On Jay Street, Police Break Traffic Laws More Than They Enforce Them

Walk out on any New York City street and you’re likely to find rampant disregard for traffic laws. Pinpointing exactly who’s speeding requires special equipment, but for many offenses, you can track the level of lawlessness with the naked eye.

A team of Transportation Alternatives volunteers did just that over the course of October on the block of Jay Street between Willoughby and Johnson Streets, a major approach to the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Brooklyn. Over the course of eight weekday rush hours, the volunteers tracked three easy-to-catch violations: Bike lane blocking, bus stop blocking, and illegal U-turns.

On that one block, 49 drivers parked in the bike lane every hour, 18 parked in the bus stop, and another eighteen made an illegal U-ey. You can do your own count in the video above.

Brooklyn cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians and motorists hoping for a safe and easy commute shouldn’t look to the NYPD to clean up Jay Street, either. In an average hour, three of the drivers parked in the bike lane, five parked in a bus stop, and two of the U-turners were cops, according to T.A.

In other words, police officers made as many illegal U-turns on this block in a single hour as the number of summonses NYPD issued for illegal U-turns on the same stretch in the entire month of September, according to T.A.

“The police aren’t paying attention (and are breaking the law), so drivers think they can get away with anything,” said T.A. Executive Director Paul Steely White in a statement. “With so little enforcement against the many drivers who blatantly ignore the rules of the road, everyone on this street is in harm’s way. Police Commissioner Kelly needs to get his department in order and make traffic safety a priority.”

  • Kudos to Paule for leading the T.A. Brooklyn Committee of Volunteers on this one. The driver violations are blatant and dangerous… and the police taking part is simply infuriating.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Jay Street is a place where everyone drives as if they have a license to kill.  Therefore, I avoid it.

    To approach the Brooklyn Bridge, I go over to Clinton on Bergen/Pacific, then ride to Tillary and come in the back way.   I’ve been doing that to Manhattan since the Manhattan Bridge switch.

    Otherwise, I take the Manhattan Bridge, approaching it or leaving it via Fort Greene.  You really want to avoid Downtown Brooklyn, particularly near concentrations of public employment.

  • Glenn

    Maybe we need to rethink traditional police forces. Investigating and preventing crimes is only one part of the job, especially when major crimes are at historically low levels. In many areas of the city, the biggest threats to public safety are negligent drivers, not would be murderers or armed robbers.

    The crossing guards near the schools in my neighborhood are the only people who actually seem to regulate driver behavior in favor of pedestrians. We need more of them or something akin to them at major accident prone intersections. Also need more built-in or automatic enforcement like neckdowns and redlight cameras.

  • Jay Street Rider

    Fish rots from the head.  How can we expect average drivers to respect other road users and obey the law when the NYPD doesn’t even do it?

  • I avoid Jay Street because of the rampant bike lane blocking there. Would putting the bike lane curb-side solve this? 

    Certainly in this area, like many, the police are perpetuating, and directly causing, the greatest safety threat in the city.

    Perhaps the next survey should ask pedestrians in areas like this if they are more afraid of crime or traffic. And then ask how police could best contribute to their overall feeling of safety.

    We are working in favelas in Rio, where after “pacifying” the crime infested slums with forceful police action, they are working to have the communities reclaim their public spaces and police are being trained as social ambassadors. 

    In NYC, streets privatized and made threatening by crime are now privatized and made threatening by cars. NYPD is capable of addressing the safety threat posed by cars just as effectively as they have addressed crime.

  • Tjh15774

    Sorry but the person who made this video needs to get a life! There are more important things going on in the world then people making u-turns in light traffic.

  • moocow

    Everytime I ride on Jay (I just did 15 min ago) I tell myself it’s a rule free zone. Everyone is breaking whatever law they can, constantly. Has anyone ever NOT seen a TLC car sitting in the bike lane as you cross Fulton southbound on Jay?
    Thanks so much for writing a story on this street, it needs a major crack down itself.

  • Is Eric Ulrich commenting as Tjh15774?

  • dporpentine

    “On Jay Street, Police Break Traffic Laws More Than They Enforce Them”

    “More than”? Did TA see any enforcement whatsoever? I’m on that street pretty regularly and I can’t recall a single instance.

  • Reggie

    And if you moved the camera south by, oh, forty feet, you could have caught on tape all the cyclists who ride through the light where Myrtle Avenue used to end.  When I cross this and other streets with the signal, bike riders often come “uncomfortably close,” to use the filmmakers’ term.  I am not condoning crappy driving by people in dangerously heavy vehicles, just pointing  out the myopia that often pervades here.

  • Anonymous

    Nanny-state video.  That street is anarchy, but anarchy as much to my advantage as a cyclist as to anyone else, including drivers.  Reggie below has a point — I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had to come out of a pedal on Jay Street.  I just go around the obstacles – all the way around, wrong side of the street if I have to.  If there’s clear pavement, I’ll take it.

  • The Truth

    As a reminder, it is explicitly illegal according to the VTL for the police to break traffic regulations, unless they are involved in emergency operations.

    Not that the NYPD cares one iota about its officers breaking the law.  Go count blocked fire hydrants, where these geniuses don’t even bother to keep their own families safe at night!

  • Anarchy is what keeps all but the most intrepid cyclists from commuting in parts of the city. 
    Tough guy cyclists like Brooklyn6 may think its to his advantage to take risks when the street is this chaotic, but the many people who might consider biking to work will never do on a road ruled by anarchy.  Seriously, if I showed this video to my family they might stage an intervention and ban me from riding to work for the rest of my life.

