Hearing on Bicycle Confiscation for Sidewalk Cycling

1. First, let me start off by saying that Transportation Alternatives appreciates the goal and determination of Council Member Millard and other Council Members to create a safer environment for pedestrians. Long before Council Member Millard or his bill, Transportation Alternatives has been standing up for pedestrians. Pedestrian rights and safety are a primary goal of our organization.

2. We too are tired of seeing bicycles threatening and endangering pedestrians on sidewalks. Nothing is worse for us as pedestrian and cycling advocates than having a pedestrians' chief image of a cyclist as one who is intent on running them off the sidewalk.

3. Bikes should not be on the sidewalk. Period. But this bill, intro. 103, is not a workable solution.

4. Given a host of pressing priorities for the NYPD, passage of the bill will probably not significantly ease the problem of cycling on sidewalks. Indeed it may represent a first step in a negative process of ratcheting-up penalties and restrictions on NYC bicycling in response to public frustration with the ineffectiveness of current enforcement.

5. More importantly, bike confiscation will not be an effective deterrent to sidewalk cycling. Rules already exist to control this situation but they're not being enforced. Why should we think this new law will work? The confiscation bill assumes a huge enforcement effort, yet the lack of enforcement of much less complicated laws is in large part what is creating this problem. In addition, the NYC Dept. of Transportation opposes this bill. DOT admits that it can't administer this and doesn't want to be involved with it.

6. Establishments using bikes rather than motor vehicles to conduct their business save NYC considerable pollution and traffic congestion. We think our approach to the problem would permit bike-using businesses to recognize more strongly their own stake in safe bicycle operation by employees.

7. A far more effective approach than Intro. No. 103, bicycle confiscation, would be a combination of really enforcing existing laws, continuation and expansion of educational efforts like Operation Spoke and most importantly: pressure on enterprises whose riders endanger pedestrians. This is the mechanism we need to successfully diminish sidewalk cycling: holding accountable the employers of the cyclists. Employers can change rider behavior more quickly and effectively than any other agent. They're the ones putting the pressure on their workers to sustain a fast, corner-cutting pace. They're the ones we should be targeting.

(The confiscation bill specifies commercial cyclists but the bill stems mainly from problems experienced with food delivery cyclists; messengers usually don't want to be on the sidewalks -- it slows them down.) Food delivery cyclists work for very low pay and under bad working conditions. Make the employers responsible, employers who have already shown they are irresponsible through continued large-scale menu dropping despite community complaints.

8. How will this work? FINE THE BUSINESSES OF THE CYCLISTS WHO RIDE ON SIDEWALKS. If the businesses receive this strong financial sanction, they'll instruct their employees to keep off sidewalks. If the businesses decide to pass any fines along to offending employees, that will also serve as an incentive for the cyclists to stay off. There are already laws on the books which require commercial cyclists to display the names of their employers. Enforce them.

9. Transportation Alternatives agrees with the elements in Intro. No. 274 which reflect these laws already on the books, namely that commercial cyclists should carry identification and display the name of their employer on their bicycles. We disagree with section (1) f, which holds the cyclist liable for a fine of $250 to $500 for failing to carry ID or display the name of the employer. This fine would be more effective if aimed at the employer.

10. This type of enforcement is an easy, do-able job for auxiliary police. It won't take resources (cops) off the streets. It could raise money for the City instead of costing the City money like the confiscation plan. And it can be done NOW.

11. Let's look at what bike confiscation will actually entail. Confiscation causes an administrative mess and is the reason why the City doesn't want to impound cars. Think of this in terms of police resources: you've got two cops out of commission (two because they always work with partners). They have to call a car to take the bike. They have to go to the precinct. Then they have to voucher the bike. Then storage space has to be arranged.

12. Then look at the cost to the City of confiscating one bike: $50 or more/hour per cop plus a patrol car plus administrative time plus storage space plus more administrative time with the tribunal for adjudication -- this adds up to $500 - $1000 easily per bike as a conservative estimate. Then release of the bicycle means more administrative costs.

13. Because of the ease with which one can purchase a stolen bike in NYC for as little as $15 - $50, there's an incentive for the restaurant to maintain its bike fleets by resorting to the stolen bike market rather than pay steep fines to retrieve the confiscated bike. Furthermore, some businesses may turn from bikes to highly polluting mopeds or even vans.

14. A word about Operation Spoke, the bike-on-sidewalk educational outreach/enforcement effort by the 19th Precinct: Officers in the 19th Precinct say it's working and that the situation has improved because of their efforts. Clearly, we need to step up efforts like this one. I quote from Officer Petrillo (and I urge this committee to speak to him as well): "Many are recent immigrants and are unaware it's against the law." Yet Operation Spoke is not enough. We should take Operation Spoke a step further, and step up efforts to reach out and educate cyclists who don't know it's against the law to ride on sidewalks. And penalize their employers.

15. Regarding Intro. No. 104, Transportation Alternatives is in favor of raising the fine for motor vehicles parking/stopping/standing in bike lanes but don't look at it as a quid pro quo for Intro. No. 103. This fine should be increased, and the law enforced, regardless of the fate of any other bill.

16. In closing, I'd like to reiterate Transportation Alternatives full agreement with the position that sidewalks are for walking, and bicycles belong on the street. Community-based solutions involving the police, neighborhood groups, and bike-using businesses may appear to take more work than simply passing another bill, but we think such an approach will be far more effective in meeting pedestrians' needs than sporadic enforcement of a bike confiscation law.

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