NYPD Bike Blitz Cheat Sheet Tells Cops to Enforce Bogus Traffic Laws

An NYPD bike enforcement cheat sheet instructs police officers to issue tickets for traffic laws that don't apply in New York City. Full image: ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/CurrentEnforcementAvailableforBicycleViolations1.pdf##PDF##

Sometime between the ticket one cyclist received for turning right on red into Central Park and the ticket another received for riding with a bag slung over her handlebars, it became abundantly clear that NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” is not really about safer cycling. Instead of applying the NYPD’s vaunted data-driven policing techniques to encourage safer and more courteous cycling behaviors, the department’s bike blitz seemingly consists of harassing cyclists and slapping them with large fines for the most minor transgressions.

In some cases, the fines are for non-existent violations. A cheat sheet circulated by police [PDF] indicates the department isn’t even limiting its bike enforcement to the offenses on the books.

According to reliable sources who obtained the sheet from police, the document was distributed by NYPD in February to assist officers in the bike ticketing blitz. The cheat sheet includes three violations that don’t apply in New York City, even though federal judges have made it plain to the NYPD on more than one occasion that such citations are bogus.

The sheet tells cops they can issue tickets for violating sections 1234 (a), (b), and (c) of the state’s vehicle and traffic law, which require cyclists to either ride in a bike lane or along the right side of the road, to ride no more than two abreast, and to come to a stop before turning onto a road from a driveway. None of those rules, however, apply in New York City.

“VTL 1234 is a section of the state vehicle and traffic law that New York City was given the authority by the state legislature to supercede,” explained attorney Mark Taylor [disclosure: Streetsblog has retained Taylor’s firm for unrelated legal assistance managing freedom of information requests]. Just as New York City was able to ban drivers from making right turns on red, it was able to replace the requirements of VTL 1234.

While it’s a bit confusing that VTL 1234 doesn’t apply in New York City — you have to look in an entirely different legal code to find that out — the NYPD is intimately aware of which rules they can enforce in this case. “They have repeatedly been in front of courts and forced to admit that 1234 does not apply in New York,” said Taylor. “It has been very clear to the NYPD for a long, long time, so the idea that they are continuing to issue instructions to officers on the street to promulgate these laws that don’t apply in NYC is just amazing.”

The inclusion of an invalid law on the NYPD’s cheat sheet suggests that the bike blitz isn’t so much about enforcing the law, right or wrong, but an intentional campaign to make life more difficult for cyclists. A judge would quickly throw out any section 1234 ticket written in New York City, said Taylor.

It is not known how widely this document was distributed within the police department, nor if other guides to ticketing cyclists are in circulation. One traffic cop I spoke with at the corner of Crosby and Spring Streets in SoHo said he had never seen this document or anything similar, suggesting it isn’t in use citywide. Streetsblog has asked the NYPD press office to explain the document and received no reply.

NYPD has a track record of using cheat sheets that lead officers to issue wrongful summonses, and prior cases suggest that the department can be held accountable if supervisors encouraged officers to crib from the bike enforcement sheet. A federal judge found last year, for example, that the NYPD’s continued use of unofficial cheat sheets listing unconstitutional loitering statutes was evidence of the department’s “lax approach” to stopping that variety wrongful enforcement. So long as any supervising officers are aware of the cheat sheets, that case suggests, the department is to some degree responsible for the decision to knowingly enforce an inapplicable law.

It’s also plausible that this cheat sheet is responsible for the farcical arrest of a school administrator for carrying her totebag on her handlebars, an action which is perfectly legal. The sheet summarizes VTL 1235 as “carrying articles on bicycles,” a description which, to an officer without sufficient training, would seem to apply in this case. The full law clearly states otherwise, however: It prohibits carrying objects in such a way that cyclists can’t keep at least one hand on the handlebars. If a single sheet of paper is the extent of the instruction some officers are receiving before being sent out to ticket cyclists, then such improper summonses will inevitably be issued.

  • Station44025

    @88b32fb69e499718d95067da9d3d7b03:disqus Yes!! Well put. My main goal when riding my bike is to avoid cars, not get in front of them. My wife and I just said eff it and rode the sidewalk down Ft. Hamilton Parkway, as it is the only sane thing to do. 1 week later, pizza guy gets killed right there.

    Don’t be a jerk=be more dead.

  • Joe R.

    You make good points, Daphna. Granted, self-preservation means very few cyclists do things like blindly go through red lights, but I have seen it. Those might be the rare instances to give a cyclist a ticket, or better yet, since I dislike punitive actions, make them take the biking equivalent of a driver training class, since it’s obvious their judgement needs some honing. Also, while I think a blanket prohibition against either sidewalk or wrong-way riding is silly, both actions need to be done in such a way as to not piss off people (I’m referring here to not pissing off reasonable people, since some will be pissed off by bikes no matter how law-abiding they are).I get it when people ride on the sidewalk. Heck, I did it myself before I felt safe riding in the street. But by the same token anyone riding on the sidewalk must respect that this is primarily the pedestrian’s domain, and ride in such a way that they don’t startle or require pedestrians to get out of their way. Same thing with wrong-way riding. If you must do this, then only do it as little as possible, be predictable, and stay to your right. I hate it when I see wrong way cyclists all over the road, and to make it worse they’re wearing dark clothes with no lights at night. Some even have the nerve to tell me I’m riding the wrong way. Quite a few I have to guess which side of me they’ll be on when I pass them. There’s no reason for that at all.

