NYPD’s Jaywalking Enforcement Boondoggle

street_justice2

Although the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities does not specifically call for pedestrian traffic enforcement, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has made clear that individual precinct commanders have the discretion to do so if they determine it to be warranted.

Leaving aside the many good reasons that pedestrian ticketing should be considered NYPD’s lowest traffic enforcement priority, it now appears that many NYPD officers (and some precinct commanders) do not even understand the traffic laws that apply to New York City pedestrians. The NYPD’s jaywalking enforcement boondoggle points to the need for comprehensive in-service training for NYPD officers on pedestrian, cyclist, and motor vehicle traffic laws.

After three Upper West Side pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles within a short period of time and within two blocks of Broadway and 96th Street, the commander of the 24th Precinct apparently decided that pedestrian traffic enforcement was needed. (Only one of the three pedestrians killed, Samantha Lee, was alleged to have violated traffic laws).

Building on this disconnect between the problem and the proposed solution, officers of the 24th Precinct proceeded to cite pedestrians for violation of New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1152, “Crossing at other than crosswalks.” This law does not apply in New York City — NYC DOT has superseded it (see page 16 of this pdf, 34 RCNY Section 4-02(e)) under New York City’s delegated authority to legislate with respect to the right of way of vehicles and pedestrians.

Making matters worse, the officers issued summonses returnable to New York City Criminal Court — even though a violation of traffic law was alleged. What did the Criminal Court do with the summonses it was asked to adjudicate for violation of a non-applicable, non-criminal traffic violation?  It dismissed them — of course:

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This week’s news brings reports that the 94th Precinct is following the lead of the 24th Precinct, doing pedestrian enforcement on McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint. What are the pedestrians being cited for? Violation of the inapplicable VTL 1126, which is also superseded by local law. Where are the summonses returnable? New York City Criminal Court. Which precinct will be next?

As many cyclists have already learned, many NYPD officers don’t know enough about the traffic laws that apply to cyclists or pedestrians. Some think the speed limit for cyclists is 15 MPH. Some don’t know that a cyclist can leave a left-hand bike lane to make a right turn. Some even think it is OK to block the bike lane with a squad car, then summons cyclists detouring around the hazard with “riding out of the bike lane” tickets!

I’ll be first to admit that figuring out traffic rules for cyclists — or pedestrians — is often more complicated than one would think. But understanding the separate rules for cyclists and pedestrians is critical to effective, fair traffic enforcement, because in many respects the obligations of motorists are defined in terms of the duty to avoid striking or coming too close to vulnerable street users, or to refrain from traveling at “imprudent speeds” in their midst. Doesn’t a major enforcement initiative like Vision Zero require an in-service traffic training for all NYPD officers responsible for implementing and managing it?

Of course, New York City’s pedestrian traffic laws are more restrictive than the superseded state law that NYPD has been enforcing. The New York City Traffic Rules prohibit pedestrians from crossing many streets except within a crosswalk (see page 19 of this pdf, 34 RCNY Section 4-04(c)(2)). This rule is deeply unfair to pedestrians, because many New York City intersections have their crosswalks worn away, or were never striped in the first place. Take a look, for example, at the intersection in Ravenswood where Ryo Oyamada was struck by police.

If NYPD will allow its precinct commanders to treat pedestrian traffic enforcement as a priority, it must enforce only those laws that apply, and issue summonses that have a chance of being adjudicated in an appropriate forum.  That is the only way that judges and other decision makers will have an opportunity to rule on New York City’s draconian but unenforced pedestrian traffic laws. Anything else is just harassment.

  • ohhleary

    Question for Steve: is this true? “The New York City Traffic Rules prohibit pedestrians from crossing a street except within a crosswalk.”

    I read the law you cited differently:

    “(2) No pedestrian shall cross any roadway at an intersection except within a crosswalk.”

    I read that to be a law defining proper pedestrian movement through an intersection. An aside: it’s worth noting that 34 RCNY Section 4-01(b) defines that crosswalks can be either marked or unmarked.

