a 15 or 20mph speed limit.European-style e-bikes that are legally bicycles (no throttle, pedal assist only to about 15.5 mph, possibly higher than 250w output* ) need to be legal in NYS. Allowing cars but not allowing these is ridiculous.

    I assume that there might be some ways to keep food hotter for longer, but I know that humidity level is important, and that summer and winter conditions are different.
    * There is some debate about the 250w limit in the EU. Some argue that going above this is a threat to pedestrians and other cyclists, others that the limit makes electric-assist cycling less possible for heavy people and cargo bike use. Needless to say, with distances and hills only an electric-assist cargo bike can be a car replacement for many people.There needs to be a lot of training – also of pedestrians in regards to legal two-way bike movement – and last but not least I disagree with the regs. for reflective vests as they make other cyclists and pedestrians less safe and with helmets as delivery drivers do not have to wear them. 

  • Nathanael

    This is the police department which (a) doesn’t arrest people for speeding, and (b) drives down pedestrian decks of bridges?

    Uh, City Council, your problem is the police department.

  • fj

    Poor People First is much better than pick on poor people or ignore them.  This is the high level solution which will likely be one the major successful strategies dealing with the great transition caused by rapidly accelerating climate change;  with truly long term benefits to all instead of all this goofy worthless chatter.

  • “The safety course bill, Stuart’s Law, is named after Stuart C. Gruskin, who was struck and killed by a commercial cyclist in 2009.”

    This should further illustrate the pitfalls of sculpting the law by waving a bloody shirt, a dark art that livable streets advocates have dabbled in with some success in the form of laws named after victims but none in the form of actual results. The multi-layered patchwork of laws (and, increasingly, “rules” prescribed by bureaucracies) that purport to govern a citizen of New York City is already a heaping mess with no logical core. Since neither police officers nor citizens have the ability or desire to memorize tens of thousands of disconnected and often contradictory statutes, we just violate them all the time and the police decide who to punish and when to punish them by digging up or fabricating relevant violations after the fact.

    Prosecutors, police, politicians, and parroting media (sometimes including Streetsblog) have taken to referring to laws as “tools”, an amazing discredit to this linchpin of civilization. It speaks exactly to what they think the law is for: a tool for government functionaries to use against the public. Of course, the origin and history of law is a struggle for precisely the opposite: to protect the public from arbitrary and unlimited rule by those in power. But now we talk about so-and-so’s law, with little thought put into whether it is principled, whether it can work, and how it fits in with every other law—we can’t when our energy is devoted to the emotional affirmation that tragedies are bad.

    I hope that Nancy Gruskin’s string of Pyrrhic victories in her personal war against the least dangerous (by two orders of magnitude) wheeled conveyances in New York will be instructive to livable streets advocates. Her way is no way to accomplish anything. We have to keep on with the grueling work of convincing our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and ultimately politicians that daily traffic deaths of all kinds are unnecessary and that our ingrained tolerance of them is wrong. Only when we treat every traffic death with the seriousness it deserves—not just the unusual ones like Stuart’s or Hayley’s and Diego’s—can we actually prevent future deaths with traffic calming and consistent enforcement of rational laws with popular support.

  • Xchopp

    If we had a law for every pedestrian or cyclist killed by a motor vehicle…. sheesh!

  • Xchopp

    Education is good — and certainly needed in this case… BUT I do wonder why “Vacca repeatedly cited problems with … the proliferation of electric bikes, which he called “frightening.”  An electric bike is “frightening”?  Compared to what? A Ford Expedition?  A dumpster? A semi? 

    For heaven’s sake, go to Munich (Germany) and see how well integrated bikes, e-bikes, and motorized vehicles can be if we just make the effort to reorganize away from 1 person, 1 car. Remember: the e-bike is not making your family sick from ground-level ozone.


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In February, no fewer than nine people were killed by drivers while walking in NYC, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. The victims included five seniors and a 6-year-old child. Two victims were on the sidewalk when they were killed. Another was struck by an NYPD officer in a crash that police refuse to explain […]

More Than Just Same-Old at Upper East Side Bicycle Forum

From the first (and only) town-hall meeting of the Manhattan Borough President’s Planning for Pedestrians Council in 1987, to Manhattan Community Board 8’s “Bicycle Forum” this week, I’ve sat through innumerable gatherings on cyclist-pedestrian conflicts. Cycling and pedestrian advocates, with Charles Komanoff at left, gather on the UES in 2007. Photo: Jonathan Barkey Each session […]