Will NYPD Enforce Cycling the Effective Way or the Useless Way?

The Brooklyn Paper reported today that police precincts across the borough, following orders from the top of the department, will soon embark on an enforcement campaign targeting cyclist infractions. A Streetsblog source who’s spoken to the 78th Precinct verified that a coordinated effort to step up cycling enforcement is in the works.

Suggestion: To avoid cycling enforcement based on windshield perspective, assign bike cops to bike enforcement detail.
Suggestion: To avoid cycling enforcement based on windshield perspective, assign bike cops to bike enforcement detail. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/4054758508/##Joe Shlabotnick/Flickr##

We’ve written here before that from a public safety perspective, more cyclist enforcement only makes sense as one piece in a broader effort to police traffic safety, especially by targeting the most dangerous behavior on the street, like motorist speeding and failure-to-yield.

But it looks like the orders from One Police Plaza are just about cycling infractions. As outrageous as it is to see NYPD devote more resources to bike enforcement when kids are getting critically injured by hit-and-run drivers, there’s still a helpful way to do it and an ineffective, counterproductive way to do it. The question now is whether officers will recognize the difference.

Police could enforce norms that make sense — no wrong-way riding, no riding through crosswalks when pedestrians have the right of way, no biking on crowded sidewalks. Or they could catch people in dragnets, ticket every cyclist who treats a red light as a stop sign, no matter how cautiously, and otherwise harass people without actually encouraging safer behavior. What’s it going to be?

If you want police to, at the very least, enforce cycling rules with some common sense, I recommend attending your local precinct community council meeting. Each precinct holds one every month — a public forum to convey your concerns to the officers who police your neighborhood (find out when and where). The best thing you can do to get NYPD to pay attention to the lawless driving that’s really endangering people’s lives is to tell them about it.

  • fdr

    “Or they could catch people in dragnets, ticket every cyclist who treats a red light as a stop sign, no matter how cautiously, and otherwise harass people without actually encouraging safer behavior.”

    Treating a red light as a stop sign is illegal, no matter how cautiously. I would think that getting a ticket for that would encourage safer behavior.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    This is spot on. We DO need legitimate enforcement and the NYPD would not have to work any extra harder to do the correct enforcement: no sidewalk riding, no wrong way riding, etc.

    But they may end up doing the easy thing to meet their “quotas”. For example, nearly every time there is some sort of crackdown, cops set up shop at a place like 41st and 5th Ave adjacent to Bryant Park. There is a long signal there where it is essentially a Barnes Dance, where there is no crosstown traffic (because of the Park, of course) so once pedestrians finish walking, most cyclists see it is logical to move up a block – thru the red light – to get more safely positioned for the mania that starts about 42nd street (since bike lane disappears)

    Just about every time a crackdown has happened the past decade I am always wary at this intersection and it pays off. I have seen cyclists grabbed on their bikes and seen NYPD staking it out. Okay, legally – yes they are able to write a ticket – but it would do far better to give out tickets to people doing more harmful practices.

  • Eric

    I’m glad to see that Streetsblog verified the NYPD’s bicycle enforcement campaign and I agree the best way to make sure the campaign is reasonable is to attend the precinct meetings. No one wants a repeat of a police officer writing tickets to cyclists not riding in the bike lane, when he was blocking the lane.

    Red lights are not stop sign. If you can’t do something as simple as that then don’t whine when you get a ticket for doing that.

  • ryan

    red lights are not optional
    and riding on sidewalks is never ok

  • I have to agree with some of the other above commenters. Is it Streetsblog’s editorial position that cyclists should not be ticketed for running red lights? Cyclists are not above the law, however inconvenient the law is. You can support changing the law, but until the law is changed, cyclists must abide by it or suffer the consequences.

    I’m guilty of occasionally jumping through a clear intersection before the light turns green, but if you’re going to do it from now on, do it mindful of the presence of police.

  • Chris

    Chris,

    I think may of us here would like to see better enforcement of egregiously dangerous behavior. Sure ticketing red light runners is targeting illegal behavior, but much better would be ticketing slalom riders, people who ride on the sidewalk (the vast majority being delivery people) and people who ride the wrong way (again majority here is the delivery people).

    If the police simple go after low-hanging fruit and easy pickings the enforcement effort doesn’t do anything to counter the perception of dangerous cyclists.

  • MRN

    This objection to cycling enforcement is self-serving – either call for enforcement of the rules [perhaps, with accompanying rule changes], or say that infractions on bicycles and cars are only important if someone gets hurt; but for God’s sake, trying to say that bicyclists don’t need to follow the rules is just…. stupid.

  • Iyen

    Chris,

    Police should focus on problems where they can make the largest difference in the safety and comfort of NYC citizens in each hour of their time. The danger posed by scofflaw cyclists is nowhere near the top of that list.