    Pedestrians who have to peek around double-parked cars probably don’t agree that anarchy is to their advantage.  Bus passengers who disembark into the bike lane instead of the sidewalk because the stop is blocked by cars are also at risk.  Drivers pulling out of parking garages can’t see beyond idling cars, creating a risk as they chance it and pull into traffic blindly. 

    The many people riding on the correct side of the road don’t really
    appreciate you salmoning.  That’s not advantageous to anyone.

    If asking for the police to enforce existing laws constitutes a nanny state, I’ll take it.

  • Joe R.

    If we want to just focus on what’s dangerous, rather than just technically illegal, start with the blocked bus stops.  It’s dangerous on many levels for a bus to take on or discharge passengers while stopped in the street.  We really need greater enforcement of this citiwide.  I see way too many blocked bus stops no matter where I go.  Second most dangerous thing are the blocked bike lanes which force cyclists to swerve into the motor traffic lane.  It seems most of the people making illegal u-turns are at least checking to see if it’s clear first, so I’m not having much of a problem with it.

    Nobody commented on the poor pavement condition.  That’s probably just as dangerous to cyclists as the rampant violations of traffic laws.

  • Anonymous

    Joe is right. The discussion too often focuses on what is and isn’t legal more that what is and isn’t dangerous, which leads to a fundamentally irrational discourse, and more finger pointing than actual solutions.  I agree the terrible condition of roads, especially on the edges where bikes are supposed to ride, is probably one of the most dangerous problems.  Even the flagship PPW protected lane has some pretty mean potholes, which  I assume will never be fixed.

  • lawlessness on the streets! Which seems banal but costs people lives &  costs all tax payers billions of dollars/year.  Go to http://www.facebook.com/streetcrimesnyc to post photos of street crimes!

  • MB

    The police? Ha! I’d rather put my faith in the DOT. The problem is the bus stop, it should be extended enough to prevent double parking (i.e. Broadway bus lanes, Mnhtn). Yes you can increase police enforcement, but taking away the opportunity for the cars to make these maneuvers in the first place by design is even better. Redesign is the concrete enforcement itself.

  • Hallam Jon

    Hey,

    I don’t see why a U-turn is a bad thing(?) Surely, if you’re anyway driving and getting in the way of bikes and pedestrians wanting to cross the street, it’s better to turn around and go straight back than drive around the block to turn. In most places in the UK, ‘three-point’ turns are legal (our roads are typically too narrow for a straightforward u-turn).

    Relatedly, if we have certain road regulations which are obviously bad, people will reasonably ignore them, and this attitude will carry over onto good regulations too.

    JMH

  • Robert

    The disgusting, aggressive and lawless driving is m hands-down my number one quality of life complaint in NYC. It seems that you have to kill a pedestrian to be cited by NYPD. I bike 16 miles RT every day throughout Brooklyn and have for almost three years. After thousands of miles on the streets I could count on my hands the number of times I have seen a driver pulled over. Do I run red lights on my bike? I do and if I am someday cited I will get what’s coming to me. But it is a very, very rare instance when there are not parallel jaywalkers concurrently crossing against the light as well. As for cars in the bike lanes, that is hopeless.

  • Johnson

    Great work!

  • Anonymous

    I think the main issue here is not whether specific types of illegal driving are more or less dangerous (eg u-turns vs blocking bus stops), but rather that they are so rarely enforced by police that it is essentially a free for all.

    No single instance of double parking, running a light, is likely to cause much of a problem.  But taken collectively, these actions make streets far more dangerous and difficult to navigate for everyone.

    What is blatantly hypocritical is that the same police department which is willing to write summons and check warrants for people who carry open containers, jump turnstiles, or commit other “quality of life” crimes is totally unwilling to extend this to drivers who engage in equivalent behavior.

  • Anonymous

    I think the main issue here is not whether specific types of illegal driving are more or less dangerous (eg u-turns vs blocking bus stops), but rather that they are so rarely enforced by police that it is essentially a free for all.

    No single instance of double parking, running a light, is likely to cause much of a problem.  But taken collectively, these actions make streets far more dangerous and difficult to navigate for everyone.

    What is blatantly hypocritical is that the same police department which is willing to write summons and check warrants for people who carry open containers, jump turnstiles, or commit other “quality of life” crimes is totally unwilling to extend this to drivers who engage in equivalent behavior.

  • sparky

    I agree with the post below about this being a huge quality of life issue.  I moved here from a very pedestrian and bike friendly place and was a daily bike commuter.  I live in Bed-Stuy and work in Manhattan near City Hall.  I would never commute by bike here.  It is way too dangerous.  The blocked bike lanes make having bike lanes almost irrelevant.  And if it’s not cars parked in the bike lanes, it’s bicyclists riding the wrong way in the bike lane and squeezing the riders going the correct way into traffic.  I actually played a game of chicken with a dude and his girlfriend, riding side by side and going the wrong way in the bike lane.  I finally swerved into the car lane and as I passed the wrong way cyclists I got a New York fuck you. And after almost being plowed down by a delivery guy, I learned quickly to look both ways on one way streets before crossing because of all the bikers traveling the wrong way.  It’s a great city; but, it’s filled with crazy people.

  • Timothy B

    Thank you Noah and Streetsblog for filming this. While I have mixed feelings about how large of a problem U-turns are if they are done when no one is coming (and many of the U-turns in the video were not made this way), I also have mixed feelings about cyclists stopping at red lights when no one is coming. As long as people will call a spade a spade and highlight one type of law-breaking, I think it is important to counteract (or perhaps supplement) the smear campaign being waged by periodicals like the New York Post with documentation of the rampant “scofflaws” behind the wheels of automobiles. It creates a more balanced picture of the transportation situation than is often promoted in the media.

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