Will This Year’s “Operation Safe Cycle” Make Anyone Safer?

The Park Row bike lane by City Hall, full of illegally parked vehicles as usual. Photo: Keegan Stephan

Yesterday NYPD showed New York that police do actually enforce the speed limit on local streets. Check out the radar guns on Broadway. Today the department is showing the city that cyclists get tickets too.

NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” is a two-week enforcement campaign targeting “hazardous violations that create a danger for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Usually, when the NYPD embarks on these bike ticket blitzes, you’ll see police focus on the most inane and harmless transgressions, like cycling through red lights at T-intersections with bike lanes, where motor vehicle traffic and bike traffic don’t conflict. Equipped with cheat sheets that included non-existent infractions, cops have been known to hand out tickets that don’t stand a chance in traffic court. It created the impression that traffic enforcement in New York is about the appearance of “evenhandedness” more than the prevention of violent injuries and deaths.

Will this time be any different? As always, devoting limited resources to bike enforcement is bound to yield really poor bang-for-the-buck compared to speed enforcement or failure-to-yield tickets. And the very act of marketing a special operation targeting cycling — as opposed to consistently enforcing laws that keep everyone safe on the streets — doesn’t inspire confidence.

At least NYPD’s communications seem to be improving. The “Operation Safe Cycle” notice says police will be focusing on motorists obstructing bike lanes as well as cyclists for “failure to stop at a red light, disobey a traffic signal or sign, riding the wrong direction against traffic, riding on the sidewalk, and failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.” That’s clearer than a cheat sheet with bogus bike infractions.

But there is simply a huge degree of discretion available to cops when it comes to bike enforcement. Blowing through a red light with lots of pedestrians in the crosswalk is illegal, and so is stopping to check for cross-traffic and pedestrians before proceeding safely through a red. It’s a lot easier to hand out tickets to safe riders who may not be following the letter of the law than to rule-breakers who are actually putting other people at risk.

Unfortunately there’s no data to help people evaluate what police do during these episodes of stepped-up bike enforcement. All we have are stories.

Anecdotally, on my way to work this morning I didn’t see any police cruisers hanging out in the Flushing Avenue bike lane, pulling over cyclists for riding through T-intersection stop lights. So at least one of the usual tell-tale signs that NYPD is up to some mindless bike enforcement was not in evidence today. Then again, if police are handing out tickets to drivers obstructing bike lanes, that’s tough to tell too.

What have you seen out on the streets today? Send your experiences to tips@streetsblog.org.

  • BBnet3000

    “It’s a lot easier to hand out tickets to safe riders who may not be following the letter of the law than to rule-breakers who are actually putting other people at risk.”

    This is my worry as well. I do not want to see a crackdown on inconsiderate, threatening and dangerous behavior that actually falls on the shoulders of the people who aren’t committing this behavior.

  • Kevin Love

    Bravo, Ben. This “crackdown” on the innocent and harmless is absurd. When was the last time someone was killed by being hit by a bicycle? 2005?

    One of the worst parts is that this police behavior is actually making the streets much more dangerous. Harassment of cyclists tends to (surprise, surprise!) discourage cycling. And encourage dangerous modes of transportation like car driving.

  • cycler

    Thanks, JSK!

  • Eddie

    “When was the last time someone was killed by being hit by a bicycle? 2005?”

    It happens more often than you think. Ten days ago, on August 3rd, a runner (who also happened to be an avid cyclist) was killed when he was hit by a cyclist in the Central Park pedestrian lane.

  • It is awful when a cyclist kills someone, but it is also extremely rare. Before the collision in Central Park this month, the last time it happened in New York was 2009. In the decade before that, about one person per year was killed by someone on a bike.

  • Great post, Ben. We’re in a weird state with Vision Zero, where the emphasis seems to be on everyone doing their “share,” which of course is ridiculous, given the source of the real danger. It’s frustrating, but this is probably just the early part of the normal evolution as the city comes to terms with what it will actually take to end traffic deaths. I don’t think anyone’s ready to truly have that reckoning yet, but it will have to come.

