BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Turnout at an Upper East Side bicycle safety event hosted by the city Department of Transportation was surprisingly low.
Only three men decided to come to the July 15 event in the basement of St. Joseph’s Church on E. 87th St. at 2 p.m. The event, which lasted an hour, was advertised by D.O.T. as an interactive forum for business owners to learn how to comply with city law on deliveries by bicycle, in order to keep cyclists, drivers and pedestrians safe. All three attendees were delivery bicyclists working for nearby restaurants.
Although the event was organized by D.O.T, funding for it was provided by the office of Councilmember Ben Kallos, who started organizing cycling safety events in 2014 after community members in his Upper East Side district repeatedly expressed concern about what they called reckless bicycling. Usually, bike safety events like this are held around twice a year. At past bicycle education forums, free helmets, jackets, bells and lights have been give out. But at the July 15 event, there was no helmet giveaway, which might have increased attendance.
“It’s a very controversial issue and most people report near misses,” Kallos said about bicycle deliverymen in his district. “At the same time, I think we happen to have more takeout [deliveries] than any other place in the city — if not the world.”
“If you ask what’s for dinner in the Upper East Side, the answer is ‘takeout,'” he added.
According to New York Police Department data, in the Upper East Side’s 19th and 17th precincts, police have made a total of 81 e-bike seizures and issued 1,749 summons to bicycles — mainly for not giving the right of way to pedestrians or running a red light —since October 2018. This year, New York State lawmakers legalized e-bikes and e-scooters at the state level, but allowed for local jurisdictions to ban them. E-bikes and e-scooters still remain illegal in in the city.
Attendance at past bicycling education events has averaged 15 to 20 participants, according to a Kallos spokesperson, though the last bicycle safety event, held in December 2017, boasted 60 attendees.
D.O.T., the agency in charge of distributing fliers and educating nearby businesses about such events, in order to increase turnout, has yet to respond to questions about its outreach methods to this paper.
According to a Kallos spokesperson, D.O.T. sent canvassers to deliver fliers about the event to restaurants and other businesses utilizing delivery cyclists across the Upper East Side. A trio of interns from the councilmember’s office also delivered fliers between E. 93rd and E. 85th Sts. on First and Second Aves. a week prior to the event.
During their time with members of Councilmember Kallos’s staff, attendees were given a bicycle bell, a yellow vest, bicycle lights and a thin handbook on what businesses using bicycle delivery are required to do under the law.
Businesses must display the Commercial Bicyclists Safety poster in an area that delivery cyclists can easily see it, in a language they understand, and have a roster of every delivery cyclist, including their name, home address, start date,and discharge date, if need be, plus unique three-digit ID number, along with the date and completion of the D.O.T. Commercial Bicyclist Safety Course that cyclists must take. Businesses must supply their delivery cyclists with a unique three-digit number, a helmet, a business ID card and reflective jacket that features the business’s name and cyclist’s ID number on the back. The bicycles that delivery people use must be equipped with a bell or other audible device, a white front light, a red tail light, reflectors and working brakes.
The trio of attendees expressed concern that businesses would not want to supply their staff with the required equipment — something they said that colleagues have experienced.
According to Kallos, the number of cyclists colliding with pedestrians or with cars has dropped due to his efforts. The bicycle safety education forums are just one way that the councilmember works to increase safe bicycle use. Along with other education public events and supporting physical infrastructure changes, Kallos has a partnership with the E. 72nd Neighborhood Association to give letter grades to restaurants utilizing delivery bicycles. Association members will sit outside of restaurants and wait to inspect delivery workers for appropriate gear and signage.
“If they are using an e-bike, they get an automatic ‘F,’ and if they are missing any of the materials they might get a ‘B’ or a ‘C,'” said Kallos, who added that the neighborhood watchdogs have increased compliance by about 20 percent. A list of the restaurants with their corresponding grades is printed out and made available in the councilmember’s office, at 244 E. 93rd St.
“It is getting safer, but constituents bring this up frequently,” the councilmember said. “If somebody has a better idea, I’m open to it.”