Eyes on the Street: 28th Precinct Loves the St. Nicholas Ave Bike Lane

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If you get around on a bicycle in Upper Manhattan, the St. Nicholas Avenue bike lanes are essential. They’re the only on-street lanes in the borough between 120th Street and 160th Street. Many cyclists don’t even bother with the lanes, though, because they’re routinely filled with parked cars.

Normally one might ask the NYPD to enforce the rules of the road on St. Nicholas, but at least in the 28th Precinct, such a request seems futile. At precinct HQ between 122nd and 123rd, a line of police vehicles stick their noses out into the bike lane day after day, completely obstructing it. Pedestrians aren’t spared; some cars are parked halfway or entirely on the sidewalk. And these aren’t just squad cars positioned for a speedy exit in case of emergency. Many of the cars appear to be personal vehicles bearing police union bumper stickers or other markers that the owner carries some official authority.

The New Jersey plate on this car suggests it's an officer's personal vehicle. Photo: Noah Kazis.
The New Jersey plate on this car suggests it's not an official police vehicle, though it was parked between NYPD vehicles on either side. Other civilian cars had police bumper stickers. Photo: Noah Kazis.
When a police car parallel parks in the bike lane, it's no surprise that on the next block, a line of cars feels safe to do the same. Photo: Noah Kazis.
When a police car parallel parks in the bike lane, it's no surprise that car owners feel entitled to neatly line up in the bike lane on the next block. Nothing about the cars on the far block marked them as belonging to police officers. Photo: Noah Kazis.
One of many cars parked on the sidewalk, this one blocks the crosswalk. Photo: Noah Kazis.
One of many cars parked on the sidewalk. This one blocks path from the crosswalk, too. Photo: Noah Kazis
  • Josef

    I’ve always assumed that there is an unspoken detente in this neighborhood between residents who often need to double park for church services and the police who want to double park all the time all over the place. I would really like to see a survey of local residents done to see if everyone actually prefers the double parking (that interrupts bus travel on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. constantly) or if they’d prefer more democratic streets.

  • J. Mork

    Subverting bike lanes and sidewalks sends the wrong message. If we’re going to provide free parking for the police, the city should take more on-street parking and give it to them.

  • Noah, The NJ plates on the Honda indicate that it’s not a police officer driving it. NYPD members don’t have to live within the five boroughs, but they do have to reside in one of several downstate counties. Not in Jersey. That’s a red flag.

  • Noah Kazis

    Jonathan: Good catch, thank you. I knew the NYPD was exempt from the city residency requirement, but didn’t know about the state one. That said, this car was parked between a number of NYPD vehicles on either side of it; I’d be shocked if it weren’t affiliated with the department in some way. Perhaps it’s being borrowed right now or something like that.

  • J

    I’ve heard from many community groups that the police use these spaces as tow pounds. Ridiculous, if you ask me.

  • Christopher

    I’ve been meaning to point Eyes on the Street to the Armed Forces Recruitment Center on Knickerbocker across from the 83rd Precinct House; whenever there is a recruitment meeting there the sidewalk — which is in between the badly designed parking lot of a strip mall and the street — is covered with cars with US govt tags and various other military personnel from states in South.

    All of this is a half block from a subway station and a half block from an elementary school. It pisses me off every time I see it — there’s plenty of on street parking!

  • Ian Turner

    NYPD does store some impounded vehicles at its precincts. But my bet would be that it’s an officer’s personal vehicle which is illegally registered out of state.

  • Yeah, the NYPD parking in this lane is a real drag 24/7. Makes everyone else feel like they can do it it too.

  • cronos

    Cop parking on the St Nicholas bike lane have a long history. Way back in 2000, T.A. did a little action to highlight the problem. Paper bike lane lines were unrolled over the parked transit police cars at 145th and St. Nicks. The cops weren’t amused. Pictures of the action were sent to the local council member and they bugged the commander. It worked, for a year or so.

    http://transalt.org/files/newsroom/magazine/002MayJune/05bikelane.html

  • Christopher,

    Write to Lieutenant Colonel Omuso D. George at
    United States Army
    New York City Recruiting Battalion
    111 Battery Avenue
    Brooklyn, NY 11252-6401

    and tell him that by parking on the sidewalk, his Army recruiters are leaving a negative impression on you.