  • butters

    While I (like most cyclists) do the stop-then-go-cautiously routine on some red lights, I don’t think it’s unreasonably for cops to cite people for doing so. Running reds, even cautiously, is kind of an entitled-dick thing to do, and I wouldn’t do it if bikes weren’t treated like shit in every other respect.

    That doesn’t change the fact that Ticket Lots of Cyclists is a dumb enforcement model, from a safety standpoint. Hell, I disapprove of salmoning and sidewalk riding and I don’t think Ticket Lots of Salmon would be a particularly effective enforcement model. Ticket the most dangerous widespread abuses: speeding, ped-right-of-way violations, speeding, blocking bike lanes, speeding, speeding, and speeding.

  • Chris and lyen, I agree with you in that respect. But Streetsblog’s position seems to suggest that there’s something wrong with ticketing cyclists “who [treat] a red light as a stop sign, no matter how cautiously.” There’s not – they’re breaking the law.

  • Joe R.

    I sincerely hope this enforcement campaign is targeted mostly in Manhattan. I can understand ticketing cyclists who run through intersections full of pedestrians in midtown. That’s dangerous behavoir plain and simple. It deserves a ticket. However, if they start ticketing cyclists running lights through empty intersections at 10 PM in the outer boroughs, then I’m done riding. Not much point to it given that I’ll average 6 mph and won’t be getting much exercise stopping at every light. And the idea of ticketing for not signaling turns is ridiculous. First off, turn signals aren’t required equipment on bicycles. Second, if they’re talking about using hand signals, taking a hand off the handlebars on NYC’s potholed streets is akin to suicide at times. Third, when I ride I personally often don’t even know whether I’ll be turning or not until I’m at the intersection, so I can’t signal my intentions in advance. For example, if a light is red and there is too much traffic to cross the intersection, I might just cautiously hang a right so as to keep moving. Same thing even on a green where there’s too much traffic to pass the intersection. In short, I often don’t know what I’m doing until I reach the intersection to evaluate the situation. Remember that I only ride recreationally, so I don’t need to follow any predetermined path.

    Speeding? I hope they’re kidding. How many cyclists actually speed? The speed limit is 30 mph. The defacto speed limit ( allowing for speedometer and radar error ) is typically 10% plus 4 mph, or 37 mph. That’s the speed above which a ticket will hold up in court. So basically then a cyclist would need to be going 38 mph or better to qualify for a speeding ticket. Not a whole lot of good downhills where you can do that in NYC. I only know of one hill in my riding where I can sometimes get well past 30 mph but the speed limit there is 40 mph anyway ( it’s an expressway service road ). I do remember hitting 61 mph once descending the Queensboro bridge many years ago, but I’m not even sure what the speed limit there is ( it was on the outer roadway back when it allowed cars ). I think the main roadway was posted at 45 or 50 at the time, so technically I wasn’t speeding by much ( or for very long given that I only briefly hit that speed when the ramp was at its steepest ). My speedo may have been off also ( it was one of those notoriously inaccurate dial types ).

    We definitely need two things done if there is a draconian enforcement campaign for violating the letter of the law instead of one just focusing on dangerous behavoir. One, we need something similar to the Idaho stop here, at least in the outer boroughs where traffic is light enough many times to safely proceed through red lights. Traffic signals and traffic laws are a contrivance mainly designed for automobile traffic, not bicycles or pedestrians. Two, we really need to get rid of at least 75% of traffic lights, better yet 90%. NYC has gotten ridiculous in the last 15 years installing traffic lights in all sorts of silly places, including even midblock. It could save a ton of money by only using signals in the few places they’re really necessary. And we should be using a lot more traffic circles as well. That’s really the proper way to deal with intersections.

    Finally, it’s amazing how politics works. Statistically, even despite the fact that they regularly flout traffic laws, bicycles just aren’t a major public health threat. There’s no public policy reason for the sudden desire to enforce traffic laws against bicycles. Rather, it’s the very vocal minority who have been complaining about bicycles for the last few years who have been influential in getting this done. Their real goal here isn’t public safety. Rather, it’s to make cycling so inefficient and expensive that many will give it up. Remember that even without enforcement of traffic laws, cycling in NYC is a hard sell given the menace of drivers, potholes, clueless pedestrians, etc. Add in draconian enforcement and many will just say it’s not worth the hassle.

