NYPD’s Embarrassing “Safety Tips” for Cycling

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Jen Chung filed a Gothamist story this week on the latest meeting of the Central Park Precinct community council, where commanding officer Captain Jessica Corey explained the precinct’s zero tolerance approach to cyclist traffic infractions. Chung also posted a copy of the department’s “Bicycle Safety Tips” brochure, a deflating compendium of misleading information and copied-and-pasted traffic rules. While any type of police outreach to cyclists could be interpreted as progress in NYC at this point, NYPD is far behind police departments in peer cities when it comes to bike-related traffic education.

“As more and more people in the City cycle, accidents and injuries have increased,” the flier says. This is not true if you look at the prevailing long-term trend. In fact, as the number of city cyclists has grown in the last dozen years, injuries and fatalities have decreased. The brochure features two graphs that show a jump in cyclist injuries and deaths from 2009 to 2010, numbers that are accurate, but completely out of context.

The tip sheet includes nothing about how to safely respond to common situations in traffic. The flier would be useful if it cited, for example, the top contributing factors that result in serious injuries to cyclists. Is it turning motorists who fail to yield to cyclists going straight? Dooring? NYPD could have used that information to tell people how to avoid right hooks while riding, or where to bike to avoid the door zone. Instead, the department presents a rote list that reads mainly like advice on how to avoid a ticket. There’s not even a sentence about yielding to pedestrians.

The brochure devotes five sentences to motorist behavior. Interestingly, while cyclists are told they “must” adhere to the rules of the road, traffic laws for drivers are presented as suggestions. Motorists “should” not open a vehicle door in a cyclists’ path, and “should” drive with due care to avoid hitting cyclists in the roadway. NYPD advises drivers to “give warning” to cyclists by laying on the horn “when necessary.”

This ham-fisted attempt at cyclist education is all the more embarrassing when compared to cities like Chicago, where police produced a thorough instructional video aimed at cyclists and law enforcement alike. Far from a guide to safe cycling in a bustling city, NYPD’s effort is like a tract from Anytown, USA. Circa 1989.

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  • Ex-driver

    Given that the police are basically out to harass cyclists and not actually promote traffic safety, I’ll take the advice on avoiding tickets.  Two can play at this cynical game.

  • J

    Well, this pretty much sums up the NYPD’s general attitude towards cycling: they don’t give a shit.

    However, the mere fact that they took the time to make something, shows that bikes are at least on their radar these days. Also, I did have a very encouraging encounter with a cop yesterday, as he gave a warning to a cabbie who was driving in the new 9th Ave protected bike lane at 43rd St. I thanked him, and he said that he saw similar behavior the past week and seemed genuinely appalled by it.

    I think the protected bike lanes are much easier for the NYPD to enforce, since they make it much harder for motorists to simply drive off if they see a cop coming. They also make violators stick out like sore thumbs.

  • Joe R.

    Apparently this brochure was written by someone who never rode a bicycle on NYC streets. It’s the usual “obey the law” and “wear a helmet” advice, neither of which really makes a cyclist any safer. Most of the cyclists killed or injured in those charts were doing both.

    Ray Kelly clearly needs to go. In fact, the NYPD needs to go. Disband it, fire 2/3rds of the officers, and start fresh with new leadership.

  • m to the i

    I saw this yesterday and was stunned that the NYPD would advise drivers to “give warning by sound the horn”. That is exactly the type of behavior that killed a cyclist on Bushwick Avenue last year.

    The whole flyer is a scolding rather than providing helpful information. The bicycle accident section is pretty amazing. I would expect it to give a cyclist information on what to do if they have been hit or hurt. Instead, it presumes that all “accidents” are caused by the cyclist and that the cyclist is going to be a-ok to jump up and call a police officer. Did the NYPD give tickets to the 18 dead cyclists last year for failing to report their crime? It would be nice if the NYPD gave useful information about what a cyclist should do if they are in a serious crash. 

  • Anonymous

    I still think this is progress. Imperfect as the wording on the brochure may be, at least they are making an attempt at education instead of blunt enforcement. While I disagree with some of the laws pertaining to cycling and I admit that I break some, particularly regarding red lights, I do know what the laws are. I do think that many people who ride the wrong way or on the sidewalk are genuinely unaware that it is illegal, and I think that those two activities are actually unsafe in many cases, or at least can be intimidating to pedestrians.