    34 RCNY Section 4-04(c)(3) seems to suggest that it’s not *only* legal to cross at an intersection. It reads to me as though it’s legal to cross mid-block as long as there isn’t a traffic signal on either end of the block – i.e. a residential street in a quiet neighborhood.

    Or I could be completely wrong, which goes to show how difficult it is to understand what laws apply to pedestrians, even after reading through them.

  • Joe Enoch

    There’s no doubt that NYPD’s focus on pedestrians and bicyclists is misguided. However, a personal observation of mine has shown a huge increase in the number of pars pulled over. In fact, before the vision zero announcement, I can’t recall any time I had ever seen a car pulled over in Manhattan — and that goes back to 5.5 years of living in Manhattan. In the past month, I have seen cars pulled over nearly every single day — including in the 24th precinct, where I live. I don’t mind the NYPD ticketing bicyclists who ride dangerously — especially salmoners — but I LOVE the enforcement against vehicles. I eagerly await the stats on moving violations against cars in the upcoming report.

  • SteveVaccaro

    You’re right! My Manhattan-centrism. Absent working signals at both intersections bordering a crosswalk, mid-block crossing is permitted.

  • Text of the post has been updated to reflect this.

  • Jonathan Hawkins

    In New Jersey, by law all intersections are implied crosswalks even if not marked. Is the law in New York state and/or NYC similar?

  • Ari_FS

    I have also noticed a significant increase in cars pulled over. They had a sting near my home last week. Each time I walked by they were pulling over another car.

    I suppose we’ll see an increase in citations showing up in reports.

  • Ah, you guys.

  • Mark Walker

    I wondered if fiasco might be a better word than boondoggle. Let the Merriam Webster online dictionary be our guide. Fiasco: “A complete failure.” Boondoggle: “An expensive and wasteful project usually paid for with public money.” Both apply, but the second is a more precise description that brings the situation into better focus. So boondoggle it is.

  • gr

    Can you cross midblock if one intersection has a signal but the other does not? What if there is no light, but there is a crosswalk, is it permitted to cross ten feet off the crosswalk?

    I’ve seen some close calls in Kew Gardens just off kew gardens road where pedestrians cross ten-thirty feet off the intersection (with a marked though faded crosswalk) and are nearly hit by drivers taking turns at speed, sometimes stopping to yell at the pedestrian for being out of the crosswalk. Is taking a turn in such a manner, whether or not a pedestrian was present beyond their field of vision an instance of reckless driving or some other ticket-able offence? The area has a semi regular police presence, though the only time in two years living there that I saw them going after drivers was for a week or so after another rape in forest park.

  • Alex

    The only good to come of this garbage of cracking down on pedestrians is that it has expanded the awareness of the NYPD’s misdirected enforcement. When it was just cyclists being ticketed for even the most minor (or even non-existent) infraction, there was a chorus of people saying it was needed to “reign them in”. But now, everyone is seeing how silly this all is. To be clear, I’m not saying there isn’t behavior by peds and cyclists that warrants police action. We all see it. But taking a “broken windows” approach to vulnerable road users while crying “lack of resources” for better motor vehicle enforcement is grossly misguided.

  • SteveVaccaro

    You’re not the only one who questioned the title–and you’re in good company!

    I chose it because I recognize that police resources are limited, I bemoan that they are rationed, and I’m frustrated when they are squandered in a manner that doesn’t even achieve the purported justification for expending them.

  • Joe R.

    I feel exactly the same way. In my opinion, the only viable solution to prevent this kind of abuse in the future is to change the laws to allow pedestrians or cyclists to cross intersections on red, provided they’re not interfering with any vehicle which has the green. Prior to the jaywalking crackdown, getting such a law passed might have been a hard sell because pedestrians weren’t included in the NYPD’s draconian, letter-of-the law enforcement. Now that there are, there should be widespread support for such a change in the law.

