How Many Cops Does It Take to Ticket a Cyclist?

A few readers have written to Streetsblog with anecdotal evidence that NYPD is ramping up its crack bicycle ticketing operation this January. (It seems to be triggered by the calendar; last year’s NYPD bike crackdown also got going in January.)

Police are certainly reviving their tough-on-cyclists PR campaign, bragging to the Post earlier this week about the 19th Precinct’s bike enforcement prowess on the Upper East Side. Meanwhile, the message to motorists remains the same: If you’re sober and stay at the scene, you can do just about anything, like run over and kill a 12-year-old girl who stopped in a crosswalk to retrieve her backpack, and not face repercussions.

By leaking their cyclist summonsing stats to the Post, the police at least made it a little easier to highlight their skewed priorities. As reader Chris O’Leary pointed out this morning, the 19th Precinct issued 2,436 tickets for failing to stop at traffic signals in 2011 [PDF]. Apparently, nearly half of those tickets — 1,101, according to the Post — were handed out to cyclists.

Police are devoting all these resources to cyclist enforcement on streets where disproportionate numbers of New Yorkers get maimed by motor vehicles. Community District 8, which roughly overlaps the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, has the third-highest rate of injury-causing traffic crashes in the city.

Here’s what the precinct’s enforcement priorities look like out on the street, according to an account from reader Albert Ahronheim:

At about 1:50 on the afternoon of January 7, as I was walking on First Avenue by 81st Street, I noticed four police “three-wheeled scooters” and four police motorcycles completely straddling the bicycle lane, and eight police milling around, a couple of them writing, most just gabbing and laughing, while there were plenty of empty parking spaces they could have easily moved into. At least one cyclist I saw had to veer out into car traffic to get around what seemed to be a completely unnecessary blockage of basically a whole block. But a run-of-the-mill police blockage of the bike lane isn’t why I’m writing.

I was standing around trying to get up the nerve to ask eight cops to vacate the bike lane as long as whatever threat was over, when an elderly man with a walker, who’d been watching also, started talking to me. He told me that all these police were “just to give a ticket to a bicyclist.”  I asked him if he knew what the cyclist had been ticketed for, and he said he didn’t know — he just saw him ride away afterwards. The man with the walker told me, “I don’t care what he was doing, it takes so many cops just to give a cyclist a ticket?” When he mentioned all the real mayhem on the streets, I told him how NYPD routinely lets motorists kill without filing charges, and he wholeheartedly agreed that they’re failing to protect people.

So then I went up to one of the cops and politely asked what all the excitement was about. He paused, like he was trying to figure out how to tell me just enough to satisfy me, and said, “Uh, we just had somebody stopped — that’s about it.” Then I said, “It would be great if they’d not be blocking the bike lane if nothing is going on,” to which he politely replied, “We’ll be done in a few minutes and be out of your way.”  Only later did I realize that, since I wasn’t on a bicycle at the time and had just gone around a car and walked up to him from the curb, he must have thought I was a driver who needed to get through the bike lane and out of a parking space. After a couple more minutes they all drove away.

  • Guest

    I was riding in Staten Island this weekend and I rode by a police precinct where the police cars were parked half on the sidewalk and half in the bike lane.  You can actually see it in this satellite photo: 
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Staten+Island+Police+Department&hl=en&ll=40.644743,-74.077206&spn=0.000589,0.001038&sll=40.642321,-74.077785&sspn=0.009427,0.016608&vpsrc=6&gl=us&hq=Staten+Island+Police+Department&t=h&z=20

    I’ve also noticed that in East Harlem: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=East+Harlem+Police+Department&hl=en&ll=40.789382,-73.947344&spn=0.000588,0.001038&sll=40.666252,-74.037037&sspn=0.037695,0.066433&vpsrc=6&gl=us&hq=Police+Department&hnear=East+Harlem,+New+York&t=h&fll=40.789432,-73.947246&fspn=0.000588,0.001038&z=20

    I guess I’m naive but this shocks me.  It must be common practice at every police precinct. Being NYPD is a pretty sweet deal: you enforce only the laws you want.  I think more bike cops would be a great benefit to NYC since they could empathize with cyclists more.  Unfortunately most cops are too fat, lazy, or scared to ride in NYC — which is just as much a statement about our poor bike infrastructure as it is about our inadequate law enforcement. 

  • Anonymous

    You can also see them block the bike lanes on St. Nicholas Ave in this satellite photo: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Harlem+Police+Department&hl=en&ll=40.808784,-73.952744&spn=0.000946,0.001035&sll=40.666252,-74.037037&sspn=0.037695,0.066433&vpsrc=6&gl=us&hq=Police+Department&hnear=East+Harlem,+New+York&t=h&fll=40.808662,-73.952515&fspn=0.000946,0.001035&z=20

    This is the 28th Precinct. In many (most? all?) parts of the city, pretty much the best way of noticing that you are approaching a police station is the huge number of vehicles parked perpendicularly to the curb, sometimes on top of the sidewalk. I suspect many of these  are personal vehicles belonging to the officers who work there.

  • Ed

    Qrt45 last week they were double and triple parked creating a situation where cars had to cross the double yellow to the other side. This is on going. I spoke to the captain there once and was told that the cars were all police so it was OK.
    How do we let Kelly know it is not

  • Bolwerk

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if the police have time to go after cyclists, it means we have too many police officers and too few of them have anything policing-related to do.  Naturally, the police force is sacrosanct, so no politician can admit that.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Guest: 

    “I think more bike cops would be a great benefit to NYC since they could empathize with cyclists more.  Unfortunately most cops are too fat, lazy, or scared to ride in NYC — which is just as much a statement about our poor bike infrastructure as it is about our inadequate law enforcement.”

