NYPD Traffic Cop: “My Objective Is The Cars, Not The People”

This officer's job isn't to keep you safe, it's to keep cars moving. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/gagedesoto/4173731680/##Mike Spriggs via Flickr.##

The NYPD’s decision to crack down on cyclists committing even the most minor infractions — while an epidemic of deadly driving continues unabated — should make it clear that the police department is no friend to those on two wheels right now. A report we received today from Christine Berthet, the co-founder of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety, offers evidence that the police aren’t too concerned about the safety of those on two legs either:

Today at 10:30 a.m., I was waiting to cross the street at the intersection of 42nd Street and 9th Avenue.

A large construction truck was barreling west on 42nd Street where the traffic was light. The pedestrian signal turned to “walk” on the south leg. Instead of stopping the truck, the agent waved it to turn south, which it did at high speed, while the pedestrian platoon had already engaged in the crossing. People jumped back to avoid a collision but it was very close.

I approached the agent and mentioned respectfully to him that he had waved a truck at full speed into a platoon of pedestriansand that pedestrians expected to be protected by the police, to which he responded: “My objective is the cars, not the people.”

This is far from an isolated instance, but still, to hear it so bluntly put and seeing it nearly kill five people in a deliberate way is shocking.

So this is what our society has come to: In New York City , the most pedestrian city in the United States, we pay the police to protect cars, not people.

As the NYPD continues its assault on bikers, it is important to highlight that they are doing a horrible job of protecting pedestrians. The car owners have successfully pitted pedestrians against bikes, we need to refocus the press and everyone on pedestrians/transit users against cars.

I’d love for Vacca and Vallone to have a hearing on that.

  • Pedestrians and Cyclists Unite!

    WE ARE TRAFFIC!

  • J

    This should be a news story, but sadly this has been the case for far too long. This practice is probably the most blatant instance of police officers ACTIVELY putting pedestrians in more risk than they otherwise would be. It is a confusing and dangerous practice for both cars and pedestrians, as they are both told they have the right of way at the same time. It could easily and should be ended tomorrow.

  • M to the I

    We all know that the NYPD doesn’t care about pedestrians or cyclists. But I would just like to add that there are school crossing guards going above and beyond their job descriptions to keep cyclist safe from cars and trucks that refuse to yield the right of way. They routinely hold car traffic turning off of 1st Avenue so cyclists can pass safely even when no school kids are in the crosswalk. One guard even apologized to me as she began to wave traffic through and didn’t see me coming. I really appreciate it and thank them whenever it happens.

  • Suzanne

    I vote we fire all the cops, starting with Ray Kelly, and replace them all with school crossing guards. Think of all the lives we’d save.

  • lic lovr

    after nine years living in this city i still find this shocking – almost unbelieveable even after seeing it daily for nearly a decade. the case is similar at 34th & 9th where i cross to go to work every day. i hope the changes the dot plans on making to this street will help pedestrians at least a little. we can’t rely on the traffic cops to think for a second what will help our safety.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    The new Queens Plaza to the QBB bike paths are coming along and look like they will be fully functional soon. But yesterday a situation happened that scared the living crap out of me – there is a potentially dangerous situation that I am going to document – there is a signal at one point where peds/bikes get to cross. But NYPD is waving cars thru the intersection. Yesterday, I was almost hit by an 18 wheeler.

    As I was approaching the intersection the light was green for the crossing, probably about 4 or 5 seconds. So I was pretty confident I could go, thankfully at the last minute I looked to my left thanks to over caution of riding in the city and slammed on the brakes….

    At first I was really angry, screaming at the truck driver. But he said to me, “Don’t blame me, I got waved thru!” It was then I looked up about 100 feet or so towards the bridge and a traffic cop was just motioning for cars to move thru one after the other. I yelled back to the cop that people were trying to cross (there were three peds and a cyclist waiting at this point) and he just shrugged his shoulders.

    Note: this is not a case where you can see the officer at the middle of an intersection and he or she is letting cars thru and you have to hold on even though you are annoyed. The worst part is they sit well north of the intersection where you can’t see them immediately waving cars against you.

    Someone with less biking (or walking) experience will be killed here. It will happen. I will try and post some video or pictures next week.

  • lic lovr

    i experienced this too a few weeks ago. i was all set to cross at 28th st going from qp north to south. the light turned green and as i set out to cross the traffic agents signaled for the cars to keep going. a few motorists looked confused and even attempted to let me go – but i stayed where i was as the other lanes of traffic were NOT going to stop. in this case the traffic cop was making the situaiton more dangerous – NOT safer!!