    While the “should” vs “must” double standard is revealing, at least the references to laws are generally accurate. Unlike that infamous NYPD memo that surfaced some time ago (I think last year), this brochure acknowledges that cyclists are allowed to ride outside an unusable bike lane.

    I guess what I want to say is, we should encourage NYPD to improve their education campaign, and not making it look like we reject the idea. I wouldn’t want this to end up “Your brochure sucks!” “OK, we’ll stop handing it out and get back to issuing tickets when you run red lights in Central Park!”

  • Reader

    Look at those bar graphs and compare that to just about anything else produced by the city these days.  It’s really amazing to me that the Bloomberg administration’s data-driven approach to health and safety completely falls apart in the hands of the NYPD.

  • Jesse Greene

    “Drivers should… give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.”

    The tip should be: “If you think you need to warn a cyclist of something you’re about to do with your car, then you’re considering doing something dangerous.  Use the brake instead.”

  • Joe R.

    Isn’t the NYPD aware of studies showing that when a cyclist hears a car horn, they almost invariably steer in the direction of the sound? That’s why sounding a car horn when passing a cyclist is dangerous.

    I also fully agree that if you need to use the horn to warn a cyclist out of your way, then you probably shouldn’t be passing the cyclist. Case in point-about 4 days ago I was riding east on 45th Avenue in Queens at around 11 PM. This is a fairly narrow two-way street where two cars going in opposite directions clear each other by maybe 2 feet. Anyway, about 6 blocks away from the intersection with Francis Lewis Blvd I noticed the traffic light going green. I knew because of the green interval that I needed to increase my speed in order to make the light, so I accelerated to about 25 mph. A block before the intersection a car goes around me. Note that I said this was a fairly narrow street, and I was taking the lane to avoid the door zone. While the car didn’t pass dangerously close, and didn’t sound the horn, the fact remains that it didn’t need to pass me at all. I comfortably made the light, and the car would have also by staying behind me. In fact, the pedestrian signal didn’t even start flashing red until I hit the intersection. I might understand going around me if I was only going 10 or 15 mph, but not 25 mph. This was a clear case of “the car should have used the brake instead”. I wasn’t startled or anything as I was well aware of the car overtaking me long before it passed, but to me the maneuver made absolutely no sense. Too many drivers in this city have a pathological need to overtake cyclists, no matter how fast the cyclist is going.

  • CTP

    also, there’s a flat out untruth in there: it states bicycles must have reflectors at all times. this is not true – it is only true that new bicycles must have two “reflectors.”

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bicyclerules_english.pdf

     

  • krstrois

    Wow, this is not good. It does demonstrate the degree to which they do not consult with other agencies on anything, though, doesn’t it? I am sure DOT is not psyched to see NYPD talking about an increase in accidents. Way to diminish progress the other agency deserves credit for! I think they primarily intend to cover their asses here. You would certainly never know from this brochure that cycling is, statistically, an insanely safe activity. 

    Much of the NYPD lives outside the city in the equivalent of Anytown, USA, circa 1989. Is the same true for other forces in major cities? I would imagine the contrast is not so stark, with other cities being much more generally suburban, less dense and less expensive (fewer opportunities for giant gaps in cultural values).

  • Joe R.

    Here is what the brochure really should have looked like:

    http://bicyclesafe.com/

  • Anonymous

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus : it appears that the bicyclesafe.com front page has been hijacked and replaced by a payday loan advertisement! Links to subpages such as  http://bicyclesafe.com/articles.html still work.

  • Joe R.

    @qrt145:disqus Thanks for making me aware that the link was hijacked. Strangely enough, it still works OK on my computer. Maybe my ISP detected the hijacking and directed me to the correct page? In the future I’ll just link to the subpages as you did.

  • Mdrinkard

    Streetsblog should have the ear of the NYPD chief.  Why don’t you yet?

  • Driver

    Joe’s link works fine for me. 
    One thing I see ocassionally and makes me cringe is a cyclist passing in between lanes between two large vehicles (trucks or buses).  This is obviously a dangerous situation to be in, yet I see novice cyclists doing this.  Also passing any truck closely on the right, particularly near an intersection.  Today while waiting at a red light in the right lane with my signal on, I had a cyclist pull into my blind spot on the right and ding her bell as the light turned green and she proceeded.  This can simply be described as the opposite of defensive riding, and not the most sensible way to be biking around Manhattan. Actually it is simply dangerous and foolish.
    There should be a specific safety section dedicated to operating around trucks, buses, and heavy vehicles addressing safe passing and potential blind spots, turning radius’ and stopping distances. 

