A Tale of Intimidation From the NYPD Bike Crackdown

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The Central Park entrance where NYPD hit a cyclist with a $210 ticket Saturday for turning right on red. Image: ##http://maps.google.com/maps?q=central+park+and+Fifth+Avenue&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Central+Park+S+%26+5+Ave,+New+York&gl=us&ll=40.779697,-73.943653&spn=0.015923,0.061111&z=14&layer=c&cbll=40.784226,-73.958505&panoid=4qRpbR6kyqRoEvs8z5mrFQ&cbp=13,272.91,,0,-1.25##Google Street View##

A week after NYPD announced that the agency will be stepping up its enforcement of cyclists, stories are starting to trickle in to our inbox and the comments section about encounters with cops on bike detail.

Reader Greg, who asked to go by his first name only, wrote in to share his experience in Central Park this Saturday. It’s a pretty clear-cut case of enforcement that’s not going to discourage risky and inconsiderate riding, but will discourage the act of riding a bike.

At about 1 p.m., nowhere close to any window of time when cars are allowed to enter the loop drive, Greg turned right on red into the park from Fifth Avenue at the 90th Street entrance…

I rolled in to the Central Park entrance and stopped to adjust my computer. Two uniformed police were standing outside their vehicle. One approached me and asked for ID. I gave it to him and he sat in his car without saying anything. After about 10 minutes I asked the other cop what was going on and he said he was giving me a ticket for turning in to the park when the light on Fifth Avenue was red. After he gave me the ticket I rode north in Central Park.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of my encounter with NYPD. After riding about a mile in Central Park a police SUV parked at an on-ramp on the UWS started to follow me. It was obvious I was being stalked. Worried they were searching for any infraction I stopped riding and got off my bike. The police car turned on its lights and parked about 50 yards behind me waiting for me to resume riding. It was freezing cold so I had to get back on and try to make it home. The car continued to follow me.

As I continued down the road I saw a police minivan with about three police and six cyclists arguing (one of the cyclists was disabled and was using a hand bike). Seemed like they had stopped in the middle of the road for some reason.

When I got to the boathouse the SUV finally sped past me. Made it back to the entrance at 90th, completing one lap, and the two policemen had left.

Probably not the type of enforcement that’s a useful allocation of NYPD’s resources while people are getting hospitalized or killed in traffic on a daily basis. (If you’d like NYPD to pay more attention to the behavior that’s actually putting lives at risk, it bears repeating that a good place to speak up is your local precinct community council meeting.)

Aside from the intimidation going on here, sticking someone with a fine for turning right on red into Central Park is a good example of why applying the same traffic rules to cyclists that you’d apply to drivers makes little sense. There are plenty of cases where we’ve established rules that already make a distinction between cars and bikes. One of the most obvious is that bikes are allowed into Central Park during car-free hours. If the crosswalk was clear, Greg was not in conflict with any motor vehicle traffic or pedestrians when he received his ticket with fines totaling $210.

Anyone have stories to share of cops on bike detail?  Email tips@streetsblog.org. Tales of good or bad judgment both welcome.

  • So what happens if the cop asks for ID and you dont have one? I biked for years because I didnt feel the need to get a car license.

  • Joe R.

    Eric, I just posted a comment with a few good links for you to read to further back up what I said. It’s currently awaiting moderation, so it may be a while before it’s visible. And I hope I didn’t come down too hard on you in my previous comments. That’s certainly not my intention. We’re 90% on the same page anyway I think. I just trying to talk about transportation which I love to do.

  • Joe R.

    @ jass ( #51 ),

    Just obtain a state non-driver’s ID. I’ve had one since 1992. I always carry it whenever I leave the house, whether on foot or by bike.

  • Driver

    If these are moving violations that are processed in traffic court, will a licensed motorist will have their driving record impacted by bicycle violations? Is passing a red light on a bicycle an equivalent violation as doing so in a car and therefore subject to points on ones license?
    If this is the case, this is a big disincentive for anyone who drives to take up biking. Can anyone shed some light on this question?
    If the current asinine crackdown continues into the warmer months, I will probably be discouraged from taking my leisure rides. There’s no leisure in biking if you have to stop at all stop signs, red light, use hand signals, worry about tickets, etc.

    Joe R, regarding your removal of traffic lights idea, NY’ers do not have anywhere close to the amount of mutual respect, common courtesy, and in many cases common sense, to enable such an idea to be anything but total chaos. The people who would be the most negatively impacted by the resulting disorder would probably be pedestrians and cyclists, who would have to rely on their physical presence and the recognition of this presence by drivers to establish their right of way. Not a position I would care to be in as a cyclist or pedestrian.