  • AlexB

    People should pay more attention. If there is a traffic cop in the intersection, look at what they are saying/doing, not at the signal. That’s what cars do. I’ve never had a problem with this. Their job is to direct traffic; the cop was just being honest. That’s why we call them traffic cops. This post is making too big a deal out of something that isn’t a big deal. Not everything is a conspiracy against pedestrians.

  • Jeff

    My experience is that traffic cops typically mimic the signals, with the exception of undermining any Leading Pedestrian Intervals.

  • Matthew Kime

    I used to commute through that intersection and can testify that i’ve seen similar incidents on many occasions.

    When I first saw a traffic cop I was respectful and followed her command as she waived cars through my walk light. The she offered to walk me through six lanes of moving traffic – i never let that happen again.

    Plenty of cars blow through that red light. I’ve seen more than a few pedestrians only inches away from a hospital stay.

  • Foot traffic is traffic too. And besides, to SERVE AND PROTECT is the first goal of the police. Smooth traffic is secondary, even for a traffic cop.

  • Anonymous

    This happens every morning at the Manhattan end of the Williamsburg Bridge. Cars are waved through red lights with traffic cops looking at the on-coming cars, not the pedistrians. What is worse is that they wave the cars through which makes them think they can run the next red light. When me and numerous pedistrians almost got hit, I was told by the officer, ” I’m here to move the traffic”

  • Suzanne

    Except that cars don’t seem to obey them, unless they’re the ones who get waved through a red. I’ve had a similar experience to Clarence’s and to top it off? The car that wanted to turn right started beeping at me because I wasn’t charging through oncoming traffic and getting out of her way.

  • Alex, traffic cops only replace the motor traffic signals. They do not replace the pedestrian signals. If you don’t believe me, look at an instance when the city did try, for mere days, replacing both sets of signals:

  • The traffic cop quoted is telling the plain truth. His/her very job in NYC is only to govern motor traffic.
    There are two sets of signals at big intersections, motor signals and ped signals. A traffic cop legally supercedes both of them , but only *replaces* the funcion of one of them–the motor traffic signals. It’s a busted ass system that NYC has hardly ever tried to fix. I don’t think most other cities have ever tried to fix it either. One time they tried forget this, Urg Disqus doesn’t allow me to see what I’m typing grrrr

  • ddartley

    Also, Suzanne, drivers often freely disobey a traffic cop’s “stop” signal. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve never seen the ignored traffic cop do anything about it.

  • Mark Walker

    My experience is just like Jeff’s experience.

  • Anonymous

    A traffic cop legally supercedes both of them , but only *replaces* the funcion of one of them–the motor traffic signals.

    What does this even mean, Dave? Can we get a cite from the VTL?

  • Ok, what exactly *is* the point of traffic cops? If they generally only mimic the signals, why do we need them? Wouldn’t it be better to just post them on the corner and have them ticket people who run lights? Or, better yet, replace them with cameras (if replacing them with school crossing guards doesn’t work, that is.)

  • Mothra

    Traffic cops are beyond useless. At best, they function as well as the existing signals, at worst, they can create chaos and injury. They can’t give tickets, they can only blow a whistle at you if you ignore them. They need to be replaced with signal enforcers who can give tickets to vehicles (and bikes) for ignoring signals. If a traffic cop is needed at an intersection, there is something wrong with that intersection and the signal or flow needs tweaking.

    At the Atlantic/Flatbush intersection traffic cops routinely wave traffic through red lights. The problem is, the trucks and buses obscure them from pedestrian view and so you have pedestrians assuming that they can cross when they actually can not.

    Oh, and if it’s raining? you can find them chatting on their celphones under the nearest awning. I even took pictures once.

  • Capn,

    I take ddartley to be referring to the law requiring all persons–including pedestrians–to follow the lawful order of a police or peace officer. If a Traffic Enforcement Agent is waving traffic through an intersection in violation of a right of way that you have as a pedestrian based on the pedestrian crossing signal, there’s a pretty good argument that you have to take the officer to be directing you not to cross. The officer has superseded the pedestrian traffic signal, but is not actually directing pedestrian traffic.

  • Anonymous

    This representative of NYPD Legal pretty much sums up their overall attitude (angry, clueless, combative, illogical):

  • Yes, that’s it, Bicycles Only, but it’s not the law that requires the officer to replace motor traffic signals, it’s the officer’s supervisors. If the NYPD required the officer to direct pedestrian traffic as well, nothing in the law prevents that.