    This isn’t about obeying the laws here. It’s about anti-cycling groups using incrementalism to continually set the bar ever higher to eventually get all bicycles off the road. Yesterday it was don’t ride on sidewalks. Today it’ll be don’t pass red lights. Tomorrow it’ll be don’t speed ( with “speeding” defined as anything they want it to be, rather than exceeding the 30 mph limit ). Next it’ll be signal for every turn. And after that they’ll make and enforce even more nonsensical laws until nearly everyone gives up cycling. Trust me, this is where we’re headed if we don’t stop this right now. Besides, it’s inherently prejudicial to enforce laws against bicycles while ignoring them for other users. But it is politically less dangerous because cyclists are currently a minority. Remember Guiliani’s short-lived anti-jaywalking campaign? If laws against peds were actually enforced expect a huge backlash.

    Maybe it’s time for a “rule-book slowdown” to nip this in the bud. All cyclists should take the traffic lane as they can by law, and then ride at no more than 10 mph ( because many people act like going more than 10 mph on a bike is “speeding” ). Make sure to cautiously slow to 5 mph for every turn. And of course wait out every light. Purposely make sure you’re going slow enough so you ( and all the cars stuck behind you ) get caught at each and every traffic light. If anyone complains, well, you’re just following “the rules” like you’re supposed to. My guess is after a day or two of this, the NYPD and general public will beg for things to go back to the way it was. It’s important to remember here that nearly all reasonable cyclists support ticketing truly dangerous, egregarious behavoir. It’s not like we’re a bunch of anarchists. If the NYPD sticks to going after the worst cyclists, then they have my full support. After all, these wrong-way riders and those who run lights at full speed, without looking, place me in as much danger as they do pedestrians. On the other hand, if they go after the low-hanging fruit just to meet quotas, they’ll earn my wrath.

  • manchegogo

    Cops like to ticket cyclists. Maybe if some of you weren’t so righteous and indignant when dealig with them you’d get a break once in a while.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding red lights, I wrote this in response to a NY Times article which elicited the usual “bikes don’t follow the law” comments but it bears repeating here since it seems some people here lack a basic understanding of human physiology and physics:

    “Traffic laws, traffic control devices, and streets themselves are mostly designed for one purpose-fast, efficient movement of automobiles. When you throw other groups in, they are forced to operate suboptimally at the margins, or not at all, in order for as many cars as possible to drive as fast as possible. Cyclists and red lights are probably the best example of this. The law stipulates that bicycles must obey traffic signals and signs. The law completely ignores the fact that a system of traffic lights designed for car speeds will, if followed by the letter of the law, frequently result in average bicycle speeds being reduced to walking speed or less, effectively negating any advantage of bicycles over walking. It also completely ignores the fact that any cyclist taking a reasonably long journey, say 10 miles, may not physically be able to stop and start perhaps 100 times ( or more ). And a stopped cyclist loses the ability to maneuver out of danger, putting them at greater risk if an errant motorist comes their way. Add in that a cyclist starting from a green light along with a pack of cars jockeying for position is in a very dangerous spot. These are all reasons many cyclists treat red lights as yields. Pedestrians face a similar set of issues, although in their case, the primary problem is that waiting out don’t walk signals may well double their journey time. It’s no surprise then that many pedestrians also ignore red signals. Both pedestrians and cyclists have far greater visibility than motorists. I can often see cars a block away when I’m 150 feet from an intersection. This means I know well in advance whether I can safely pass a red light, or must slow or stop. I’m not endangering myself or anyone else by doing this. Nobody should block the right-of-way of a road user with the green. That’s common sense and good manners. But it makes no sense to apply traffic laws and devices designed for cars to pedestrians or cyclists.

    Since this is so obviously a bad system for two out of three groups, why then don’t we use something else ( the ideal is unmarked, unsignaled, unsigned streets )? Well, we don’t because a string a traffic lights synced to allow continuous 30 or 40 mph movement allows cars to move as fast as possible, to the detriment of both cyclists and pedestrians. The motorist knows a green light means ( at least in theory ) zero chance of anything crossing their path, so they feel free to drive as fast as they can get away with. Now think if we went to uncontrolled streets. Even in the absence of a speed limit, it would be sheer suicide to drive faster than about 20 mph on streets like that. And you would have to look at each and every intersection, rather than assuming it’s clear because you have a green light. In short, traffic volumes and speeds would by necessity decrease. Even though such streets would allow pedestrians and cyclists to operate more or less optimally, motorists would perceive them as slower. Note the operative word here-”perceive”. In actuality a motorist is lucky to average 20 or 25 mph on city streets. Many times they average less than 15 mph. A road where they could proceed at ~20 mph, pretty much without stopping, might offer higher travel speeds most of the time. It wouldn’t seem that way to the motorist, however. For some reason those spurts of 50 mph stick in their mind more than the minutes waiting at stop lights.

