Cold Food v. Traffic Laws: City Fights to Get Delivery Bikers to Follow the Rules

Yeesh! Where’s your helmet, pal? (Getty)

A group of men stood outside Lenny’s sandwich shop on Columbus Avenue Friday, tugging at their neon vests and ringing their bicycle bells that read “I heart my bike” for curious bystanders. Save for the intermittent prod from a higher up to keep their vests on, the delivery cyclists were well versed on the bicycle laws (and speedy delivery of New York grub) that they were summoned to demonstrate.

Bike laws may seem like common sense: ride the right way, stay off the sidewalks, signal turns, but it can be easy to ignore them, especially when a tip is on the line and you come from another country with no such regulations. On Friday, outside the Lenny’s outpost, the city’s Department of Transportation convened a press conference to remind delivery riders, perhaps the most loathed cyclists in the city even as they are an integral part of its culinary culture, that they must obey the laws. It was a show of force by the equally-under-attack department, seen sometimes as too bike friendly, that they care about such matters.

“The takeaway is simple, New Yorkers want everything in a New York minute,” announced Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of the New York City Department of Transportation. “But businesses that depend on bike deliveries can’t cut corners on safety.”

The newly enforced bike rules were plastered on a large sign held by a woman to the right of Ms. Sadik-Khan. Though the rules seemed to be no more than common sense (like obey traffic signs and don’t attach your bike to another vehicle), Commissioner Sadik-Khan said the NYPD issued over 14,000 violations last year for such failures.

To remedy the lack of education on road safety (that one would think of as common sense), Commissioner Sadik-Khan explained that a six-person team of newly deputized inspectors from the department will be maneuvering throughout the city Monday­—beginning on the Upper East and Upper West sides—to educate businesses on biking rules and to provide them with safety equipment such as vests and helmets.

“In my opinion, citywide I don’t think we have 10 percent of commercial bicyclists that are complying with the existing laws that are on the books,” City Council Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca said to the lingering crowd. The legislation, he said, is nothing new. The laws will begin being enforced (with fines ranging from $100 to $300) in early 2013, after businesses have had a chance to educate their employees on the rules.

“When we find people who are not following the rules, we go as far as terminating them on the spot,” Katherine Chung, director of HR for Lenny’s, told The Observer regarding the sandwich shop’s policy. Lenny’s is one food business that tackled cycling safety issues before the city decided to slap concrete rules and fines on establishments with delivery cyclists. Ms. Chung said a common problem was Lenny’s cyclists who were involved in accidents because they were riding against the traffic flow. That’s one way to cheat New York City traffic.

Tomas Alnenares, a Lenny’s employee who has been delivering food on two wheels for about seven years, told The Observer he has never caused an accident but has heard of many accidents caused by other employees. Since Lenny’s began educating its staff on road rules about three years ago, the eatery has experienced far fewer accidents and has thus spared many a New Yorker the anguish of a late sandwich.

Cold Food v. Traffic Laws: City Fights to Get Delivery Bikers to Follow the Rules