    Can we get a backlash against Ray Kelly? Replace him with Kathleen Rice or someone?

  • Incidentally, last weekend I was crossing 57th Street with my eight-year-old son, and there was a traffic cop. I pointed out to my son that if there’s a traffic cop, you pay attention to them and not the signals. We caught the cop’s eye, and he stopped the cars for us to cross. I don’t know whether the cars had the green or not, because I was looking at the cop.

    I don’t know why the pedestrians that Christine saw weren’t looking to the cop. If a cop is ignoring pedestrians who want to cross, that’s a problem. And of course, the actions that Clarence describes are inexcusable.

  • Andrew

    Traffic cops position themselves for maximum visibility to motor traffic. They usually aren’t positioned where pedestrians would naturally look, and they’re sometimes not visible at all to pedestrians.

    And in addition to the safety factor, they rob pedestrians of their time.

    It’s not a conspiracy; it’s merely reckless thoughtlessness.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps they didn’t notice the cop in the first place.

  • Outrageous but not surprising. Cars are such bully’s in NYC, kill people, create noise pollution, air pollution, and disease (asthma, cancer, etc), but their rights are more important than pedestrian’s & bikers? Our public policy, outdated infrastructure, and biased police force create monsters on the roads.

    I was hit by a car on Sunday, while riding in the bike lane on prince st just west of west broadway. IN THE BIKE LANE! The guy hopped out of the car screaming mad, talking about “you scratched my car!”. Luckily, I’ve taken a buddhist vow of non-violence, it was the only thing stopping me from cracking him over the head with my BMX bike.

    Our culture (poor street design, poor traffic enforcement, car centric cops/traffic cops) creates these monsters, who don’t deserve the right to drive but feel entitled to drive like animals.

    FYI, I am not seriously injured, but it freaked me out a little bit. Of course, all drivers are not like this, but the more time they spend on the road, the more likely they are to be influenced by the culture of aggression from the streets. That is why cab drivers, bus drivers, and truck drivers are the most aggressive drivers.

    We are a city of 8 million plus, with a transportation system and public space allocation that was designed decades ago.

    I AM NOT ANTI-CAR, I love cars. I am anti poor design. Cars kill around 360+ people a year in NYC, and blow over 300 Million red lights a year. Traffic accidents cost tax payers 2.2 billion dollars/year in NYC. You know why? There is too many of them; our public transportation sucks, parking is free, and all the traffic laws are not enforced, so drivers just seem them as suggestions.

    Is anyone else seeing a really easy way to balance the MTA’s budget. Actually enforce the laws that already exist and we can save 2.2 Billion a year in traffic accident costs. There is no reason why we can’t design a traffic system that kills ZERO people a year, except for ignorance.

    And to the asshole in the Black GMC Yukon License Plate E7H-457B, you’re nothing but a spoiled brat driving a 2 ton weapon like a complete dick.

  • Mothra
  • krstrois

    It’s really depressing that the best possible traffic situation in NYC is when the lights aren’t working and there’s no traffic cop and people actually have to pay attention and move cautiously.

  • Driver

    ddartley, the traffic enforcement agents (they are not cops) don’t have the authority to do anything about it. The most they can do is find a real cop to enforce the law against the driver. The only problem is the real cops despise the traffic enforcement agents just as much, if not more than the rest of us do.

  • Curious Bystander

    What exactly is the point of having a traffic cop, anyways? Most of the time they just mimic the signals…

  • ddartley

    Indeed, Cap’n, I wasn’t as clear as I could have been. What I should have said was, “There are two sets of signals at big intersections, car signals and ped signals. A traffic cop legally supercedes both of them, but doesn’t perform the function of both of them; he performs only one set’s function, leaving the function of the other set (ped signals) unperformed. Thus, peds are left to fend for themselves while motor traffic is governed by one or two persons who pay no attention to pedestrians.”

    I don’t think there’s a relevant cite to VTL. I think there’s only the following, and my problem is what it DOESN’T address: the fact that “Every person” comprises multiple categories of street users.
    Ҥ 1110. Obedience to and required traffic-control devices. (a) Every
    person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control
    device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of
    this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer,
    subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency
    vehicle in this title.” That’s state law; I don’t know if it conflicts with any NYC rule, but I believe it holds here.