    And yes, there is pedestrian or cyclist behavior which warrants police action but based on what I see on the streets this is relatively rare. The primary criteria for issuing a ticket to either should be did the action interfere with the legal right-of-way of any other road users? A pedestrian crossing midblock, or a cyclist or pedestrian going on red, provided in all cases they only proceed when it’s clear, is a harmless action which does not warrant a ticket.

  • Bolwerk

    There is almost nothing the NYPD could do that wouldn’t turn out to be a boondoggle. After decades of emphasizing police hiring to fight dropping crime, there are too many police and little for them to do besides write tickets and eat doughnuts.

    We should be directing our resources away from paying for policing we don’t need and toward infrastructure we do need. We’d probably get helluva more safety out of the deal.

  • Nathanael

    You know, if the police walked around, unarmed, “on the beat”, outside their cars, then maybe all those excessive police would be good for something. Even if they *were* eating donuts.

    Having the excess police in cars makes no sense.

  • Bolwerk

    No, this mass of police just doesn’t make sense anymore (even if I grant that it ever did). It’s a 30,000+ strong army without a war to fight.

    And, what does a disarmed cop do? S/he’s nothing more than another potential victim. Just like a conductor on a train – another profession dubiously defended for the “safety” it affords – is another potential victim.

    The biggest use I could think for some of them is they could do POP collection work or traffic enforcement, but that’s the useful work they’ve probably been taught is demeaning.

  • nycbikecommuter

    NYPD cops don’t know traffic laws? Tell me something I didn’t already know 😀

  • Haggy

    If you look at the sheer number of New Yorkers who cross against the light and compare that to the percentage who get injured, you will find that New Yorkers have the best sense compared to the rest of the country. New Yorkers actually look before stepping into traffic and can time the movements of cars.

    Do we really want people in the middle of the block on a side street to walk down to the corner after parking a car, only to walk up the other side? Do we want somebody who is visiting a neighbor across the street on a side street in Brooklyn to take an extra five minutes to get there when there isn’t a car on the block?

    Bicycles are vehicles with the same responsibilities as other vehicles. There’s no reason not to allow them to ride in any lane they want.

  • Haggy

    Article 27 of the state vehicle and traffic laws reinforces that concept. Unmarked crosswalks are a standard concept in other states too, and exist at intersections by default when there are no marked crosswalks and no signs prohibiting pedestrians from crossing.

  • Haggy

    Yes.

  • StanChaz

    Oh GOD. ….Old is new.
    Broken-Windows-Bill-Bratton is B-A-C-K! And he’s at it again!
    Once again, he’s harassing the people of this City with his “quality-of-life” summons.
    He’s targeting the VICTIMS , the poor pedestrians,
    -instead of the real “perps”-
    those out-of-control speeding motorists who ignore traffic regulations,
    and cause innocent pedestrians to be killded or injured.

    What’s up Commissinor Bill?
    Were you out out in Los Angelos for so long
    that you fell in love with cars- at our expense?
    Is THIS is how you build “community relations”, Bill?
    Not in MY community.

    Whose “quality of life” are you talking about Commish- yours??
    You know -or you SHOULD know- that it kinda ruins OUR quality of life
    –when you target and harass pedestrians instead of speeding motorists,

    It is a common sight to see cars, SUVS, motorcycles, and huge trucks BARRELING down our streets, past the speed limit,-as if it was there personal racetrack, and nothing is ever done about that.
    Nothing at all. It goes on year after year, and people are injured, people die.
    So now you ticket the people attempting to cross these dangerous intersections? RIDICULOUS!

    Man up Mr. Bratton!
    Do your job as Police Commissioner THE RIGHT WAY,
    and stop harassing the good people of New York City!
    Stop the charade.
    Target the out-of-control motorists, not the pedestrian victims.
    Or …go back to warm and cozy L.A. They loved you there, right?

  • midwood resident

    I just saw police officers from 61st precinct (license plate 4559-13) in Brooklyn harass a teenage boy for jay walking. This was on Kings Highway and E18th street. Their car was parked in the middle of a crosswalk so that all other pedestrians had to walk into an oncoming traffic to get around. Is that legal?? Not mentioning the fact that while they were “enforcing the law” many other people jaywalked right next to them. Since when do we get ticketed for that in NYC? Ridiculous.

