BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
Unsatisfied with the regulation of commercial cyclists, a group of Upper East Side residents took matters into their own hands.
For a few evenings last month, members of the East 72nd Street Neighborhood Association stood in the lobbies of five Upper East Side buildings, monitoring the bike delivery persons that came and went. After evaluating the information they collected, they compiled a report card rating restaurants by their messengers’ adherence to laws and regulations.
“Commercial cycling has been a real problem on the Upper East Side,” Valerie Mason, the association’s president, said. “There’s a real density of population. People do a lot of takeout, so these guys are very visible.”
The neighborhood association’s survey took place on the evenings of Nov. 15-17, with the group noting whether delivery riders wore reflective vests, displayed identification or used electric bicycles.
Delivery riders using electric bikes, which are illegal but nonetheless common, merited their restaurants an automatic F. In all, nearly half — 29 out of 64 restaurants — failed.
Just four restaurants got A grades. Their delivery persons were wearing vests with proper identification and were using bikes without motors. Riders lacking vests and other safety features earned their affiliated restaurants B and C grades.
Mason said the survey’s goal was to “come up with something that will make these cyclists obey the law.” The group also canvassed from 68th to 78th Streets between York and Third Avenues, noting restaurants that had electric bicycles stationed nearby.
Mason said that residents in her Upper East Side neighborhood often complain that commercial cyclists are riding in the wrong direction and breaking other road rules. Because police can only dedicate so much time and manpower to ticketing lawbreakers, the neighborhood association decided to take on this project “to see if what we were seeing anecdotally we could really see analytically,” Mason said.
The city’s Department of Transportation declined to comment for this article.
Cafe Evergreen received an F grade, but its owner, Frank Moy, denied that his First Avenue establishment employs delivery messengers who use electric bikes. “I have no idea what kind of a statement people make, but we’ve always been trying to comply with regulations,” Moy said, adding that his cyclists also have vests with proper identification. “We do the best we can.”
Sophie’s Cuban, on East 68th Street, also received a failing grade, but its owner, Mike Mendoza, said he is careful to abide by the rules. “All my delivery guys have vests and have numbers,” Mendoza said. He acknowledged that two of his messengers have electric bikes, but said he has asked them both to remove the battery that powers the illegal motor.
“I think one of them actually got pulled over by a cop and he came and told me what happened,” he said. “I didn’t get a chance to follow up with the precinct, but I said if that’s what the cop told you to, make sure that you do that. Both the folks with e-bikes don’t have the battery pack on the bike, so it’s essentially like a regular bike.” Mendoza and Moy said they have had their messengers attend workshops held by the Department of Transportation on proper commercial cyclist conduct.
Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area, said some restaurants may count fines for e-bikes as part of the cost of doing business. “I’ve made a very simple request going on two years now saying ‘I’d like [residents] to no longer accept deliveries from people who show up with e-bikes,” he said. “Ultimately I think that if a restaurant gets fined $100, that’s the cost of doing business but if they lose 100 customers in a night, that has an impact.” While his office did not assist in the data collection of data, Kallos said he fully supports the idea of the survey and would suggest it to other communities that feel they have a commercial cycling problem. “Hopefully other neighborhood associations in this district, as well as around the city, will see this as a model and start working so that instead of just complaining about e-bikes people are actually empowered to do something about it,” he said.
Mason said her organization isn’t “against cyclists,” and was quick to say she didn’t want to resort to ending her patronage at the poorer scoring restaurants. Mason was recently hit by an electric bike in Queens, and wants everything possible to be done to increase her neighborhood’s safety. Ideally, Mason would like to see the Department of Health include adherence to commercial cycling rules in their letter grades for restaurants. “We’re hoping that the restaurant community will be responsive,” she said. “We want to keep the restaurants in business.”
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at newsreporter@strausnews