Local Speeding Tickets (Barely) Outnumber Sidewalk Biking Summonses

We’ve got a new installment in Streetsblog’s hotly-anticipated Sidewalk Biking Ticket Index, which compares the number of sidewalk biking summonses issued by NYPD to the number of speeding tickets issued by local precincts. In a reversal from 2012, NYPD last year issued more tickets for speeding on local streets than criminal charges for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk — but just barely. The ratio is still far out of proportion to the damage caused by each offense.

Still one of NYPD's top criminal priorities. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr
Last year, NYPD issued 18,700 summonses for biking on the sidewalk and about 24,200 tickets for speeding on local streets, but only speeding was a cause of death. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr

NYPD issued 18,700 sidewalk riding summonses in 2013, according to the Criminal Court of the City of New York Annual Report [PDF 1, 2]. Sidewalk riding is the city’s fourth most frequently charged criminal summons — a category of infraction below a misdemeanor. (Violating the city’s open container law is far and away the most common summons.)

Meanwhile, precinct officers gave out 24,259 speeding tickets last year. (The NYPD highway patrol issued another 56,000 tickets, but it mainly covers highways, not local streets.) That’s an increase of more than 25 percent from 2012.

While speeding enforcement moved in the right direction in 2013, leadfooted motorists should be getting many more tickets. Speeding is consistently among the top causes of traffic deaths in the city, while no one has been killed by a cyclist in New York since 2009. 

Sidewalk riding summonses appear to be especially common in denser neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, where it’s a nuisance to pedestrians. Since on most avenues cyclists have to choose between risking a fine and risking their life on wide, dangerous streets, enforcement seems to be a less effective fix than engineering safe bikeways. In farther out neighborhoods like Brownsville, sidewalk riding tickets are reportedly used to harass young men of color.

Within the criminal courts, there are still far more charges for sidewalk riding than for dangerous car-related infractions like operating a motor vehicle in violation of safety rules (10,503), reckless driving (9,564), and unlicensed operation of a vehicle (3,904). Traffic violations like speeding and failure to yield are a separate type of infraction and get handled by traffic courts.

Although law enforcement still needs to step up its game against dangerous driving, the increase in speeding enforcement shows the numbers last year began to move in the right direction. The introduction this year of speed cameras and the Vision Zero agenda should accelerate the trend.

This post has been updated with additional statistics from the Criminal Court of the City of New York.

  • BBnet3000

    “Cop Bikes On Sidewalk Like He’s Coasting On A Cloud High Above The Law”

    http://gothamist.com/2014/07/31/cop_bikes_sidewalk.php

    I’d love to see a breakdown of this to see how common sidewalk riding is on 1st and 2nd Aves compared to other locations on the UES. Is it any surprise that many people who arent strong assertive riders would prefer to ride on the sidewalk on 3rd Ave?

  • valar84

    Personally, after trips to Japan where sidewalk biking is the rule, de facto if not de jure, and for being born in a suburb where there were two multi-purpose paths on the side of major streets which were shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike (pedestrians would even cross the street to walk on the multi-purpose path rather than on their sidewalk), I’m starting to wonder if we shouldn’t just give in to it. Or at least, set up rules to allow sidewalk biking in a safer manner, for instance by widening sidewalks, clearing them of obstructions and treating them as multi-purpose paths.

    You’d need some rules like no biking above 10-15 mph while on sidewalks, and that cyclists must keep close to the curb (to avoid hitting people entering and leaving stores), but it could work. Better still, in order to keep bikes on the road, we tend to build roads with shoulders or wider than necessary lanes to allow cars to pass bikes. If cyclists were on sidewalks, that would actually provide a reason to widen sidewalks rather than streets.

    I even know some places where bike lanes are built at the same level as sidewalks. Though pedestrians tend to walk in the bike lane if there are few cyclists around, like in the photo I join here.

    Lycra-wearing vehicular cycling enthusiasts could still bike in the street, but utility city biking could take place on sidewalks at a slow pace.

  • Justin

    The best way to stop the NYPD from targeting the relatively minor offense of riding on the sidewalk is to stop riding on the sidewalk.

    I completely agree that the most dangerous behavior should be the top priority for enforcement. It’s depressing how common speeding, reckless driving, and harassment of pedestrians and cyclists by drivers are.

    However, cyclists’ complaining about being ticketed for breaking the law makes us sound privileged by being above the law. If there are two things that drivers love to complain about, they are that bicyclists act “entitled” and regularly flaunt laws that everyone is expected to follow. Riding on the sidewalk is a nuisance, dangerous, and should be ticketed.

  • qrt145

    You missed one: drivers also love to complain when they are ticketed for breaking the law (see all the outrage about speed cameras, bus lane cameras, and red-light cameras).