  • Khon

    In some ways you can insert bike rider for car driver in this story and one might see the other side of the coin. When people feel the law on their back they blame the law not the violation first.

  • Ed Ravin

    the correct fine for bicycle violations is not evident on the summons form – the red light fine is probably $190, not $210. if the cyclist wants to plead guilty, he should call NYS DMV and ask them what the correct fine is.

  • Driver

    “And yet another reason why traffic lights are generally a bad idea-namely when they get snowed over, and motorists can’t see them:”

    Seriously Joe? Are traffic lines a bad idea because they can get snowed over as well? Do not enter signs? One way signs? Red lights on school buses?

    I don’t agree with everything you write, but I do agree with some of your ideas, and I respect the way your ideas are well written and presented, but to say that traffic lights are generally a bad idea because of they might not function optimally in occasional severe weather conditions is not exactly a strong argument against them.

  • I believe that moving violations on a bike do not subject one to points on a driver’s license, so if anything getting a ticket in a car is an incentive to bike. However, I’d love someone better versed in the subject to clarify.

    My question about this incident is what possible reason could the cops have for trailing the cyclist in the park? If the park was closed to auto traffic, what kind of violation or behavior could they have hoped to have found? The traffic lights in the park only apply to cars; when the park is closed to traffic no cyclist has to obey them and only has to yield to pedestrians. So what, other than intimidation, was the reason for this?

  • Joe R.

    “I don’t agree with everything you write, but I do agree with some of your ideas, and I respect the way your ideas are well written and presented, but to say that traffic lights are generally a bad idea because of they might not function optimally in occasional severe weather conditions is not exactly a strong argument against them.”

    Driver, you need to look at what happened here. The motorists saw a traffic light but it was partially obscured by snow. Nevertheless, some continued to operate on the assumption they had the green, and hence the right-of-way. And motorists on the cross street did exactly the same thing. Had there been no light, those dangerous assumptions wouldn’t have occurred. Most motorists tend to be a lot more cautious at an intersection without a traffic light, snow or not, knowing that cross traffic isn’t necessarily going to yield the right-of-way. Granted, the law prescribes how to behave when you come upon a malfunctioning or obscured traffic signal, but frighteningly many motorists are clueless in such a situation. It’s the automatic assumption of right-of-way which tends to make traffic lights dangerous in that it causes one to drive on autopilot, so to speak. In theory if everyone followed the law exactly this wouldn’t be an issue, but whether through intent or human error, the law won’t be obeyed 100% of the time. A system where you’re essentially forced out of autopilot mode all the time is safer in theory and in practice. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit on some roads traffic lights are a necessary evil if large volumes of traffic must move rapidly. When that’s the case, some alternative provision, such as a grade separated path without lights, should be made for bicycles whenever practical.

    Oh, and so far I can’t find an answer one way or the other regarding your question about bicycle moving violations counting on your driver’s license. In theory they shouldn’t, but I have yet to find a source definitively stating that. And you’re dead on regarding your comment about this enforcement tending to discourage leisure rides. I feel exactly the same way.

  • Driver

    Joe, it seems to me that two drivers exercised very poor judgment. If they could not see what color the light was, then it was extremely foolish to assume that the light was green. Dangerous assumption or poor judgment? I vote for poor judgment.
    Regardless, it seems a bit extreme to use one incident of poor judgment (or a dangerous assumption) as an argument against a nationwide system that is commonly accepted and followed (with exceptions of course).
    With that kind of reasoning, one cyclist striking a pedestrian in a crosswalk/bike lane intersection would prompt a valid argument to eliminate bike lanes, or crosswalks, or both.
    Come to think of it, using your reasoning, bike lanes are a terrible idea. They give bike riders a sense of entitlement to a portion of the road, making them complacent, and more likely to react poorly to conflicts with traffic or pedestrians in these designated spaces, since the cyclists are under the assumption that they have the right of way.
    I don’t think this is a valid argument against bike lanes, even if in certain instances it may be the case.

  • Joe R. you’re missing the point. As american citizens, we do NOT have to carry any form of ID around us to conduct daily business. You need a license to drive a car, but absolutely nothing to ride a bike. That’s why there was so much outcry last summer when Arizona tried to force everyone to carry papers with them. It’s unamerican.

  • Joe R.

    Fair enough Driver, you make some valid points. Traffic lights like I said are indeed a necessary evil in some cases. The problem is when they’re grossly overused as they are in NYC. This is when users tend to treat them casually, same as when stop signs or any other traffic control device is overused. Unfortunately the very act of optimizing a traffic-light controlled road for motorists ends up making it grossly suboptimal for both pedestrians and cyclists ( assuming both follow the letter of the law ). If you make something too suboptimal, especially something fairly optional like bike commuting, then you’ll find few takers. My guess ( hope? ) is that this enforcement will mostly abate before the warmer weather comes, and also that it largely won’t make it at all into the farthest stretches of the outer boroughs. I couldn’t for example imagine a bike dragnet where I live having much success. Whatever violations there are are scattered over square miles of streets-not very efficient from a patrol standpoint.