    Also, one of the officers insinuated that the kid’s iphone was a weapon and should not be kept in his hand at the time. Are you kidding? This is a waist of taxpayers money.

  • Nathanael

    I suggest reporting the crime. (The crime is police harassing and threatening people.) I know the criminals at the precinct office are unlikely to do anything about crimes committed by their “buddies”, but it’s worth starting to accumulate a record of citizen complaints.

  • Nathanael

    Bolwerk — it has actually been demonstrated that uniformed police (unarmed!) act as a deterrent for minor crime. This was the original motivation for “beat cops” back in the 19th century.

    It’s *also* why malls and so forth hire “security guards” who are practically untrained, and it works — the job of the security guards, most of the time, is to stand around looking like security guards.

    This is, essentially, a form of “security theater” which works. The knowledge that there *are* police around reduces vandalism and harassment. It’s actually best if the police aren’t doing anything (unless, of course, they actually witness a crime while standing around). If they feel the need to do something, they start harassing people. If they’re eating donuts and reading a novel, they’re doing it right.

    This also eliminates the PTSD-inducing character of the police job. If most of it really *is* walking around doing nothing, it’s not an “especially dangerous job” — it’s just dangerous occasionally, like it is for firemen.

    And such police should be paid a lot less than the exorbitant salaries which they currently get for beating people up, obviously.

    NY probably *still* has too many police. But I hope you see my point about the way a functional police department in a peaceful town should operate: there should be guys just *there*.

    “The biggest use I could think for some of them is they could
    do POP collection work or traffic enforcement, but that’s the useful
    work they’ve probably been taught is demeaning.”
    Yeah, stuff like this. Or, say, giving people warnings for street harassment — you think women on the street would appreciate that? I do. Or defusing potential fights (the primary job of the policeman).

    Or there’s another entire class of work: they could work with the Department of Buildings, identifying dangerous and unsafe structures and dealing with the landlords to force them to renovate.

    Heck, they could respond to tenant complaints about abuses by landlords — seems like nobody else responds.

    But you’re right. The police have been taught that all this “low-level” work which is actually useful is demeaning. They’re told that they’re there to “go after bad guys”. Which is WRONG. 90% of the time, there should be no “bad guys” and they should be acting as “peace officers”. They should have negotiation training and spend their time defusing situations.

    This obviously isn’t the case. It may be necessary to sack the entire NYPD and hire a new one with properly trained peace officers.

  • Nathanael

    Apparently it varies wildly by precinct. Someone made a map which was posted on Streetsblog.

    Different precinct captains apparently have different attitudes. Getting the ones with bad attitudes to have good attitudes requires… management. Of the sort we would never see from a Ray Kelly.

  • Bolwerk

    There is a shitload they could do. They could respond to car alarms going off, noise complaints, any number of civil violations other city departments deal with, do POP collection, enforce littering statutes, and clamp down on traffic violations. This is even in line with the broken windows theory, which may have a few ounces of actual academic merit. Alas, they’re all too white for such menial work.

    But in an actual community, there is little need for policing. Having people around who know and trust each other does most of the work. Even when people don’t know each other, they generally aren’t inclined to victimize each other. Suburban malls (and suburbs in general) need so much security precisely because they aren’t communities. Healthy urban neighborhoods need little to no formal policing.

    I don’t have a problem with having police, but I do have a problem with a special class of people with rights I don’t have. One really obvious reform to me is is the inspectors/detectives should be thought of separately from the police/sheriffs/constables. When the latter misbehave, the former should be investigating them.

  • Nordsman

    Pedestrians are the absolute worst in Manhatten… they walk through don’t walk signs, don’t bother looking where they’re going because they think everyone else should do it for them… if you wanna be a wreck less idiot be one by yourself don’t bring me into it… rudest most obnoxious people in the world people in Manhatten are.

  • Bolwerk

    Yeah! How dare people walk around their own neighborhoods without expecting to be run over? What selfish assholes.

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