Testimony of Noah Budnick, Deputy Director, Advocacy, Transportation Alternatives to the New York City Council Transportation

Good morning, I am Noah Budnick, deputy director for advocacy of Transportation Alternatives, New York City's advocates for safer biking and walking and for more biking and walking.

I want to thank the Transportation Committee for convening this hearing to review these two proposed bills that aim to improve the safety of commercial cyclists as well as pedestrians and the traveling public. Transportation Alternatives supports both of these commonsense measures and has recommendations to strengthen them.

Working cyclists are integral to the success of many restaurants, courier companies and other businesses in New York City. Without them riding on city streets these businesses would cease to function. And, like this committee and the City Council, Transportation Alternatives supports commercial cyclist safety for the sake of both delivery people and for pedestrians.

The following recommendations are all aimed at promoting, encouraging and increasing commercial cycling, for the more cyclists there are on city streets, the safer streets and traffic are for cyclists. This "safety in numbers" phenomenon has been born out in New York City and has been documented in research from cities and countries around the world ("Safety in numbers," Injury Prevention magazine, 2003). On the back page of this testimony is a graph of cycling rates and bicycle crashes in New York City from 1998 to 2005 (2006 data is not yet available), which demonstrates that as daily cycling has increased (approximately 33%), annual bike crashes, injuries and fatalities have gone down (nearly 40%). Increasing the number of bicyclists on the road prevents crashes and reduces the crash rate because drivers become more used to looking for cyclists, seeing cyclists and driving safe around them.

To continue this virtuous cycle of more and safer cycling, it is important that all laws, regulations, policies and programs that the City Council and the administration pursue encourage and increase cycling. Not only will this make streets safer, but it will yield benefits in cleaner air, quieter streets and more healthy New Yorkers. Doing otherwise—discouraging cycling and creating barriers to bike riding—will decrease riding and make it more perilous for those who continue to ride and rob the city of the clean air, health and other quality of life benefits bike riding brings us.

Transportation Alternatives is here today to support both Introductions 24 and 58. We agree that businesses that employ commercial cyclists should provide helmets, lights and bells and hang posters with the traffic rules bicyclists must follow and the City administrative rules that businesses must follow. If passed into law, these introductions will increase compliance of existing laws regarding commercial cyclists, making delivery cyclists more identifiable and businesses more responsible for the safety of their delivery people.

In 2003, Transportation Alternatives launched our Working Cyclist Safety education and outreach campaign. The campaign continues to this day and works to educate employers, commercial cyclists, their customers and neighbors and government about cyclist safety and the rules working cyclists and their employers must follow. To date, Transportation Alternatives has worked with police precincts, community boards, elected officials, community groups and bike messenger, restaurant and business associations to educate business owners and managers and distribute almost 2,000 English, Spanish and Chinese Working Cyclist Safety posters.

Transportation Alternatives is a longtime supporter of helmet use. Since the September 2006 release of the multi-agency report on the last ten years of bicycle crashes (Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City: 1996-2005) advocates have been increasingly working with government agencies to promote cyclist safety and educate commercial cyclists and their employers about safety and the rules of the road. Since September, the City Department of Transportation has fitted and distributed over 1,400 free bicycle helmets, and Transportation Alternatives is proud to partner with the Transportation Department and community based organizations around the boroughs to get these free helmets into the hands of low income and immigrant cyclists, many of whom ride to support themselves and their families and do not have any discretionary income to put towards a bicycle helmet or other safety equipment like bike lights and bells. Transportation Alternatives is also excited to work with the City's Health Department to incorporate bicycle safety into its Health Academy courses and materials it distributes to restaurants citywide.

Introductions 24 and 58 act to amend the City's Administrative Code regarding bicycle delivery. This law already requires employers to provide commercial cyclists with identifying apparel with the business name and number on it, a similar sign for their bicycle and to keep a logbook of deliveries. However, looking around on city streets, one rarely sees businesses complying with these rules.