  • Anonymous

    Strange, the bicyclesafe website works for me again now.

  • Nathanael

    Well, we already know that the NYPD considers the traffic laws “advisory” for motorists, given the behavior which this very blog has documented by *police in police cars*.  Remind me, has any been prosecuted for that?  Why haven’t the police who break traffic laws during non-emergency situations, by driving in bike lanes (even across a BRIDGE) been prosecuted?

  • Nathanael

    Now, let me be clear, we’ve definitely heard reports of excellent NYPD officers (there’s one right in this comment section)!  So the rot is coming from the top; the person who is supposed to reward the good police and root out the bad ones isn’t.  But we knew that about Ray Kelly, didn’t we?

  • Anonymous

    We don’t pay enough for the cops we need,

    While we pay too much for the cops we got.

    Time to start over.

  • Anonymous

    Of course there’s nothing on there about cyclists’ rights–especially the central right for New York City cyclists to take the lane when needed.

    And that business about honking is straight-up crazy.

  • Ian Turner

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus , I dunno if that has much to do with bicycles. While driving a car at 30 MPH, I’ve had cars pass me, even crossing into oncoming traffic to do so. Of course we ended up together at the next light. Some drivers in NYC are just really, dangerously, impatient.

  • “One thing I see ocassionally and makes me cringe is a cyclist passing in between lanes between two large vehicles (trucks or buses).  This is obviously a dangerous situation to be in, yet I see novice cyclists doing this.”

    So people say. But among the routine deaths of cyclists and pedestrians killed by motorists that we read about here, squeezing past clogged traffic (or for pedestrians, crossing the street through it) does not come up much as the alleged reason a victim deserved to die. Injured, maybe. But it takes motorists more time and space to get up to killing speed.

    As for why cyclists new and experienced do this, just try riding home on a Friday night when it’s the extra special time for everyone from Jersey and Long Island to drive to drinking clubs in New York City. Mixed with car commuters they create traffic jams, and often they try to use the bike lanes to pass each other. So the traffic jam fully clogs the bike lanes that we plan our routes around and use to get home.

    Are we supposed to just stop and sit in car traffic so that out-of-town drinkers can cruise in an automobile for a fancy night in New York? I won’t. I get past them, one way or another. And after you do this a few times, a street with or without a bike lane is not much different. Autos create traffic jams, you learn to get past them. This annoys motorists, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it is connected to the times they kill us.

    “Today while waiting at a red light in the right lane with my signal on, I had a cyclist pull into my blind spot on the right and ding her bell as the light turned green and she proceeded. This can simply be described as the opposite of defensive riding, and not the most sensible way to be biking around Manhattan. Actually it is simply dangerous and foolish.”

    Actually it’s simply dangerous and foolish to drive “blind”, when mirrors and video cameras have been used for easier parking all these years. But apparently it’s more important to be able to park than to make turns without killing people.

    Cyclists squeezing past stopped cars at lights are trying to make it to the front and become unavoidably visible. If instead you wait behind stopped traffic, still more will pile up behind you. When the light changes they’ll all try to pass you, and then try to turn right through your body because of “their blind spot”. You could try to take the lane and get honked at by irate motorists, who will try to pass you anyway. It sucks. Squeezing past traffic before the light changes is a safer option and certainly less stressful—except when the light changes before you figure. Ringing your bell to be seen is a last resort, and it’s better than being run over.

    I just got back from Germany, where we did a lot of cycling. German motorists are not entitled to “blind spots”. They yielded before turning right, whether I was next to them or approaching from behind. At first I kept trying to move left and go around as I would on lawless NYC streets, but this only caused confusion. So, I stayed in the bike lanes through intersections, exactly the dumb and un-“defensive” thing to do over here. Everyone yielded, every time.

    Back in our third world streets, we’ll do what we need to do to survive. But don’t say it can’t be different. It’s a question of priorities.

  • John

    Watch the video “Stop Blocking the Street: Ways to Piss Off a Cyclist” and see what we put up with. People cross in the middle of the block without even looking, park in the bike lanes, jog and stroll in the bike lanes, and stand in the street while waiting for the light to change.

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