    Thanks!

  • Mister Bad Example

    The 78th precinct crackdown in Prospect Park proceeds apace–a couple weeks ago, I was there on Saturday, and apparently the police had already gathered but weren’t going to start handing out tickets until the afternoon. I have *never* seen a driver stopped for running stop signs or driving while using a cellphone.

    And let’s understand that police priorities come from Gracie Mansion–if Bloomberg wanted a crackdown on drivers, he’d get one. We shouldn’t blame the NYPD for a policy that probably wasn’t Kelly’s idea.

  • Darknight111

    2,400 vs 1,100 that’s just for red lights. Vehicles still get summonsed hand over fist more for infractions. Violations like cell phone, improper turn, disobey signs and seatbelts. If bicycles account for 10% of total moving violations I would be shocked. Stop complaining about getting a ticket and ride the proper way and you won’t have a problem.

  • Joe R.

    “And let’s understand that police priorities come from Gracie Mansion–if Bloomberg wanted a crackdown on drivers, he’d get one. We shouldn’t blame the NYPD for a policy that probably wasn’t Kelly’s idea.”

    This has me wondering if the sole reason Bloomberg has been a big proponent of bike lanes and increasing cycling is just to have another cow to milk. The only flaw with this plan, if indeed that was the plan, is that cycling is largely an optional activity. Most cyclists don’t have money to burn on tickets. Often all it takes is one ticket to sour a person on cycling for good.

    And I agree with Bolwerk. If police have time to ticket cyclists for anything but the most dangerous violations (and I’d bet good money 99% of those tickets were for crap like slow-rolling through a red light at an empty intersection at 10 PM), then it’s time to prune the police force.

    Unlike last year, I’m not seeing long comment strings after these cycling crackdown articles. I think the public has its fill.

  • Darknight111: Sorry, try again. The TOTAL number of citations issued by the 19th Precinct was roughly 16,000, with 6,600 of them issued to cyclists, per the Post report. A full 40% of all the traffic tickets the precinct issued in 2011 went to cyclists. Shocked yet?

    As for, “stop complaining about getting a ticket and ride the proper way and you won’t have a problem,” I’d be fine with that if the same threat lingered over drivers’ heads, too. Unfortunately, with the amount of speeding we see regularly in this city – and the fact that the 19th precinct issued 12 speeding tickets the entire year – that’s simply not the case. Equal treatment under the law is what everyone deserves.

  • ddartley

    As for as a possible ramping-up, my friend did get a ticket while biking the other day.  Good thing, though, because she has killed a pedestrian with her bike.  Oh, wait, actually, no she hasn’t.  

  • Joe R.

    Chris O’Leary,
     
    Regardless of how you feel about the low number of speeding tickets, fact is it would be more dangerous for police to chase down cars going 50, 60, 70 mph to ticket them than it is to just let them go by. In fact, the same rationale explains why cyclists are receiving a disproportionate number of tickets (and I bet the majority are going to fairly slow cyclists). It’s difficult and dangerous to chase down a car for any infraction in a place like Manhattan. And the same thing is true to a lesser extent with fairly fast cyclists. But sidewalk cyclists, or cyclists slow-rolling through red lights, are easy targets. And I bet the vast majority of moving violations issued to motorists are late nights when police can chase down offenders in relative safety. Ironically, that’s the exact same time that speeding is least dangerous.

    The only real way to stop speeding is to narrow the streets. Enforcement in a crowded environment is just too hazardous. Speed cameras may work to some extent, but they’ll never be installed on every street.

    I wonder how the ticketing blitz is affecting the availability of “fast, free delivery”?

  • > Unlike last year, I’m not seeing long comment strings after these cycling crackdown articles. I think the public has its fill.

    It’s true. Cycling has crossed some invisible membrane from new annoyance to old annoyance. It is not cool in New York to complain about old annoyances, like eternally malfunctioning car alarms, horns blasted in the absence of unavoidable danger, or people being killed by sanitation trucks. But minor, non-fatal inconveniences resulting from a surge in cycling are a popular grievance.

    Until they aren’t, because cycling is increasing so reliably it’s getting old. With bike share we’ll start to see a shift from the public complaining about cyclists to the public complaining that there aren’t enough bicycles available, enough places to park them, or enough protected lanes to ride them in. The dailies will redirect their inch-deep reporting to this new set of gripes without missing a beat.

  • Poororiginal

    When speaking what is true about some inconsiderate police officers….. One should not say the NYPD because that would categorize ALL and you and I know that without the NYPD we would all be F*****

  • Anonymous

      In case you have not noticed, the failure of the NYPD to protect cyclists and pedestrians from motorists assaults is Systemic and Chronic, and not just the behavior of individual officers.  We are not blaming every NYPD patrolman for his or her individual behavior, but rather, blaming ALL patrolmen because, as a rules based paramilitary organization, “they are only following orders” of their senior officers.  Commissioner Ray Kelly has set the goals and priorities, and the police force follows orders.We are not being protected, and yes, we are, as you say, being F*****.Poororiginal wrote:
    When speaking what is true about some inconsiderate police officers…..
    One should not say the NYPD because that would categorize ALL and you
    and I know that without the NYPD we would all be F*****

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