When it comes to making a public commitment to taming lawless driving and making streets safe for biking, police departments in major west coast cities are starting to leave Ray Kelly’s NYPD in their wake.
Advocates in Los Angeles recently started regular meetings with LAPD about traffic enforcement, crash responses, and other issues related to cyclist safety. Police chief Charlie Beck pledged at a City Council hearing last month to "change the culture" at LAPD with respect to cycling.
In San Francisco, police chief George Gascon has pledged to improve communication between SFPD and local cyclists. Making good on a commitment he made to Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel last September, Gascon recently joined a group of bicycle advocates for a short ride and agreed to go for a second ride later this year. Clarence Eckerson captured the occasion for posterity. He reports:
The chief’s message isn’t complicated. "We all need to co-exist," and
motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists need to respect each other’s
rights and safety, he says. He’s working toward fostering that goal
through education and establishing a liaison to the cycling community.
Yes, what we’re seeing in L.A. and San Francisco so far is largely symbolic, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and advocates in both cities say they’re encouraged by the sincerity of these first steps from police.
In New York, the most common police-cyclist interactions seem to be stings that target cyclists for non-offenses, like riding outside the bike lane. While NYPD precinct chiefs say they don’t single out cyclists, they also seem to base their enforcement decisions in large part on who complains the loudest at community meetings, not necessarily what poses the greatest danger on the streets. Meanwhile, crashes that injure and kill cyclists seldom result in prosecution, and the department keeps a tight lid on its investigations, shielding important information from public view.
Maybe police would see things differently if they biked down Adams Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, negotiating all the double-parked cars and impatient motorists. So here’s a standing invitation to Commissioner Ray Kelly, Chief of Patrol James Hall, and traffic chief James Tuller: Come for a ride, see what it’s like to bike the streets of New York.