    Bottom line is if we want better cyclist behavoir, it all starts with better infrastructure. Protected bicycle lanes greatly decreased the incidence of sidewalk riding. If we want to decrease red light running, we need to build infrastructure which requires minimal, or no stopping. This basically means grade-separated bicycle infrastructure running above or below roads, instead of intersecting them. We can even roof these over to allow cycling in inclement weather, and also channel prevailing winds so cyclists are always riding with a tailwind.”

  • NattyB

    True Story:

    Around 9pm on a weekday in late November, I was, on foot, at the light at Essex, on Stanton, heading east.

    A biker, wearing flashing lights and a helmet, probably heading to the WillyB, facing east, was stopped at the light. Also at the light, was a police cruiser.

    NOTE: during this time period, there had been a significantly greater police presence than normal because of a recent shooting at Stanton and Attorney (3 people were shot, all lived, I actually saw two of the people in the street before ambulances arrived), which is 4 short blocks east.

    The biker, stopped at the light, waited for traffic to clear, looked both ways, then rode against the red light, which, to be fair, is a long light.

    Woop Woop, the police car, ran the red and pulled over the biker (who was also in the bike lane).

    I got so angry for seeing a responsible biker (albeit one who broke the vehicular law) have to pay a $100+ summons, in a neighborhood that had recently seen real crime that I shouted, “don’t you guys have better things to do than harass bikers!” To which I got a “shut the fuck up,” and a, “you shut your fucking mouth!”

    So because “people” get angry at scowflaw bikers (shit, I do too, I frickin hate the wrong way riders on clinton street before the bridge . . . well actually used to hate them, since it got cold, they don’t seem to be out as much) mindless poe-lease are going to make the responsible one’s have to pay. Can’t the police exercise frickin discretion.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Can’t the police exercise frickin discretion.”

    Sure they can. Let’s see what they do.

  • I promise you the enforcement will be ineffective.

    Critical masses of cyclists will be needed to force change at the community council level. I will post video by Friday of the 78th Precinct Community Council President and Deputy Inspector John Argenziano issuing a gag order on cyclists who bring cyclist safety concerns to them.

    stay tuned this week

    http://bit.ly/htU4Pw

  • Omri

    “Cops like to ticket cyclists.”

    Cops have a job to do. And that job is to serve and protect the people of New York City. In case you haven’t noticed, they are doing a piss poor job of it, in large part because they tolerate corruption among their own, and because they indulge their aggression by harassing people they like to harass.

    This is nto something to get snide about. The poor performance of the NYPD is causing deaths. Stick around and pay attention.

  • Yes, it is my position that not all red light violations are equal, and that NYPD should exercise some discretion, distinguishing between reckless disregard for traffic signals/ped right of way and behavior that’s safe and courteous but technically illegal.

    There are also laws on the books that say all cyclists should ride with a bell and that signaling before every turn is a must. Observing those rules is by and large a good idea, but I don’t think handing out tickets for violating them performs any socially valuable function — it just makes the enforcement regime seem vindictive and arbitrary.

  • Joe R.

    @NattyB,

    That’s exactly what I see happening, unfortunately, rather than a common-sense enforcement campaign against the most dangerous cyclists. In any case, I’ve long been hyper alert for police, and always wait out the light if any police cars are visible, just in case. I’d rather waste a minute than waste hours sitting in court. While I feel the cyclist you saw got a raw deal, fact is running lights ( or riding on sidewalks ) with police around is just a dumb thing to do. I’ll also add that unfortunately needing to be extra vigilent for police cars may well mean cyclists pay less attention to other things on the road. This may well end up hurting public safety more than helping it.

  • Geck

    The problem is bicyclist are supposed to act like vehicles but no one else treats them like vehicles. Take a lane and you get honked at and buzzed, even when there is traffic right in front of you slowing you down. Bike lane = convenient place to double park. Pedestrian’s don’t look for bikes even as they dart into a bike lane against the light. Is it all that surprising that a lot of cyclist try to get out ahead of traffic and cross intersections while they are quiet rather than competing with oblivious turning cars when the light turns green. That’s what bike boxes and pedestrian leads are for. But your looking for trouble if you try that on your own.
    We all know that the police crack-down is going to target the petty stuff and do nothing to make anyone any safer. Depressing.

  • Joe R.

    @Ben Fried,

    Thanks for the clarification. That’s pretty much been my position as well.

  • Chris

    @Joe R.

    Don’t forget that when bicyclists take the lane and stop at a red light, the cyclist will inevitably be harassed by a barrage of honking 1/10th of a second after the light turns green.

