Tensions between delivery cyclists and Upper West residents mount in latest e-bike battle

Sergio Solano, a delivery worker, saw a notification on his phone on a recent September afternoon: an order from Chick-fil-A at 57th and Lexington. The drop off was in Morningside Heights, a good 50 blocks north. 

He wasn’t sure why the customer didn’t order from the fast-food chain’s more northern outpost, but he accepted the delivery. He hopped on his electric bike, a motorized bicycle that powers him to travel up to 25 miles an hour, and he navigated across town and north along the length of Central Park before DoorDash’s 35-minute time limit ran out — so he could move on to his next delivery. 

“The reason we use the e-bikes is because the delivery companies send us very far,” he said. 

But the delivery cyclists’ constant rush has come under scrutiny, with city leaders and residents saying that e-bike riders travel too fast and frequently break traffic laws. E-bikes have been a flashpoint citywide both before and after the City Council voted to legalize them along with e-scooters in June 2020. 

Helen Rosenthal, a City Council member who represents the Upper West Side, expressed concern about e-bikes at the June 2020 meeting, but still voted yes on the legislation that “legalized” the use of e-bikes and scooters. The bills removed restrictions on e-bikes that can travel up to 25 miles per hour and e-scooters that can travel up to 20. 

“I have quite a few constituents that have been in crashes with those e-bikes and have gotten seriously injured,” Rosenthal said at the meeting. “What I would ask is that we think hard about how we keep people safe with the e-bikes and the scooters.”

The bills went into effect in November, months after Mayor Bill de Blasio suspended enforcement of them in March 2020, when restaurants were only open for takeout and delivery. The Mayor’s Office didn’t respond to questions about whether they have resumed enforcement, but Solano said delivery workers are often ticketed. 

Now, 19 months into the pandemic, community concerns surrounding e-bike safety remain an issue. Community Board 7, representing the Upper West Side, passed a resolution on Sept. 9 that called for increased police enforcement of e-bikes’ traffic compliance. Its proponents argue the bikes are an issue of pedestrian safety. 

The resolution is an example of the growing tension between e-bikers and communities as food delivery spiked amid the pandemic. Residents say they are afraid of getting hit by e-bikes, while cyclists say they need to meet time limits and make enough deliveries — and delivery workers face their own hazards from cars. 

Sales for delivery apps nearly doubled between March 2020 and September 2021, data from analytics firm Second Measure shows. Before the pandemic, New Yorkers spent more on food delivery than any other major city, according to Rakuten Intelligence. After UberEats hired over 30,000 delivery workers in New York City to meet rising demand, the total number of city delivery workers rose to 65,000, estimates Los Deliveristas Unidos, a group formed to advocate for the workers. 

But along with Community Board 7, the community board representing Bay Ridge, Brooklyn discussed in May the flurry of complaints it received regarding e-bikes on the Shore Road Promenade. And on the Hudson River Greenway, posted signs note that e-bikes aren’t allowed, despite their legality in the rest of the city. 

On the Upper West Side, the manager of dim sum restaurant Jing Fong was struck and killed by an e-biker in April after getting out of his car and stepping into the bike lane, police said. The bike was owned by a local pizza shop, cops added. 

Community Board 7 member Jay Adolf proposed the resolution after witnessing what he said was an “exponential” increase in e-bikes, particularly among delivery workers. 

“Anyone who lives in this neighborhood has seen them going through red lights, going through stop signs, going the wrong way on one-way streets, going on sidewalks,” he said in an interview.

Upper West Side resident Franklin Gustavo Arevalo Castillo, 67, said that he had three close calls with e-bike riders in his neighborhood within the span of three days this summer. Each time, a biker whizzed by the senior citizen on the sidewalk. 

“A lot of people in the area move slowly. Getting run over by a bicycle would put you in the hospital for a few weeks,” Castillo said.

What’s pushing delivery workers to push themselves for faster delivery times? If delivery cyclists don’t complete deliveries in the app’s timeframe, their ratings go down, said Solano, the cyclist who rushed from Chick-Fil-A to Morningside Heights. Fausto Garcia, another delivery worker who uses an e-bike, agreed and added that with lower ratings, he might have less control over his start time, meaning he might have to start later in the day and receive fewer delivery opportunities, he said. 

DoorDash, which both Solano and Garcia ride for, only penalizes workers if they repeatedly arrive “significantly” after the company’s set pick-up or drop-off times, according to its website

Delivery cyclists also say they face pressure to complete enough deliveries in a day to make a living wage. City delivery workers earn $7.87 an hour on average before tips, and $12.21 after tips, according to a study by Cornell University and Los Deliveristas Unidos released Sept. 13. A DoorDash spokesperson said that if they’re working in Manhattan, Dashers make on average $33 an hour, including tips.

Help related to the living wage pressures could be on the way through a package of six bills passed by City Council on Sept. 23, which will impose some regulations on the apps. One requires the city to establish minimum-per trip payments to delivery workers, and another requires apps to set maximum distances for deliveries. 

Solutions like these, which put pressure on the apps rather than the cyclists, were what Community Board 7 member Ken Coughlin tried to push for at the board’s September meeting. He opposed the resolution that called for increased e-bike enforcement, arguing that New York City Police Department resources should be directed at motorists, not bikes. 

“There is not enough enforcement against what’s actually killing and injuring people in our district, which is cars and trucks,” he said in an interview. 

Less than 48 hours after Community Board 7 passed its resolution, a delivery worker riding an e-bike was hit by a car and killed within the district. He was the eighth worker to die on the job this year, according to Los Deliveristas Unidos. 

In his decade of making deliveries, Solano said that he’s been hospitalized twice for on-the-job injuries. Most recently, a passenger opened a car door while he rode alongside a row of parked cars, throwing him off his bike. Garcia has witnessed this happen to others as well. 

“Unfortunately, every day we have to face these dangers in the streets,” Garcia said in Spanish. 

The NYPD and Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment on Community Board 7’s resolution.

Patricia Sastre assisted with Spanish translation in interviewing Fausto Garcia.