  • Joe R.

    “Joe R. you’re missing the point. As american citizens, we do NOT have to carry any form of ID around us to conduct daily business. You need a license to drive a car, but absolutely nothing to ride a bike. That’s why there was so much outcry last summer when Arizona tried to force everyone to carry papers with them. It’s unamerican.”

    Yes, you’re correct about that. However, I should mention what occurred back when I received the only ticket I ever did while cycling ( for 19-176 or sidewalk riding of course ) back in 1999. For some reason I had forgotten my ID that day. The cop who stopped me said you know, we can confiscate your bike if you don’t have ID. Well, I was otherwise cooperative, plus I looked like I was about to cry when he said that, so he just trusted that I was giving him the correct information. I don’t know if this policy is legal or official. I’m just passing on what happened to me. I personally think it’s disgusting if the police really can confiscate your bike when stopping you for a moving violation. They don’t do that with motorists as far as I know. What might be a $50 fine can have the added penalty of losing thousands in equipment. Also, what happens if this leaves you stuck in a bad neighborhood, unable to get home?

  • Frank

    another way to generate money for nyc . why is it suddenly being enforced .

  • Kaja

    Long thread.

    The problem is police, and policing; and to a lesser extent the concept of legislation.

    F the 5-0, and the legislature too; bring back common case law, where judges discover natural laws by considering charges of real harm brought by victims.

    My pessimism is unyielding. This sort of policing will drive me out of NYC.

  • dporpentine

    “bring back common case law, where judges discover natural laws by considering charges of real harm brought by victims.”

    I *loved* the middle ages.

  • Kellie

    I agree with the ticket (even though it’s unreasonably high; $50 would have been more appropriate), but the intimidation and stalking are unacceptable! It might seem a little nutty to prohibit bikes from turning right on red, but anytime someone turns right on red, he/she will have to go through a pedestrian crosswalk during the walk light. This is the type of situation that results in pedestrian / bicyclist accidents, so I don’t think there should be an exception for bikes.

    Sorry, bikers! I really am on your side and worry about your safety; I can’t believe there aren’t a lot more biker fatalities than there are! I believe that, if you guys would just start following the laws, people will become a lot less resentful toward you and will become your allies.

    Be safe out there!

  • Kellie, so bicycling is safer than you had thought it might be (“I can’t believe there aren’t a lot more biker fatalities than there are”) but you still believe that cycling should be subject to intrusive, counterintuitive regulation and collective punishment. With friends like you, who needs enemies?

  • ly

    red lights should be yields for bikes.

    i’d like to see the police out ticketing all the cars who do not signal their turns, which it seems like is half of all drivers, and all the cars who do not yield to pedestrians when turning — see this ALL the time, drivers turning in front of people who are about to step off the curb or even are in the process of crosing the street — and as a driver get honked at ALL THE TIME for yielding to pedestrians when making a turn.

  • J

    Just got a ticket for riding through a red light. Too late now but do I have the right not to give them ID?
    And is this going to be points on my drivers license? That seems weird.

  • BicyclesOnly

    J, If you don’t give them I’d then they can arrest you as part of issuing the ticket.

  • BicyclesOnly, they can NOT arrest you for not having ID.

    Again, this isnt nazi germany.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolender_v._Lawson

    On the other hand, New York DOES have a stop and identify law, which means you must give the officer your name.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_and_identify_statutes

    In new york,
    “and may demand of him his name, address and an explanation of his conduct.”

    So they can ask your name and address to write a ticket, but they cant force you to show ID to prove that you’re not lying.

    However, if you answer “My name is Mcluvin from 123 Happy St” they are allowed to hold you longer to confirm this.

  • Geck

    As BicyclesOnly said, carry and provide ID or you can be arrested and locked up for many hours until they confirm your identity (i.e. finger print you to confirm that you have no outstanding warrants). They have some discretion, but it is not worth testing.

    Also, I recall that you do not get points on your license or the surcharge for a moving violation on bicycle.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Jass, read what I wrote. I said that, without ID, you can be arrested as part of getting a ticket. Being without ID is not an independent offense for which you can be arrested, but if you get stopped for a traffic violation (which is an offense for which you ordinarily will not be arrested), you can be arrested if you can’t identify yourself to police satisfaction.

