NYPD Sends Law-Abiding Vietnam Vet Cyclist to the Tombs

What is it about riding a bike that makes someone such a tempting target for police harassment?

The scene last Friday night, as reported in Gothamist, was the perfect magnet for NYPD misconduct: a Critical Mass ride headed to Union Square to participate in an Occupy Wall Street action. The department’s public safety priorities were on clear display, with 40 officers escorting 30 cyclists.

It seemed to be shaping up as an uneventful ride, until the group hit Lafayette Street. As cyclists rode in the bike lane, they encountered an obstacle: a limousine, caught on camera, parked in the bike lane. After maneuvering around it, the ride turned right onto Astor Place.

For that, the police stopped Robert Nash, a veteran of the Vietnam War. The charge wasn’t clear — on video, the arresting officer stumbled over what he’d just cited Nash for — but according to Gothamist, the police cited 34 RCNY § 4-12(p). The law requires cyclists to stay in a bike lane when the infrastructure is provided, but provides two big exceptions. Cyclists may leave the bike lane to avoid unsafe conditions, like a stretch limo parked in the bike lane, or to make a turn, like the Critical Mass participants did after encountering the limo.

The charges didn’t stand up for long — Nash was released the following morning after the DA’s office opted against prosecuting — but it was enough time for him to spend a night in the Tombs, Manhattan’s downtown jail. According to Gothamist, Nash chose to go to jail rather than provide the police with his address.

None of the 40 police on Critical Mass/OWS detail ticketed the illegally parked limousine that forced the cyclists to leave the bike lane in the first place.

  • jsd

    This is the state of our city, wrapped up in a single article. 

  • Someone please file a lawsuit against the city for violating the Fourteenth Amendment. I know it’s not a straightforward case of denial of “equal protection”, but we ought to insist that it is not up to the city or police to selectively enforce laws by opinion. 

  • Bolwerk

    I wonder what percentage of “unsafety” the NYPD is responsible for now.  The risk of being harassed by the NYPD might actually exceed the risk of criminal harassment now.

  • Anonymous

    Did he eventually have to provide his address? 

  • Fed-up New Yorker

    NYPD was apparently “spread too thin” to ticket the illegally parked limo.

  • Anonymous

    4-12 (p) (1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:(i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.(ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.
    4-12 (p) (2) No person shall drive a vehicle on or across  a designated bicycle lane
    4-12 (p) (3) Bicycles permitted on both sides of 40-foot wide one-way roadways. Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway that carries traffic in one direction only and is at least 40 feet wide may ride as near as is practicable to either the left or the right hand curb or edge of such roadway, provided that bicycles are not prohibited from using said roadway

    1, 2, and 3 exonerate the guy or would compel them to ticket the parked car.

  • The Truth

    The officer should be prosecuted for a false arrest.
    This illegal activity by law enforcement officers cannot be tolerated!

  • It is time for “Remember who you work for” rallies outside police HQ. 

    That’s a cause that people can rally behind regardless of their feelings about new urbanism or OWS. 

    And something needs to be done. The NYPD is a disgrace. 

  • Taxpayer

    Congratulations to the NYPD for finally ending all crime and quality of life issues everywhere! Why else would so many officers devote their time, equipment, and resources to escorting a bike ride unless there is truly nothing better for them to do?

  • Myob1776

    What is the NYPD going to do when bike share is active and another 10,000 bikes (times X number of rides/day) hit the streets?  They really need to get their act together.  

  • Mattyciii

    Here’s my take-away: never ride in NYC on roads with a bike lane. Instead, ride somewhere else. And take the full lane, as the law allows.

  • Anonymous

    @c44dc01f8107c1b33104b538f33b734d:disqus : as this incident shows, it doesn’t matter what the law allows. The police could still stop you, arguing that the law requires you to ride at the extreme right. Which is not what the law says, but what do they care? I don’t remember the exact wording, but the law basically says ride as far right as practicable and safe.

  • Imagine how much safer we’d all be if drivers had to spend a night in jail for exceeding the speed limit, failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk or passing cyclists without due care.
    (All things that are actually illegal, unlike this bike lane nonsense.)

  • Cberthet

    the council should pass a law against discrimation based on mode of transportation .

  • Also a taxpayer

    This is so infuriating.  The problem isn’t just the police, it’s the law itself.  Why should the law ever require bikes to move over to the right?  

    We’re talking about public space here — for everyone, not just cars.  We cyclists also pay for these streets.  Why should there ever be any restrictions on how we use them?  

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Luckily he wasn’t wearing any distracting garment such as a mini-skirt.
    At least he wasn’t tackled either.

  • Tallycyclist

    “What is it about riding a bike that makes someone such a tempting target for police harassment?”  

    Quite simply, cyclists are still a minority group in the US, and one that isn’t always looked highly upon by everyone.  To many non-cyclists, the impression of a cyclists  is one of two types:  the poor who have no other options or the sporty athletic racers, neither of which these people will ever aspire to become by choice.  Furthermore, considering the recent initiatives occurring in several major US cities to transform the city-scape to be more people-friendly, I think the advent of cycling is being perceived as a threat to those who drive, more than ever before.  This is irregardless of whether any changes will be made to the infrastructure.  If no change, they will have to start “sharing” space with more cyclists and drive more attentively (such an impossible task being imposed on them right?) and if change occurs, it likely means they will physically lose space to “another” group.  Drivers are use to not having to yield, to share the road or even to drive carefully all the time.  Our drivers ed. is a practically a joke and the traffic engineering is so outdated and biased towards motorists that the system is setting up much potential for conflict and accidents.  I bet these policemen who harass cyclists probably among the motorist group that doesn’t want to lose its sovereignty on the roads.  And as I said earlier, cyclists are a minority group that has yet to achieve the same amount of sympathies and support as some other minority groups.  Injustice still happens to the unfortunate ones in the other groups, but then the social consequences tend to be greater.  Cycling is growing in the US, ever so slightly, but it’s still got a long ways to go before cycling gains the same status in the realm of transport like in Holland or Denmark.  


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