  • Anonymous

    Daphna – Yes, it is about self preservation, but there should be some following the the rules by everyone. I see plenty of bikers blow through lights at full speed, not a majority, but enough to get me to notice. I’ve seen it while driving, I’ve seen it while biking, I’ve seen it while walking.

    No car wants to run over some idiot cyclist. The biggest key to staying safe is predictable movements. Moving all over the road, through traffic control devices without regard to their directions, is not predictable movement.

    Pedestrians that jaywalk are a problem. Pedestrians not yielding their right of way when crossing properly are not.

    As for wrong way riding – that’s just as dangerous. A car or a pedestrian does not expect vehicles to be coming the wrong way down the street when they are turning or walking across it. If your options are “5 dangerous intersections or 1 wrong-way block,” I think you need to do some better planning for your route.

    Sidewalk riding: I don’t care about your excuses. You go on the sidewalk, you walk the bike. The sidewalk is for walking. Plus, when you hit crosswalks, it’s extremely dangerous, as a car doesn’t expect people going much faster than a pedestrian. And if you’re going slow as a pedestrian, then why the hell not get off the bike and walk it?

    And yes, I am a biker, not some angry pedestrian or driver. I don’t have a problem with people treating red lights like stop signs when appropriate (eg: all the traffic has gone through the intersection, no more high volume of pedestrians…); wrong way riding really ticks me off as a biker, as it is dangerous to me: they can do unpredictable things when you’re approaching.

  • Anonymous

    Transportation Nation is doing a crowdsource cycle ticket map. Please help out if you have been ticketed.

    http://transportationnation.org/2011/05/03/been-ticketed-while-riding-a-bike-join-this-crowdsourcing-project/

  • Don’t miss your opportunity 6/11 to take action against & draw attention to this ill-informed enforcement turned harassment! “More ass! Less harass!” sums up this year’s World Naked Bike Ride theme here in NYC http://bit.ly/Bi7aY

  • Lin D

    It’s not just harassing cyclists, but generating revenue.

  • Street Proof

    Just paid $190 for red light ticket after being followed for twenty minutes from 58th and 7th to 58th and 6th , to 59th and 6th , finally to 59th and 5th.

  • anonymous

    So you knew you were being followed and you still ran a red light? Smooth move. Did you at least slow down or stop for the light you ran, or did you do the quick look and keep going routine that most people do?

  • Driver

    20 minutes from 58th and 7th to 59th and 5th? Are you sure that ticket wasn’t in your car? Something doesn’t sound right.

  • I wonder when this will stop.

    http;//www.elawsuit.com

  • Hmmm, for every one cyclist who breaks a “law”, I could count about twenty motorists doing something far worse and potentially life-threatening. My safety is my only concern when on my bike because i am well aware i will not win a collision with a car. do i slow down at a red light, yes, do i stop, no. I go to put myself in the safest position. If this is ticket worthy, so be it. My respect for this idiotic crackdown will grow when i see the NYPD addressing the real problem of aggressive driving and not harassing cyclists.

  • Biking in Midtown

    I was just issued a ticket 403A1 near Herald Square. I was crossing the street at 33rd — that horrible intersection where you go from 6th ave to Broadway and there are pedestrians everywhere. I had the green and crossed the street and turned right like I usually do, and was pulled over by a cop. She said I failed to yield to pedestrians. I explained that since two pedestrians that were near me stopped effectively giving me the right of way, I went ahead (instead of playing that awful stop-go-stop-go game). It was a very ordinary occurrence – make eye contact with the pedestrian, and go ahead. Pretty annoyed by this whole thing.

    Would you fight this ticket or just pay it? Any idea of how much a 403A1 ticket costs?

  • Ed Ravin

    See the NYC traffic rules at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/trafrule.pdf for the details of RCNY 4-03(a)(1). This is the first time I’ve heard of a summons against that code – usually they get you on the state vehicle and traffic law.

    I believe the fine is $50, but please double-check that with someone who knows how to read the codes better than I do.

    A vehicle operator turning through a crosswalk is supposed to yield to pedestrians, period. The right thing to do is stop and wave them through, or maybe (if there’s lots of room, remember peds sometimes walk backwards) cross behind them. If a pedestrian has to slow down because of your turning in front of him or her, then you’ve technically violated their right-of-way.

  • Joe R.

    If they were in the crosswalk and didn’t wave you through when they stopped then you violated their right-of-way (i.e. you failed to yield) in the eyes of the police. That said, I’ve voluntarily waited for turning vehicles when crossing without waving them through. Technically the vehicle didn’t fail to yield in those cases, but to a cop it would look that way. No way of knowing if the two people in your case voluntarily stopped or not without some kind of gesture on their part. Unfortunately the cop may have failed to notice such a gesture, especially if it was a subtle gesture like eye contact. You probably should have slowed enough, or even stopped if need be, so that you ended up riding behind them, preferably with a cushion of at least a few feet in case they stepped backwards.

    I’ll bet good money that same cop wasn’t bothering to ticket motor vehicles for failure to yield.

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