  • “I agree with the ticket (even though it’s unreasonably high; $50 would have been more appropriate)”

    If you don’t agree with a $210 ticket for making a right-on-red on a bicycle, without interfering with pedestrian traffic and passing into an area where autos are prohibited, then you don’t agree with the law or the enforcement.

    The oft imagined ‘reasonable’ enforcement and penalties are not the ones that real-life people are having to deal with. They have to deal with automobile-level penalties, and if they happen to have auto insurance it will probably go up with the ticket. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told by the NYPD.) If you support mere $50 tickets for signal violations on a bicycle, then you effectively do support a significant change in the law. It’s a factor of 4!

  • J

    Thanks guys, I didn’t want to test it, but I felt like a jerk while he sat in the car and wrote a ticket while a bunch of bikers rode on by. He even said he was glad to see I was riding on the right side of the street, instead of the left side like everyone else riding onto the williamsburg bridge….but then I wouldn’t have been pulled over either….so I guess I learned my lesson.
    I just hope this isn’t the same price as a first offense for a motor vehicle which is $270!

  • J.Scott

    All good perspectives. Would love to see simple and important enforcement of the HELMET laws, and laws governing riding on the proper side of the street in NYC in general. Recreational cyclists, delivery persons, etc are far more likely to injure themselves and others with these two infractions as compared to right on red turns into the park.

    Problem is- it would require effort in the enforcement and not sitting still and shooting cycling fish in a barrel……

    Whats next in the part???? A summons for a cyclist “speeding” down the west side?????

    Be safe everyone

  • ken

    Could the NYPD station a cop or two outside my apartmeny building front door to ticket the Ottomanelli delivery illegals that blast the wrong way on the sidewaalk back to the restaurant at 93rd and Lex?

  • ken

    Cops need a bigger pension package. Quit whining you uptight cyclists and pay your taxes.

  • M

    WHAT helmet laws? NY doesn’t have helmet laws for adults.

  • Bikes should get tickets, but this is alot of scratch.

  • just me

    Anarcho-tyranny?

  • Another Comment

    “. One approached me and asked for ID. ”
    On what basis is he allowed to ask for this? Or is this the freedom we have given up for ‘safety’

    Mike Bloomberg protects and funds criminals like Bruce Ratner and then has the police dish out 200.00 fines to delivery boys making sub minimum wage?

  • Gally

    I received a ticket on a deserted 16 degree evening this weekend, and was wondering has anyone actually gone into court to contest the tickets and what the results have been? It’s clear that in my Crown Heights neighborhood the police should maybe be paying attention to the drug deals happening down the street rather than my passing through a red light after looking to make sure there was not a single soul on the street with me. But regardless I’m wondering if anyone has actually tried to fight a ticket what the judgment was.

  • Gally, I don’t think anyone’s court date has arrived yet for tickets issued since this crackdown began.

    But if it’s any consolation, when I was issued a summons for riding on the sidewalk (long story) it was ultimately and inexplicably dismissed for lack of evidence. In that case I had no choice but to go to court to find this out from a cashier. Before that I was feeling pretty ill used by the city, but it did make me feel better to write a few of my legislators to explain how I thought the law in question should be improved for the safety of everyone.

  • Does anyone feel compelled to gather together in the public space to protest this selective enforcement, to speak truth to the power of the NYPD?

    7pm Friday Critical Mass Union Square North

  • James

    I received a ticket for running a red light today in soho. I stopped my bike and was literally crossing the road. There was no one around and I was fined $270. Can I dispute or plead guilty to jay walking?

  • James

    I received a ticket for running a red light today in soho. I stopped my bike and was literally crossing the road. There was no one around and I was fined $270. Can I dispute or plead guilty to jay walking?

  • carma

    hmm.. tough call there man.  i mean, i know what your intention was.  everybody jaywalks.  you were probably cautious of running the red so you decide to walk it.  so tough call.
    i mean, you can say i was jaywalking, but then you are basically admitting guilt anyways saying you DID cross the red.

    im no lawyer, but try saying you were walking the bike in the pedestrian area and not in the streets.  say your offense was simply jaywalking and beg for a reduced fine.

  • I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first.

    http://www.elawsuit.com

  • Michael

    My Opinion is If you follow the rules you wont get fined… Simple enough… Think about it if cars go through red lights or turn on red lights there can be potential risk for an accident(Born and raised Brooklyn live in California now…Law here is you can turn on red and there maniac`s out here)… Ive seen my fair share of disrespectful cyclists… I think if you share the same road you should share the same rules…My Opinion…

  • I didn’t realize you could even get fined from riding a bike. I see motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic all the time and the cops don’t even pay attention to them.

  • Trays9er

    lucky you white people didnt get stop and frisked for a bike infraction.. happened to me twice.

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