  • manchegogo

    Omri, you’re attitude toward the Police is the reason they enjoy giving you tickets. You also claim they are causing death without explaining how. Maybe if you actually treated a police officer with respect and like a human being, you would see they are like every other part of our society- some are good and some are not. It’s a thankless job and it’s very easy to point fingers about corruption and harassment, but I dare you to even try putting on an Auxiliary’s uniform (or better yet joining them) and see ghow you get treated. Complaining about getting tickets for violating the traffic code is a bit hipocritical when every driver who has any kind of accident gets the “string him up” routing on this blog.
    And Joe R. why not just make the cycling paths moving conveyer belts too? A covered moving conveyer belt would have me ditching the subway and biking all year round.
    For the record I think cycling to work in NYC is wonderful thing but I recognize that vehicles make it possible for this city to exist.

  • Jay

    Is it possible to make an equal protection argument if there is a crackdown on cyclists for minor violations on the same street where the bike lane is blocked day after day on every block with no summonses issued?

    That sure seems like a clear violation of basic Constitutional rights.

  • Joe R.

    @Chris,

    You’re 100% correct and thanks for bringing that up. Back when I first started riding 32 years ago I used to religiously stop and wait out red lights. I was able to do this without undue burden simply because there weren’t all that many lights in my neighborhood at the time. One reason I stopped doing this was exactly the incessant honking you mentioned. It actually felt safer to just look and go through the light than start out with a bunch of enraged motorists. And with lights on practically every corner these days, I might well proceed faster walking than by bike if I stopped at each and every light.

    One thing I do purely as a courtesy to motorists when I take the traffic lane is to accelerate as fast as possible after a stop or slowdown. I can go through the gears from a dead stop to 20 mph in about 5 seconds when I’m feeling well. This more or less matches the acceleration rates of most motor vehicles in city driving. It tires me out a bit, but like I said, I’m willing to extend a little courtesy to motorists when I’m in the traffic lane. It’s a pity I don’t often receive that same courtesy back.

  • Suzanne

    Manchego, if you work for the NYPD public relations department you’re doing a crap job of it. Maybe instead of acting like an ignorant little troll you might want to poke around the site a little bit. It doesn’t take much effort to see instance after instance of police acting like thugs and comitting far worse traffic violations than the worst bike salmoning delivery guy. One instance that sums up the police and their relationship to bicyclists is the idiot who ticketed someone for riding out of the bike lane… *after his squad car blocked the cyclists from riding in the lane!!* From my own personal experience I can tell you of instance after instance of cop cars blocking lanes, weaving unpredictably around the Prospect Park exit so I was taking my life in my hands just being on a bike near them, and running red lights so often I basically assume they’re going to do that when I pull up next to one.

    You want to tell me to feel sorry for the poor little cops with the guns and giant multi ton metal vehicles because they have a hard job to do? I’m sorry, but if they can’t keep their cool because a citizen – one they’re supposed to serve and protect, remember? – complains then maybe they don’t have the emotional maturity to be a cop.

  • Omri

    “Omri, you’re attitude toward the Police is the reason they enjoy giving you tickets”

    Dude, when I’m on the job, my boss doesn’t care who I like or don’t like. I’m paid to work, not to do what I enjoy. These cops have a JOB to do. And that is to serve and protect. It is not to pick and choose people to harass just because they don’t like them.

    “You also claim they are causing death without explaining how.”

    NYC has a speed limit, citywide, of 30 MPH. The cops do nothing to enforce it. ANd as a result, pedestrians get killed, at a rate of almost one a day.

    That is what the NYPD is failing to do anything about, and it is getting people killed. But clearly it is more important for our public servants to spend their tax-paid time picking on people they don’t like.

  • NattyB

    @ Joe R.,

    Please don’t respond to Manchego. He’s clearly a troll and just wants to get a rise out of you. If he had constructive criticism, sure, but he’s just an angry person.

    @ Jay,

    Lol, I wish. Unless cyclists are a protected class (like an ethnic group, a race, a sex, disabled) being singled out for specific treatment, the law is subject to Rational Basis Scrutiny. Which means, the law will be upheld so long as it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Enforcing the laws on the books, even if selectively applied, is still Constitutional.

    Now, if they made all bikers have to wear yellow ribbons on their sleeves at all times . . .

  • Not a Fish

    Call wrong-way riders what they are. “Salmon” is a cutesy term and jargon. It does what all jargon does, identifies members of a tribe and subtracts information. It’s fitting that the term came from Bikesnob. Plenty of New Yorkers don’t know WTF salmon do, didn’t go to American schools and don’t need useless jargon to describe the aholes that put them at risk.

  • Dowd

    Speaking as someone who paid over $1000 in bicycle red light violations (3 tickets) during the Giuliani administration, I don’t think cyclists should receive the same moving violations as drivers, especially for breaking rules that the city doesn’t enforce for drivers. No one should have to pay a serious amount of money for such a minor infraction.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree with manchegogo.