  • MRN

    What other parking options exist for this police precinct? I know this is a problem in Astoria as well, and there is precious little space for parking already.

    If we take as an assumption that police demand for parking is inelastic (ie, cruisers and interceptors NEED to go somewhere), the only solution is taking otherwise public curb space – which is already at or over capacity. So the real answer is to really limit the number of private vehicles. Most folks probably don’t need em anyhow.

  • Maybe if NYPD officers had to take transit, walk, bike, or park legally to get to work like the rest of us, they wouldn’t continue to see the city through the windshield perspective and enforce laws accordingly.

  • Isn’t there a similar parking situation at every precinct headquarters? The ones I’m thinking of convert half the sidewalk and half the street to fit more vehicles perpendicular to the street. They even spray parking lines onto the sidewalk in someplaces.

    I guess the difference here is there’s actually a bike lane they are blocking.

    It certainly doesn’t send a good message to the community.

  • Car Free Nation

    Isn’t there some rule that you can’t carry a weapon on the subway, even if you’re an off-duty cop?

  • fdr

    Most cops (or at least many) see parking wherever they want to as a perk that comes with the job, that they put their lives on the line and the least we could do is let them park wherever. The typical response to this type of complaint would be “Next time you need a cop, call Streetsblog.”

  • tom murphy

    Maybe you want to look at the Bike Lane planning process again? Doesn’t look like all the important ‘stakeholders’ got asked. Bike lanes aren’t supposed to interfere with regular places of employment.

    J. Mork:The City did take ‘more on-street parking and give it to them[NYPD].’ Actually, they just took it; no bureaucratic haggling here.

    Jonathan & Noah: Relax. From the damage on the Honda I’d say it was impounded after an accident.
    POV’s are parked nearby not out front. Too obvious. Maybe registered to the ex- or to the girlfriend?

  • J:Lai

    One solution would be to give traffic enforcement agents the power to make arrests (and to carry guns), and let the 2 agencies fight it out. Right now, most traffic agents are intimidated by police officers, and will avoid towing or ticketing nypd vehicles or the personal vehicles of police officers.

  • > “Maybe if NYPD officers had to take transit, walk, bike, or park legally to get to work like the rest of us….”

    LOL!

    Indeed. If NYPD officers had to obey the laws they are supposed to uphold, the city would get dramatically safer. Can’t tell you how many times I watch them ignore/blow any traffic regulations as though they feel they are clearly exempt. I suppose they are.

    City would get a lot safer if the police could be safe. Maybe the police should be setting an example if pedestrian safety is the new word on the street at city hall?

    Shouldn’t the mayor have to be answering for all the bad behavior? at least to new orgs?

  • > Most cops (or at least many) see parking wherever they want to as a perk that comes with the job, that they put their lives on the line and the least we could do is let them park wherever.

    So… they put their lives on the line for free parking?

    My father was a cop, he never mentioned how if it weren’t for the free parking, he’d quit.

  • TKO

    Bergan Street Station has so much of the same. Police park their private cars on the handicap ramps and sidewalks all over, from the station to Yummy Taco. Makes for hard walking for the elderly.

  • LN

    The worse part is that you just risked your life by second guessing cars going in 6 directions and may have blown through a red light and possibly rode on the wrong side of the street to get safely through the v. dangerous intersection of St. Nich/Fred Doug/121st street, only to encounter cop cars parked all over the place presenting another challenge to your safe passage uptown.

    Here’s why it gets even worse at night. This is the place that they bring all the people arrested uptown before bringing them downtown to the tombs in the middle of the night – many picked up/brought by undercovers in unmarked cars. Although this precinct has a parking lot – it fills up as the night goes on and everyone shows up to process their prisoners.

    Otherwise, this very wide and very old bike lane is one of the best in the city!

