Here are a set of comments I made to Streetsblog back in 2011 that I thought were worth digging up again and saving for future reference. I was a little more engaged in the commercial cycling business at the time, as you can see.
I can attest from personal experience that it is not easy or straightforward to shop for a liability policy for bicycles on the business level. Individuals may find it easier.
I believe that this problem is at least partially responsible for the poor cycling behavior of the delivery fleet. Riders are treated as independent contractors (with their own personal bicycles) because the restaurants can’t afford to pay a liability claim. More enforcement and more widely available insurance would make it reasonable for restaurants to put their riders on payroll and cover them directly under their own insurance policies. This would align safe and courteous riding behavior with what the boss wants. All the “bicycle-friendly business” campaigns won’t do a thing until business owners actively take responsibility for the behavior of their delivery fleet riders.
(I liked particularly the idea of the delivery fleet dressed as flight attendants and riding big Oma bikes. It’s a useful corrective.)
BicyclesOnly, thanks for sharing your thoughtful bicycling memoir and explanation for why you support TA’s policy. I agree with you, but have two caveats.
First and most obviously, the benefits to following the “Biking Rules” street code mostly accrue to other people. It’s not obvious that following Biking Rules will keep you, the rider, any more safe. One simple example: stopped at a red light next to automobiles. No cross traffic visible. Is it better to cross the intersection against the light and avoid turning autos or is it better to wait with the automobile and have them turn into your path? I prefer to cross against the light; call me a rebel!
Second, if it were true that “the small minority of cyclists who ride too aggressively” were all individual actors, than I would feel the same as you do; I would grudgingly accept that a behavior-modification campaign was the best way to win acceptance for cyclists.
However, if TA believes that “setting an example” is the way to change cyclists’ behavior, don’t they realize that the example is not being set by paid-up TA members with fluorescent clothing and front-and-rear lighting systems? For every Larry Littlefield in a blinking LED vest, there are a hundred cyclists in black nylon jackets riding without brakes. They are the ones setting the biking rules for everyone else.
In order to change their behavior, though, it makes more sense to coerce the businesses that employ them than to pressure the individual riders. Restaurants are reputation businesses, and should be held responsible for the behavior of their employees. It’s the job of the employer to make sure that employees are following the rules, not the job of random bicyclists on the streets.
Thought experiment: if restaurant delivery staff dressed like flight attendants, rode big heavy Dutch Oma bikes with GPS dynamo headlights and bright red taillights, and strictly obeyed the Biking Rules code, would that encourage or discourage other New Yorkers to ride a bike? I think the former.
The city heavily regulates the taxi fleet; why not the delivery fleet? Better regulation could improve service (bikes could have GPS built in, so customers could track their delivery online), improve safety (lights and reflectors), and reduce accidents (GPS-activated horn could beep when bike was being ridden on the sidewalk, and brake to a crawl when bike was going the wrong way), and enhance the image of cycling as a dignified and respectable way to get around, even with a couple take-out dinners in tow).
(From the same post)
My opinion is that the Biking Rules program reinforces the antibike narrative by creating an monochrome context in which many cyclists’ behavior is interpreted as “WRONG.” This prompts the antibike crowd to argue, very reasonably, that they are all for “RIGHT” biking, and that until all cyclists are “RIGHT,” “WRONG” cyclists shouldn’t be entitled to full use of the streets. Why build bike lanes when “WRONG” cyclists will just use them to maim innocent pedestrians, they say?
And even when articulate proponents of cycling infrastructure like yourself advocate for the benefits of extending more bike lanes so that people can be “RIGHT” cyclists, the dichotomy is stuck to you like a bear trap; opponents respond, ‘Yes, that would be great, but until we do something about “WRONG” cyclists endangering the lives of our uncles and aunts, we shouldn’t just give them more precious street space.’
It reminds me of the fight over needle-exchange programs. In that example, it was necessary to redefine and destigmatize junkies from offenders to victims before exchange programs were accepted as tools for harm reduction. As long as TA (and DOT) keep drawing lines with the majority of working cyclists on the outside, people riding bikes will never get the benefits that they deserve.