    Here is the deal with being a (non-asshole cop).

    There is lots of anti-social behavior, and somewhat anti-social behavior, and perfectly reasonable behavior that some find objectionable because they are anti-social themselves. So if a bunch of people get in a snit about it, what is the political response to buy them off? Pass a law!

    And then when the police officers enforce the law (and should they be deciding which laws to enforce), they get hostility from the very people (collectively) who hired them to enforce laws to begin with. No wonder they would rather investigate murders, which at least everyone agrees with.

    Perfect example — speeding. “Why are you bothering us taxpayers instead of going after the drug dealers!”

    So giving a hard time to the grunt sent out to do the job is not the right response.
    And if you are dealing with an asshole cop, being an asshole back won’t work either.

    I’ll withhold judgement until I see what happens.

  • cycler

    The main reason I stop and wait religiously at red lights is that it’s one thing that I can do to remove the stress of making a split second high stakes decision from my commute. I just obey the law and it’s much simpler. Now that I’m older I’m not in such a rush to get places, and I don’t need the adrenaline rush. If I run a light late at night when there’s no one else at the intersection, and get a ticket, I’m willing to accept the consequences without whining.

    They’re supposedly phasing in a mandatory bike cop training in the Boston police academy. There are probably a lot of cops who have not been on a bike since they were 10, this at least gets them out from behind a windshield to see what it’s really like to ride in the city.

  • J

    I’m withholding judgment until I see what actually happens. In my opinion, though, it is pretty damn difficult to give a biker a summons or a ticket, simply due to the lack of license plate.

    I also think a little bit of fear of getting a ticket on the road is a good thing for bikers. Right now, I know that cops simply don’t ticket bikers unless they are on the sidewalk. I’ve run red lights right in front of cops (after stopping and looking both ways, of course) and they do nothing. It’s a bit bizarre, to be honest.

    Hopefully, this new enforcement, even if poorly placed, will reel in the most egregious behavior, as it is the easiest to ticket. It should also cause most bikers to think twice or look twice before running that light. The publicity beforehand is also good, since we can prepare for the blitz and our opponents can be satisfied by it. Optimally, this new enforcement will result in more cyclist legitimacy with the public and the ‘scofflaw cyclist’ argument will fade away.

  • Joe R.

    You’re making a good point, J. If increased enforcement at least gets more cyclists to look for police ( and presumably also for cross traffic and pedestrians ) before passing a red light, it will have the desired effect of increasing public safety. I HATE it when I see cyclists pass lights without even a cursory glance to see if it’s clear. And I hate it even more when they ride through crosswalks full of pedestrians. You’re not going to gain much respect doing things like that.

  • J.J. Hunsecker

    We do have to acknowledge the fact that running red lights can get us hurt. And crowded and yelling at disoriented pedestrians, no matter how stupid they are, isn’t cool. I’m happy seeing people ticketed for that stuff. But I also want to see tailgating, speeding, obnoxious drivers pay too.

  • Jay

    Dear Natty B,

    I’m not sure that’s so clear cut…

    It might be easier than you think to mount a Rational Basis argument against the failure to protect cyclists by refusing to enforcing bicycle lanes. The disparity between the aggressive enforcement of other parking violations and the complete lack of enforcement of bicycle lanes serves no legitimate government interest.

    The Courts have allowed equal protection claims that did not involve protected classes, including “class of one” claims. There is no reason to assume the Courts would fail to recognize that cyclists constituted a group that was not protected equally.

    Then if aggressive enforcement were applied to cyclists, and acknowledged as such by law enforcement, this too should fail the Rational Basis test if motorists are not also enforced aggressively. The legitimate government interests served by the traffic laws are not furthered by a disparity in enforcement that focuses on cyclists.

    The combination of both conditions should make the arguments mutually reinforcing.

    The very notion of equal protection is based on the idea that authorities cannot single out groups they dislike. I’m not so sure a serious, well-framed test of an attack on cyclists right to use the road by the NYPD could have a fair chance of prevailing.

  • Pedestrians don’t need to follow the rules. The laws should be changed to allow crossing against a don’t walk when no traffic is present, but until that happens I am happy to endorse our rampant lawbreaking. Is this stupid?

  • It seems counterproductive for bicycling advocates to call for more riders to follow rules. The big selling point for bicycling is that it’s the quickest, most straightforward way to get from Point A to Point B. If adult riders of sound mind run a few red lights on the way in order to get there faster, without putting anyone at risk, what is the problem?

    As Joe R. points out in no. 11, there are plenty of people who would rather not see any bicyclists at all. Condoning stepped-up enforcement plays right into their hands.

