New York seeks to put the brakes on speedy delivery bicyclists

Story highlights

  • New legislation would require commercial cyclists to follow the rules of the road
  • Businesses employing the cyclists could face fines beginning in January if laws are violated
  • Close to 50,000 commercial cyclists work in New York
It's a New York City way of life: hot food delivered right to your doorstep.
Delivery cyclists regularly swerve through traffic and clogged sidewalks to satisfy hungry New Yorkers. But city officials may soon put the breaks on the speedy deliveries.
"New Yorkers want what they want, when they want it. But nothing is more important than safety. This is not the wild, wild west," said James Vacca, chairman of the city council's transportation committee, at a recent public hearing on a new set of bills that would require commercial cyclists to follow the rules of the road.
City officials are determined to curb the dangers of rogue delivery cyclists by strengthening enforcement, enhancing education and improving safety.
A six-person team of inspectors of the Department of Transportation is already dropping in on restaurants to remind business owners of their legal obligations to provide their delivery cyclists with helmets, bells, lights and reflective vests with the business name on it. The inspectors issue warnings first but beginning in January, business owners could face fines of up to $250 for violations of commercial cycling laws committed by their delivery staff.
Restaurant manager Anna Flosses is supportive of the increased enforcement measures and says "it's about time" to keep the streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists alike.
"It's not only about just making the tips. It's about your life. It's a lot of cars, it's dangerous," Flosses told CNN.
CNN followed Alex Mendoza, one of the delivery cyclists employed by Flosses, on a recent food delivery ride.
Mendoza said he knows the dangers of the street and has received a ticket in the past for riding on the sidewalk, but now he says he obeys traffic rules.
When he completed his delivery, the customer at the door had doubts on how the order had gotten to her.
"I don't like the idea that the delivery people are going the wrong direction to deliver," the woman said.
Nancy Gruskin, founder of the Stuart C. Gruskin Family Foundation, knows all too well the dangers of a cyclist traveling opposite traffic.
"My husband Stuart was struck and killed a little over three years ago by a delivery biker speeding in the wrong direction," she said.
Some commercial cyclists, however, say they aren't the ones to blame -- pedestrians don't look up, they say.
Close to 50,000 commercial cyclists work in New York City, according to the Department of Transportation, and safety for both cyclists and pedestrians is a concern on the city's busy streets.
"I feel like the messengers never get their due," said Fernando Rivera, operations manager of Streetkings NYC. Seven of Rivera's cyclists have been killed in accidents.
More than 500 pedestrians end up in hospital emergency rooms each year after being struck by a bicycle, a study conducted by professors of the City University of New York-Hunter College found.
But in a tug between speedy delivery cyclists and pedestrians, some New Yorkers are hesitant to put all the blame on the delivery guys.
"I will shoot the yuppies before I will shoot the delivery guys. Because the yuppies come from a place of privilege, the delivery guys are just trying to feed their families, and their families back home," New York resident Janne Applebaum said.