May/June 2000, p.4

Image is Everything

Kozmo.com sets a high standard for messenger gear, helping to professionalize the job.When it comes to politics and marketing, perception is reality. Unfortunately, in New York City, the image of bicyclists is not exactly shining. It is an indisputable fact that cars hit about 10,000 pedestrians a year-tens of these on the sidewalk. But it also true that disrespectful cyclists, especially those who cut off pedestrians in crosswalks and ride on sidewalks, have engendered tremendous ill will. There seems to be something specially intrusive, and personal, about a bicycle crossing a pedestrian's path. This public anger is especially powerful in Manhattan, where heavy cycling activity, especially commercial cyclists-restaurant delivery people in particular-has hit a nerve. Elected officials and community boards representing these neighborhoods have commented to T.A. that complaints about bikes on sidewalks are a leading quality of life concern. This antagonism towards cycling undermines efforts to improve conditions for cyclists and has spurred punitive anti-cycling legislation in the City Council and community opposition to bicycle lanes.

Three years ago, T.A. launched Give Respect/Get Respect outreach events to educate cyclists and motorists and positively engage elected officials and community leaders. Nine Give/Get events have shown T.A.'s seriousness about eradicating the unlawful behavior that so infuriates the public. Also recently, West Side Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Ronnie Eldridge sent letters, in cooperation with T.A., to local police commanders requesting they boost outreach to restaurant owners who use bikes for deliveries. T.A. has repeatedly urged the police to base this new outreach on their effective "Bar Car" liquor law program conducted on the Upper East Side.

The on-going consolidation of the bicycle messenger industry and emergence of big bike-based firms like Kozmo.com and Urban Fetch has created new opportunities to professionalize commercial cycling and improve the overall image of city cyclists. Kozmo.com considers its 300-plus riders a key part of its overall marketing and public relations plan. Their cyclists are outfitted in bright orange helmets, bags and jerseys with a prominent logo and are offered discounted safety gear. Riders undergo two days of safety training and are paid competitive hourly wages, rather than a "per delivery" rate. Other large messenger companies are also outfitting their cyclists in company jerseys, suggesting they are taking a stake in how their messengers behave. (Though city law already requires the business to be identified on the bike and the rider's upper body, and that the rider carry an ID card, many businesses do not comply, making their delivery people anonymous.)

Messengers and food delivery cyclists are only part of the cycling scene. Other everyday riders can do their part to be good will ambassadors for cycling by staying off of sidewalks and yielding to pedestrians-even when they're wrong.

Join T.A. for another Give Respect/Get Respect action in June. Check the website calendar or email Sue for details: bike@transalt.org.

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