It is critical to the efficacy of existing laws and of these proposed laws that they are enforceable and that agencies enforce them and enforce them equitably. If the City agencies charged with enforcement do not enforce these laws, they will be ignored, and the goals of improving safety will not be achieved. To be effective and achieve the goal of improved cyclist and pedestrian safety and increased cycling, these regulations must be crafted and enforced to compel business owners and employers to provide for the safety of their delivery people and ensure that their employees have safety equipment and ride safe.

Transportation Alternatives recommends that these pieces of legislation include the New York City Department Health and Mental Hygiene by name as an agency with jurisdiction to enforce these rules. The Department of Health already inspects restaurants and enforces hygiene and workplace safety regulations, and it is commonsense to give this agency the power to enforce these new safety rules.

Introductions 24 and 58 and their enforcement should strictly apply to employers because focusing enforcement on business owners and managers will compel them to review the rules of the road and bike safety with their workers and institutionalize safe cycling at businesses; because it is inefficient for police officers to work towards improving safety by stopping individual delivery people; and, because, on the street, it is difficult to differentiate between a commercial cyclist and a non-commercial cyclist, and it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a commercial cyclist who is on the clock and one who is not working. For these reasons, it is smart that the Council is proposing that businesses be required to provide helmets for commercial cyclists and not that commercial cyclists be required to wear them. Between the language barrier between enforcement agents and many working cyclists, the high turnover of working cyclists, the inequity of forcing already low wage workers to pay fines because they lack equipment that they cannot afford and concerns over "stop and frisk" harassment by enforcement agents, on-street enforcement is just too problematic. When enforcement takes place at the business owner and manager level and management is fined, the City sends the message that it is serious about delivery cyclist safety and that businesses must be serious too and institutionalize the culture of delivery safety at their workplace.

It is also a matter of equity that employers bear the responsibility of providing safety equipment for the employees. Restaurants and courier companies stay in business because of their delivery cyclists. Yet, the vast majority of commercial cyclists work as independent contractors, and their employers do not provide them with insurance or other safeguards, so providing safety equipment and the rules of the road for these low wage workers is a necessity.

Additionally, enforcement should be focused on employers because it is inefficient for police officers to work towards improving safety by stopping individual delivery people. The turnover rate is high among delivery people, and it should be the employer's responsibility to ensure that their delivery people know the rules of the road and safe cycling procedures. Thus, it is commonsense for this legislation to be enforced at the employer level, ensuring that employers post and regularly review traffic laws and cycling safety with their workers.

Since bicycle delivery is already a low paying occupation, it is important that this legislation prevents employers from docking their workers' pay or otherwise charging employees for the bicycle helmet to be provided. It is smart that this legislation focuses on employers; it must be enforced on the employer, not the employee, level. And, though Transportation Alternatives recognizes that the Council has already included language to require the employer to provide helmets "at its own expense," we strongly urge the Council to strengthen the language of this provision to make it illegal for businesses to pass this cost on to their workers.

Furthermore, Transportation Alternatives strongly recommends that, in addition to providing helmets "at its own expense," businesses that employ commercial cyclists also be required to provide working bells, lights and batteries at its own expense. This equipment is no less crucial to ensuring safety than helmets, and experts agree that, because they increase visibility, lights are critical to preventing crashes.

To be fair, it is also important that Introductions 24 and 58 provide easy ways for employers to show that they are complying with them and making helmets available to their employees. For example, employers could be given the option of showing receipts or the actual helmets to prove that they are in compliance with this rule.

Transportation Alternatives wants businesses taking responsibility for their delivery people. Bicycle delivery is great for New York City. The last thing we want is bicycle delivery people being penalized for not having equipment that they can barely afford, or for employers to give up bicycle delivery and switch to cars or motor scooters because the laws are confusing and make it difficult for businesses to provide proof of compliance.

Thank You

Testimony Old URL
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Secondary Title
Committe Hearing on Introductions 24 and 58, Regarding Businesses Which Employ Commercial Cyclists