By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — Having restaurant food delivered to your doorstep at almost any hour is a prime perk of New York life, but on the Upper West Side, officials say restaurant deliveries have become a dangerous nuisance, and they're beefing up enforcement of bicycle delivery laws.
Community Board 7 wants restaurant delivery workers to wear shirts with numbers and the name of the restaurant for which they are working so they can be easily identified if they break the law or get in an accident.The board is also asking restaurants to submit photos proving that they follow the city's detailed list of bicycle delivery laws.
Under current city rules, riders must be outfitted with helmets and reflectors, their bike must have a white headlight and red tail light, they must carry a bell "or other audible signal, not whistle," and they have to have a numbered identification card, and "upper body apparel" that identifies the name of the restaurant, according to the Department of Transportation.
Restaurants are also required to keep a delivery log available for inspection.
"It's ridiculous," said David Santos, owner of Taberna tapas restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue and 80th Street, of the rule mandating numbers on bike delivery drivers. "Having the bikes numbered is just going to create more of a problem for us."
But Community Board 7 members argue the rules help businesses.
"We don't see this as punitive, we see this as protecting the rights and the assets of the business owners," said George Zeppenfeldt-Cestero, co-chair of Community Board 7's business and consumer issues committee.
"It's a very small investment on their part preventing a very big pay off in terms of insurance and liability costs," Zeppenfeldt-Cestero said.
He speaks from personal experience. Zeppenfeldt-Cestero was hit by a delivery man from "a well-known establishment" about two years ago.
He declined to name the restaurant because they've since cleaned up their delivery act, Zeppenfeldt said. But he noted the restaurant could have been in serious financial trouble if he had sued them over the incident.
With incidents Zeppenfeldt's delivery bike run-in on the rise, board members decided about a year ago to crack down on delivery scofflaws.
Now, when restaurants apply for sidewalk café or liquor license applications, they get a grilling on bicycle behavior, with board members asking restaurateurs whether delivery employees wear reflective vests, for example.
If restaurants aren't following bike delivery laws, the board will nix a sidewalk café or liquor license application.
So far that's happened only once, when the board rejected a sidewalk café permit for Japanese restaurant Tenzan on Columbus and 73rd after it was busted for letting delivery cyclists ride on the sidewalk. The reprimand didn't last long; the restaurant eventually won a sidewalk café permit from the city.
"That's absolutely wrong," said an Amsterdam Avenue restaurant owner who didn't want to be named for fear the community board would retaliate against him. "Bicycle delivery rules and sidewalk café rules have no relationship. Who are they trying to meddle in police functions?"
But Community Board 7 District Manager Penny Ryan says the board is simply asking restaurant owners to follow the laws already on the city's books.
She said the board was fielding more and more complaints from pedestrians who'd had close calls with delivery bikes riding on sidewalks or against traffic.
"It's not something we just made up to make life difficult (for the restaurants)," Ryan said. "It's a big complaint from the public. We're just asking restaurants to follow the laws which are there for public safety."
Ryan said restaurants have responded to the beefed up enforcement; she's noticed fewer bikes on the sidewalks and more delivery people wearing the mandated attire.
While some restaurant owners said Community Board 7 is overstepping its authority, others said they didn't mind following bike delivery rules.
"We look at it as free advertising," said Ariel Cohen, manager of Mike's Pizzeria on Amsterdam Avenue, of the rule requiring delivery workers to wear shirts with the restaurant's name. "The guys ride down the street, people see the name and it helps us from a business aspect."