  • dporpentine

    I wish I biked in the city that some of you people claim to: the city where people on bikes stop behind the lines at lights, carefully examine traffic (both on foot and by other means) before proceeding on their efficient, courtesy-minded travels, just generally doing the best they can, by gosh.

    Here’s the city I bike in: nineteen people out of twenty do everything they can to avoid that most frightening of situations–yes, that’s right, stopping at the line at a red light and not blocking the box. Out of those nineteen, maybe one or two seem to stop at the light on principal, even if there’s not heavy cross-traffic, before continuing on their merry way. I mean, even those one or two have to shoal past me and block the box. That’s what radicals do! But at least they stop for a second.

    Another one or two seem pathologically indifferent to traffic; they’re going to keep going no matter what and they don’t care what happens to them or anyone else. (It’s not actually very pleasant–or so I understand–to be a driver who kills a biker running a red light.)

    About half of the remaining bikers slow down before blowing the light or maybe circle halfway in traffic and halfway in the box, while the others get as far into traffic as they possibly can before stopping, keeping their eyes only on the cars, and are therefore still standing there (or trackstanding there) when the light changes I go past them.

    But that’s my city! Yours is much better.

  • Joe R.

    I’m guessing you’re in Manhattan, dporpentine. The type of behavoir you describe seems to be a lot more prevalent there, especially the idiots who only manage to get halfway through an intersection only to end up trackstanding. Fact is many of those cyclists you see are commercial cyclists with an economic incentive to ride in the manner they do. They city could go a long way towards disincentizing this type of behavoir by requiring decent hourly pay for delivery cyclists, and also making business owners liable for any fines their delivery cyclists incur.

    Here in Queens, yes, I see cyclists pass red lights, but I almost always see them slow enough to check if it’s clear. I also rarely see cyclists trying to cross an intersection full of cars, only to trackstand halfway through. Either it’s completely clear and they go, or they stop and wait until it is. Yes, that’s my city, but then again Queens may as well be on a different planet than Manhattan. As far as Bloomberg was concerned, it never snowed here the day after Christmas.

  • dporpentine

    Joe R: For what it’s worth, I’m in Brooklyn. And most of the people I see doing these things don’t seem to be paid to ride. They’re just that scary mix of clueless and willfully indifferent to their own safety and the safety and peace of mind of others.

    Hell, after the PPW bike lane protest, I had two riders (one in his twenties, I’d guess, the other maybe in his fifties) pull up next to me at a light and ask me what the hand signal I had just given meant. I said it meant “stop.”

    They nodded appreciatively and then, of course, rode on, blowing the light.

  • Go to your NYPD Community Council meeting and start quizzing cops on whether or not cyclists have a right to the bike lane. Be sure to come armed with DOT’s bike safety booklet. You can actually get lots of these and start handing them out to motorists and cops who don’t know the law.

    That is a better idea then whatever Ray Kelly has in mind.

  • Whoops I meant whether or not cyclists have the right to be OUT of the bike lane. Though my typo does still apply as far as double parking enforcement is concerned.

  • matt bikes

    I agree with some of the earlier commenters that running a red light (on a bicycle or in a car) is illegal and it is OK to ticket someone for doing so. That said, I think Streetsblog real suggestion was enforcement equity. A bicyclist running treating a red light as a stop sign is akin (in my mind) to a pedestrian jay walking. I do both and consider them a low risk behavior.

    Of course, it is an entitled thing to do and if the amount of bikers continues to increase, there will reach a point where it is simply unsafe for everyone to treat lights as stop signs. Maybe the NYPD thinks we’ve reached that point.

  • J. Mork

    Looks like they’re starting soft. I was greeted by police last night at the end of the Manhattan Bridge bike path on the Brooklyn side and was given a 2010 Bike map and was reminded that bicyclists who talk on cell phones or run lights “might get a ticket.”

  • As an experiment, I rode to work this morning obeying all traffic signals and stopping at stop signs. It took me 24′ 15″. On Tuesday I rode the same route, without coming to a full stop at red lights, and it took 14′ 45″. Over my 3.76-mile route, that works out to 9.3 mph vs. 15.3 mph.

    Copenhagenize-style marketing emphasizes A-to-Bism, that if the bicycle is the fastest way from point A to point B, then all kinds of people will ride. My Tuesday ride took less time than the corresponding subway trip (which includes a transfer); today’s ride did not.

    I would like to see bicycle advocacy organizations advocate more for the use of the bicycle as the fastest way from point A to point B, and less for the use of the bicycle as some kind of airy-fairy tool for developing personal autonomy. Mutely acceding to a police crackdown doesn’t stand for advocacy in my book. It sends the message, “Bicycling is a great way to get around the city, as long as you’re willing to adopt a host of counterintuitive, delaying habits that are necessary to keep you from getting in trouble with law enforcement.”