  • J

    Speaking of night safety, at this location the space between the perpendicularly parked cars and the blank concrete police precinct wall is extremely narrow and dark. I have often seen people walk in the middle of the street rather than on the desolate and occupied sidewalk. It’s a sad comment on our society that the sidewalks adjacent to the police precinct feels the less safe than other nearby sidewalks.

    I also should mention that on 151st St, cops park ALL 4 WHEELS on the sidewalk, completely closing it to pedestrians. Check it out:
    http://bit.ly/bY6SV7

  • Using Google Street View to document all the sidewalk parking outside NYPD precinct buildings would be a fun project for some Streetsblog crowdsourcing. Here’s where to locate all the precincts if anyone wants to get a head start.

  • Glenn

    I’ve even seen places where the bike lane was not extended through, like on 119th Street in East Harlem, just a block-long gap where the precinct angle parks on sidewalks and narrows the roadway. Whenever I’m on that block, I take the middle of the lane and rarely get honked at – drivers know that it’s not my fault the road narrows…

  • Funny, I just put up a slideshow and blog entry on my website showing my journey and frustrations – as a cyclist trying to use the bike lane – up 8th Ave this evening. How do pedestrians and cars expect us to follow the rules when we are not even given a fair shot to show we can do it. Take a look:

    http://theguardrailblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/cyclists-nightmare-riding-up-8th-ave.html

  • Tom Murphy,

    No, the cops took the sidewalk and the bike lane. I mean on the street, displacing other automobiles.

  • Thank you, Streetsblog, for bringing attention to this troublesome spot! As LN points out, bicycling uptown forces you through a horrible unnerving intersection only to get dumped on this block where the bike lane is completely parked over and unavailable.

    Why doesn’t the city in situations like these just reserve all on-street parking on the block for the police (all others get ticketed and towed) so the bike lane can be kept clear?

    That’s a great bit of T.A. history, by the way.

  • I don’t understand why the plate number on the Honda is illegible. Did Noah Kazis or Streetsblog blurr the plate to protect the owner’s privacy? Or does the car have one of those strange covers to foil traffic cams?

  • Ian Turner

    Stacy, yes, the policy have asked the open planning project to blur any license plates of suspected police vehicles. They were concerned that enterprising criminals would use license-plate records to track down officers’ home addresses. Personally, I don’t really get it, since it’s not hard to find a precinct and it’s not exactly hard to find out which vehicles belong to officers, but anyhow there you go.

  • To clarify, we have instituted a blanket policy of obscuring all personal license plate numbers on Streetsblog to avoid potentially costly litigation. If we wrote the laws, this wouldn’t be necessary, but there’s a federal statute that makes it so — this one, I believe.

  • If police, or overseeing government agencies, want their plate numbers to remain “confidential” then maybe they should consider parking their cars in police garages instead of the middle of the sidewalk or across a bike lane.

    I’d imagine most enterprising criminals interested in gathering such information are much more likely to simply walk by the precinct than browse Streetsblog on the chance there’ll be photos of whatever officer’s car they might be interested in. After all, how many private or unmarked police cars are there in this city versus how often does Streetsblog run photos of these cars?

    Ben, At first glance The Drivers Privacy Protection Act would seem to prevent government agencies, such as DMV, from releasing information they’ve gathered in the course of performing their normal duties, rather than any kind of restriction on the First Amendment for non-governmental organizations. Am I missing something here?

  • the only solution is taking otherwise public curb space – which is already at or over capacity. So the real answer is to really limit the number of private vehicles. Most folks probably don’t need em anyhow

  • J

    I’m with Stacy here. Ben, how cam you possibly get sued for posting a picture of a vehicle parked in a public street? This precaution is about as ludicrous as prohibiting photographs of public buildings or the subway.

    Also, why should the police be extended a courtesy, when they clearly don’t extend any courtesy to pedestrians and cyclists. In fact, they go out of there way to invade pedestrian and bicycle space, decreasing safety, and they are unapologetic about it. I’m not advocating violence or property damage, but if the police simply parked their cars legally on the street, no one would post pictures of those vehicles on the internet.

  • Ben, can you respond to Stacy and J’s comments? I’m with them as well.

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