    So what I’m trying to point out is this: as quoted above, everyone must obey mechanized signals, unless otherwise directed by a traffic cop (and Driver, I understand that “cop” and TEA are not completely one and the same, but they’re both NYPD, hence “cop.”). So, drivers obey the red/yellow/green, unless there’s a traffic cop, in which case they obey the latter, and ignore the r/y/g. The problem is, r/y/g lights work in synchronized tandem, but not unison, with “walk/don’t walk” signals, and when a traffic cop supersedes the r/y/g, there is no additional traffic cop in charge of peds working in synch with the “car” cop.* Peds are left to their own devices, and must decide all on their own whether to follow the walk/don’t walk signals, or to follow the hand signals of the cop (which they know are not really directed at them, but at drivers), or just take their chances and proceed when they feel like it.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all peds are supposed to look at traffic cops’ hand signals as applying to them as well as cars, and we just don’t. I mean, it’s obvious to me that when a traffic cop is running an intersection that the walk/don’t walk signs are not to be used–but what IS to be used? I understand what you and your son did at 57th St., but I think you’d be hard pressed to find other peds who know for sure that that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I don’t even think it’s ignorance on the part of peds. I think traffic cops, either by training, or just in practice, simply don’t address peds. And that creates a dangerous problem, as specifically illustrated by the experiences of Christine and Clarence.

    *except in rare instances in NYC over the past couple years, like the youtube clip I posted in another comment.

    I guess my whole point really ought to be that every time an intersection is taken over by a traffic cop (or sometimes two), then there should also be a crossing guard assigned to each crosswalk, like in the vid I posted.

  • ddartley

    Indeed, Cap’n, I wasn’t as clear as I could have been. What I should have said was, “There are two sets of signals at big intersections, car signals and ped signals. A traffic cop legally supercedes both of them, but doesn’t perform the function of both of them; he performs only one set’s function, leaving the function of the other set (ped signals) unperformed. Thus, peds are left to fend for themselves while motor traffic is governed by one or two persons who pay no attention to pedestrians.”

    I don’t think there’s a relevant cite to VTL. I think there’s only the following, and my problem is what it DOESN’T address: the fact that “Every person” comprises multiple categories of street users.
    Ҥ 1110. Obedience to and required traffic-control devices. (a) Every
    person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control
    device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of
    this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer,
    subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency
    vehicle in this title.” That’s state law; I don’t know if it conflicts with any NYC rule, but I believe it holds here.

    So what I’m trying to point out is this: as quoted above, everyone must obey mechanized signals, unless otherwise directed by a traffic cop (and Driver, I understand that “cop” and TEA are not completely one and the same, but they’re both NYPD, hence “cop.”). So, drivers obey the red/yellow/green, unless there’s a traffic cop, in which case they obey the latter, and ignore the r/y/g. The problem is, r/y/g lights work in synchronized tandem, but not unison, with “walk/don’t walk” signals, and when a traffic cop supersedes the r/y/g, there is no additional traffic cop in charge of peds working in synch with the “car” cop.* Peds are left to their own devices, and must decide all on their own whether to follow the walk/don’t walk signals, or to follow the hand signals of the cop (which they know are not really directed at them, but at drivers), or just take their chances and proceed when they feel like it.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all peds are supposed to look at traffic cops’ hand signals as applying to them as well as cars, and we just don’t. I mean, it’s obvious to me that when a traffic cop is running an intersection that the walk/don’t walk signs are not to be used–but what IS to be used? I understand what you and your son did at 57th St., but I think you’d be hard pressed to find other peds who know for sure that that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I don’t even think it’s ignorance on the part of peds. I think traffic cops, either by training, or just in practice, simply don’t address peds. And that creates a dangerous problem, as specifically illustrated by the experiences of Christine and Clarence.

    *except in rare instances in NYC over the past couple years, like the youtube clip I posted in another comment.

    I guess my whole point really ought to be that every time an intersection is taken over by a traffic cop (or sometimes two), then there should also be a crossing guard assigned to each crosswalk, like in the vid I posted.

  • Not a Cop

    These uniformed people in white hats aren’t cops. They are civilian Traffic Enforcement Agents (TEAs) They can’t make arrests, don’t carry guns, don’t issue moving violations and make much less money than cops. It is misleading to use the word “cop” when describing them. They report to different bosses, have different training, are in a different union, and get beat-up by real cops if they give them a parking ticket.