  • Jonathan,

    I’m happy to read a clarification, but it seems that your two points are contradictory.

    – You ask for Streetsblog to advocate for more “A to B efficiency” when it talks about biking, but you point out that stopping for all traffic signals makes biking less efficient than breaking the law or even taking the subway.

    – You want SB to emphasize the personal autonomy argument, but point out that obeying the law subjects riders to infringements on that autonomy.

    I think you have to define personal autonomy. In many cases, it’s not about which mode is faster, which is a measurable, definable quality, but about which mode is more efficient or convenient, which is definable by different standards, some unique to individual users.

    It may be faster on paper for me to take the subway, especially in the example you cite, but the chance of a subway delay the next day may render the advantage moot.

    There are hidden efficiencies, not measured simply by time alone. If it takes me 10 minutes longer to get home via bike than via subway, car, or bus, but I don’t have to spend an hour in the gym or make a separate trip to the park to exercise, there’s an efficiency there, too, since I have more free time as a result. If I can hop on and off the bike to run errands on my way home — less possible on a subway where I am beholden to the location of stops or on a bus where I am beholden to a schedule and almost impossible in a car if I have to find a parking spot — that’s another efficiency.

    There’s also the fact that some find even a slow commute on a bike more pleasurable than a faster commute in a crowded subway. Drivers use this justification all the time: it may be a hassle to deal with traffic and tolls, but the pleasure of sitting comfortably in one’s own private, heated vehicle listening to the radio is worth it to them, even though it’s slower and more expensive than, say, the train.

    I also think that over time, even a seemingly slower bike commute will not be subject to the same variables as driving or taking transit, rendering it more efficient. A bike commute is fairly predictable – even if a street is jammed with car traffic you can still get through it or get to another route very easily. Other types of commutes can vary by huge factors from day to day.

    So, yes, your commute took different times when you applied different standards, but I took the subway to the same place two times this week and the trips varied in time by 15 minutes due to a train delay. As far as I know, the conductor observed the same “laws” one day one as he did on day two.

    Autonomy is about giving people the choice to make their own decisions and set their own standards…within the law of course.

  • Doug, thanks for unpacking my argument. My beef is not with Streetsblog, but with Transportation Alternatives. And you’ve reversed my position on “personal autonomy”; I think the personal-autonomy argument for bicycling is a very weak one for bicycle advocates to use.

    I agree that bicycling is in many cases more efficient and more convenient than mass transit or driving, and it’s certainly cheaper. And you must have been eavesdropping on me yesterday in the Bronx when I espoused to two different people about the predictability and concurrent lack of stress of bicycle commuting. Do you have a Bronx Spoke alter ego?

    My second point is that the more I look at it, the Biking Rules mumbo-jumbo and the cringing attitude of TA toward the police discourage people from cycling. There are many people who like to follow rules and appreciate the moral superiority that rule-following elicits. Some of those people do ride bicycles and do undoubtedly feel empowered by following TA’s Biking Rules. I suspect, however, that there are a lot more people just looking for a quick, safe way to get from Point A to Point B. Copenhagenize’s point is that if the quick, safe way involves a bicycle, then people will bicycle, and that the city of Copenhagen provides a nifty example of this.

    To expand on my last comment, if the message is “Bicycling is a great way to get around the city, as long as you’re willing to adopt a host of counterintuitive, delaying habits that are necessary to keep you from getting in trouble with law enforcement,” then cycling advocates should advocate for getting rid of counterintuitive, delaying habits and the prospect of getting in trouble with law enforcement. Instead TA uses a kind of half-a-loaf argument, “Adopt our code of counterintuitive, delaying habits lest the police make you behave even more counterintuitively.”

  • dporpentine

    Dear People Who Already Hate Bikes Just for Existing:

    I am a Bicycle Advocacy Organization. I advocate bike speediness. As a corollary, I implicitly endorse blowing red lights–I mean, when it’s done by humans whose current mode of transportation is the bicycle. When it’s done by humans whose current mode of transportation is a motor vehicle, I am STRONGLY OPPOSED.

    No, really, this is a logically consistent position that’s likely to take hold among you, the non-biking majority.

    Because I advocate speed, I also don’t care if you get hurt or if you hurt or endanger anyone else. I care about bike triumphalism. That’s it.

    With best wishes,
    Your Bicycling Advocacy Organization

  • J.J. Hunsecker

    “….and if the amount of bikers continues to increase, there will reach a point where it is simply unsafe for everyone to treat lights as stop signs. Maybe the NYPD thinks we’ve reached that point.”

    Perhaps biking has reached the point where the great Mr. Berra’s Yogi-ism now applies: “No one goes there any more. It’s too popular.”

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