  • Joe R.

    I kind of feel the same also. Outside of certain parts of the city where the sidewalks are just too crowded to allow bikes (i.e. midtown during regular business hours) bikes should be allowed on sidewalks, provided they follow a set of rules similar to what you mention. In the outer boroughs especially many streets are hostile to novice cyclists. In many cases there isn’t room or political will for something like a protected bike lane. Since the sidewalks along many of these arterials are 15+ feet and nearly empty most of the time, they would double perfectly as defacto protected bike lanes for those uncomfortable riding in the street.

  • lop

    As long as pedestrian accommodations are prioritized. That includes letting them walk nearer to the buildings even when cyclists are around, not the street as in your photo.

  • Nugget

    Shouldn’t happen at all on first as there is a separated cycleway. Second is just a disaster and Third is fine for cycling, although if I’m heading downtown I usually prefer to use York.

    It’s mostly delivery guys and parents who are taking little Johnny out for a ride and because they need to go the wrong way up a one way street.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The NYPD highway patrol issued another 56,000 tickets, but it mainly covers highways, not local streets.”

    I’m kind of amazed at that, given the hostility you get and evasive action you induce by driving a mere five miles over the speed limit on NYC highways. Were I to drive at the speed limit, I’d be afraid some crazy would pull out a gun and blow my head off.

  • Joe Enoch

    Totally anecdotal, but I have seen way way more people getting sidewalk riding summons this summer. In particular, cops are almost always camped out at one of the south entrances to Central Park, nabbing bicyclists coming and going to and from the loop. Meanwhile, the drivers on Columbus Circle, just feet away, run red lights and fail to yield with impunity.

  • free delivery

    Anyone who thinks ticketing sidewalk riding is going to have any meaningful impact reducing that behavior in this city is deluded. Vast amounts of food delivery + mostly one-way traffic-clogged streets = sidewalk riding (and salmoning). These tickets are just harassment. This waste of police resources is probably motivated by complaints to the NYPD by the dorothy rabinowitz’s of the city who see bikes as a threat to their life.

  • chekpeds

    Well said . For pedestrians, bicyclist on the sidewalk make the only place that should be safe, feel unsafe.

  • chekpeds

    Remember people, the goal is to reallocate car space to other transportation modes.

  • Canonchet

    In Dutch and Danish cities peds and bikes sharing wide sidewalks is more the norm than the exception, and it works just fine, with bikers going at moderate speeds and yielding to peoplke on foot. In the so-callled ‘outer buroughs’ there are vast stretches of sidewalk where pedestrians are rare and biking on the adjacent street is risky, due to the absence of bike lanes, poor road maintenance, double-parking and myriad other factors. The city’s pro-biking voices have too rigidly maintained or accepted blanket opposition to cycling on all and any city sidewalks as a quid pro quo for bike lanes – but most streets, and indeed most neighborhoods, don’t have have and may may never have safe, dedicated on-street bike lanes. I always told my kids to ride on sidewalks when the sidewalks were relatively empty and the streets had traffic and no bike lanes. Why not keep older folks safer too?

  • Kevin Love

    In Dutch cities, peds and bikes sharing wide sidewalks is almost unknown. I have never seen such infrastructure, and neither has David Hembrow. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/04/is-that-shared-use-path-do-dutch-cycle.html

  • eLK

    Speeding motorists, not speeding bicyclists, right?

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Cycling on the sidewalk is SOMETIMES done because the street is far too dangerous. This is more common further from Manhattan and in some areas generally accepted as OK. We can complain all we want that every cyclist should follow the letter of the law, but I’m not going to tell someone to risk their life on a poorly designed street with scofflaw motorists just to follow the letter of the law and avoid an empty sidewalk. This is not the case for most of Manhattan, since sidewalks are busy and riding on them may push around pedestrians, which is wrong. But all of NYC is not Manhattan.

  • TiredofSpeedingCars

    I watched a delivery biker stop at a red light, look for cars, then run the light. Perfectly safe, but illegal. At the same time, cars that are quite heavier and more dangerous speed down my side street all the time. The biker got ticketed. I watched him wait for the ticket, delivery food in hand, with tears in his eyes. I’m not saying we anyone is above the law, but maybe the law needs to be changed.

    Sidewalk biking is dangerous. It’s easy to hit pedestrians who are not expecting a bike on the sidewalk. But bikers who stop, look, then proceed are exceedingly more safe than their speeding counterparts in cars. West End is like a speedway! And if a biker stopped at every red light that is timed for cars, progress would be extremely slow.

    The law should allow a biker to treat a light as a stop sign, and yield to crossing traffic.

    Furthermore, ticketing of these poor delivery guys needs to stop for petty offenses. The speeding cars need to be slowed down. now.

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