  • Apedone

    I’ve had many similar experiences. When I finally, approached one and questioned her,
    the “COP” responded by screaming “MOTHER F’n this and that.
    I shook my head and walked away. A proud monent for the NYPD.

  • Edelman

    Mayor Mike gets off clean in comments so far.

  • Edelman

    Mayor Mike gets off clean in comments so far.

  • Edelman

    Mayor Mike gets off clean in comments so far.

  • a.v.

    In most cases, the traffic agent’s primary job is to keep intersections (the one they are working as well as adjacent ones) clear so that they don’t become gridlocked. This is something that traffic signals by themselves do not do very well. Yes, in many cases they do not communicate well with pedestrians. I see many pedestrians, however, that have a tendency to interfere with their efforts by not obeying signals (crossing during the phase when turning cars have green arrows, for example) or ignoring agents altogether. Bottom line is that it’s shared space and pedestrians also need to respect cars when it’s their turn. A small minority do not and that’s frustrating for everyone.

  • AG

    The traffic cops (or Transit Enforcement Agents) mostly just cause noise pollution, blowing their whistles incessantly to little purpose. As has been noted, they mostly follow the traffic signals. Often I think they actually slow down traffic a bit since the cars tend to slow down a bit as they get near them. When there’s a serious traffic jam, they can be useful, but in my neighborhood, they’ve suddenly become ubiquitous in the last couple of years, but 99 percent of the time they do nothing of value and they do something very annoying: blow their whistles incessantly.

  • Manhattanite

    a.v. wrote, “In most cases, the traffic agent’s primary job is to keep intersections (the one they are working as well as adjacent ones) clear so that they don’t become gridlocked. This is something that traffic signals by themselves do not do very well.”
    As has been noted here, most of the time they merely mimic the traffic signals. A few years ago, traffic cops suddenly started appearing with regularity on the corner where I live. I never, never see them do any good at all. All they do is cause noise pollution.

    In fact, it sometimes seems that they actually slow traffic down rather than helping it to move more quickly. This is because the cars slow down as they get close to the traffic officer.

    This is the kind of thing that makes people want to leave New York. I’m sure that there are times and places where the traffic officers do some good. But they almost never seem to be any help at all on my corner, and the noise they make is maddening. Some of them blow their whistles so incessantly when there’s no notable traffic and certainly no congestion that they seem kind of insane.

  • SB

    This is exactly what happens at 59th St and Second Avenue in the mornings. Traffic cops stand by the entrance to the 59th St bridge, but on the east side of Second Avenue. We pedestrians are waiting to cross 59th Street on the west side of Second Avenue. We are looking ahead, at the crossing light, waiting for it to turn to walk. Continuously, I see people step off the curb because the crossing light has told them to, only to have to yell, “STOP” or physically pull people back because cars are flying through red lights to get on the bridge because traffic cops are waving cars through red lights FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF SECOND AVE to keep the traffic moving. And the traffic cops SCREAM AT THE PEDESTRIANS for crossing when the walk light comes on.

    No one looks to cross north by looking east. I have gone and spoken personally to these cops after scary, scary close calls and say, “You have to stand by the crosswalk if you are going to wave cars through red lights so pedestrians can see you. We are looking ahead for our light to change. We aren’t looking east at the bridge. Half shrug their shoulders and don’t give a crap.

    It is very, very dangerous. And furthermore, 57th and Third is so dangerous at rush hour. I have to scoot quickly to avoid cars clipping my heals while crossing 57th Street on the east side of Third. All they care about is getting across the bridge. There is rarely a traffic cop there and cars take out all their frustration on pedestrians.

    There is supposed to be a law against laying on the horn unless it is an emergency. All people do is hold down their horns if they don’t like all the traffic. Never, ever do cops give them a ticket. And that 59 story building going up on 57th and Second? They are allowed to work on Saturdays! In addition to 7 a.m. start times Mon – Fri. Quality of life? No way, it is all about business and car management. Never about the people who actually live here.

  • Ahmed DOUGH

    Lmao @ “and get beat-up by real cops if they give them a parking ticket.” Idk why, but the thought of that made me laugh, Big bully COP beating up and messing with a nerdy TEA.

  • Ahmed DOUGH

    Damn, what a jerk. I honestly feel like bike lanes are a bad idea to have in a congested city such as New York, but the actions of the driver were uncalled for.

  • AMH

    Traffic signals should always be changed to flashing red/yellow if a person is directing traffic. Too many drivers see green and floor it without looking at anything else.

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