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Residents Push to Enforce Little Known Bike Delivery Laws

By Amy Zimmer | November 18, 2011 7:18am | Updated on November 18, 2011 7:21am
A delivery man riding on the sidewalk at East 68th Street had his order in hand, but no helmet or restaurant identification on his bike or shirt.
A delivery man riding on the sidewalk at East 68th Street had his order in hand, but no helmet or restaurant identification on his bike or shirt.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — The call for a crackdown on rogue bicycle delivery people has been heard across Manhattan as community boards and resident demand new rules to license them.

A little known fact, however, is that these rules already exist — and have since 1984. 

While residents across Manhattan are fed up with bicycle delivery people riding on sidewalks, running red lights or pedaling against traffic, and want businesses held accountable for the behavior of their delivery staff, a licensing system for commercial cyclists exists, but is virtually unenforced.

The Upper East Side's Community Board 8 is mulling new ways to enforce and promote the rules, whether it's through Health Department restaurant inspectors or through the New York State Restaurant Association's training program for new eateries.

"We already have commercial licensing and it's not being enforced," Community Board 8 transportation committee co-chair Jonathan Horn said at a recent meeting where members were discussing whether they should call on the city to require licenses for delivery people.

Restaurants and other businesses are required to issue their bike delivery people a numbered identification card with the cyclist's name, home address and photo with the name, address and phone number for the business.

The law also requires cyclists to have a "metal, plastic or other sign of a type approved by the police commissioner, with the name of the business and a three digit identification number" that is legible from at least 10 feet away, according to the rules. They are also supposed to wear a jacket, vest or other item of clothing with the business name and an ID number clearly emblazoned on the back.

Not having an ID number would be considered an equipment violation, which carries a fine up to $250. The cyclist is responsible for the fine, though there's a bill pending in Albany that would make the business owner responsible.

Under city rules, business owners are also supposed to maintain a log book with information on daily trips, and they're supposed to file an annual report with their local police precinct outlining the number of bikes each restaurant owns and the ID numbers and identity of employees.

"That's not happening," Horn said. "We know that."

Ed Ravin of the Five Borough Bicycle Club, is an advocate who has been calling for increased enforcement of the commercial cyclist rules. Ravin believes if police could get businesses to properly identifying their bikes, following traffic laws would become "self-enforcing …  because the public would be able to complain to the merchant and the merchant would clean up its act."

DNAinfo polled restaurants along First Avenue between East 68th and 71st Streets and found only one of 11 had licence plates on its delivery bikes.

John, a manager at Texas Rotisserie & Grill, and George, a manager at Patsy's Pizzeria, both of whom declined to give last names, claimed they knew bikes were supposed to have IDs but said they couldn't control their workers.

"Then that's going to be my job, being outside watching?" John said.

But Lenny's has just that — a compliance officer who writes up cyclists who aren't following the rules. A cyclist found without a helmet once got fired on the spot, said Katherine Chung, the company's director of human resources.

The sandwich shop, with a location on First Avenue and East 68th Street in addition to 12 other spots, began focusing on bike safety two years ago, Chung said.

Managers at each location hold a weekly safety meeting with deliverymen to go over cycling rules, and all of the bikes parked outside the First Avenue location had a Lenny's license plate with an ID number.

"It's important for the safety of our workers and pedestrians," Chung said. "It makes a lot of economic sense to focus on safety. Before that we had a lot more accidents."

Lenny's was one of several restaurants that signed the "5 to Ride" campaign, a grassroots effort to get cyclists to pledge to follow traffic rules. Lenny's is also signed onto the "bike friendly business" campaign started by advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. 

Community Board 8's transportation committee said it would like to work with the New York State Restaurant Association to get the organization to include bikes when doing their training for new restaurants.

"Small business owners have countless regulations they are expected to comply with so any effort to provide them this important information [about commercial bike laws] is welcomed,"  NYSRA spokesman Andrew Rigie told DNAinfo, noting that his organization would "if possible, play a supporting role in disseminating information to restaurants."

CB8 also said it would reach out to the Health Department to see if bike violations could count toward a restaurant's letter grade. 

The Health Department, however, may not switch gears.

"The letter grade posted at the entrance of New York City's restaurants reflects how well the restaurant complies with food safety requirements that are related to the risk of food borne illness," department officials said. "The Health Department is not considering a change to that system."