    It was raining this morning, so it may not have been worth a local precincts’ time or comfort to stand on Flushing or any of the other typical t-intersections and hand out those fish-in-a-barrel tickets. But on a nice day, they can probably hand out enough tickets in 20 minutes to meet their quota for the month. Let’s see what happens tomorrow or next week when the weather improves.

  • scofflaw_cyclist

    I’m not disputing you at all. I was just wondering if anyone had any more information about this. I haven’t heard a thing about it and I can’t believe the Post or the Daily News wouldn’t have front page coverage of dangerous cyclists killing people.

  • Samuel L Bronkovitz Presents

    Also did not see any po-po on Flushing, AKA the “NYPD Bike Ticket Corridor From Hell” this AM, which was surprising given all this media blitz.

    I promise they’ll be out there either this afternoon or tomorrow, maybe lulling people today before they spring ’em tomorrow.

    Either that, or they thought that with today’s rain there wouldn’t be as many bikers (correct, actually) and they want to nail more of them all at once together.

  • Samuel L Bronkovitz Presents

    Ha! I just had the same thought as you in another comment about this being more practical for laziness rather than an improvement in strategery.

  • ToastPatterson

    A cyclist killed a runner last week? I haven’t seen anything in the media on this. You’d think that the tabloids would be having a field day with that.

  • Eddie

    See the sticky thread on the top here:

    http://nycc.org/message-board/forums/message-board

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Park Row has a bike lane?

  • Tyler

    I am really really tired of these “crack downs” — regardless of the damn target of the increased enforcement. If the NYPD can devote resources for these absurd media PR campaigns, they surely can devote resources to simply enforcing traffic laws as a matter of course!!!

    Why do we need a special annual “crack down” to ticket speeding drivers? Why do we need a special annual “crack down” to ticket cyclists riding the wrong direction? Are other laws only enforced when there’s a “crack down”? Rape, burglary, assault?

    “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. We’re sorry your apartment was burglarized, but we can’t do anything about it. The crack down ended last week. Maybe next year?”

  • mistermarkdavis

    Kudos to NYPD for also ticketing people parked int he bike lane. I’m very interested in seeing numbers.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Instead of NYPD crackdowns, what needs to be installed is a more permanent form of some type of bicycle enforcement division, within NYPD or DOT. Similar to how there exists Pedestrian Crossing Agents or NYPD TEAs for traffic flow and parking violations, this bicycle enforcement division would be responsible for keeping designated lanes clear, enforcing the applicable VTLs, maintain safety and aide in providing information should an accident or an incident involving a cyclist occurs. These individuals should have “police status,” as in assaulting them is a crime and should be properly trained. Obviously, there should be dedicated funding to support such a division, when and where the money comes from is a whole other debate, but nonetheless this idea, as a whole, should be given some thought. It’s best to have the NYPD focus their time and resources on combating violent crime rather than hand-out weightless tickets.

  • Tyler

    Yeah… don’t get me started on how effective the NYPD’s “Traffic Enforcement Agents” are. They focus on low-hanging fruit and no concept of improving safety (they are often the cause of dangerous conditions).

  • Guest

    I think there is a lot of ridiculous ticketing going on. However, took this shot of wrong way cyclists on a dangerous section of Northern Blvd pulled over getting tickets. I have no problem with tickets for wrong way cycling and sidewalk riding. As long as NYPD is enforcing the law heavy against drivers too….but it remains to be seen if they are, and we all doubt they are.

  • Saw this today, what appeared to be two wrong-way riding teens getting tickets from NYPD for riding the wrong way on Queens Boulevard. Now I am against a ticket blitz for just ticket blitz purposes. BUT I have no problem with giving out tickets for wrong way riders in an area like this. One of the most dangerous sections of the boulevard. I am so scared of this area I don’t even ride with traffic in this section and avoid it. (I was crossing Blvd).

    There are tickets I don’t mind. This is certainly one. Not yielding to peds. Wrong way riding for sure. Riding on a crowded, narrow sidewalk in areas where there is a completely reasonable alternative or road (that’d probably be about 95% of sidewalk riding.)

  • BBnet3000

    I have no problem with ticketing wrong way riders almost anywhere.

  • Nathanael

    I’ll believe it when they start ticketing other cops for parking in the bike lane.

    In my little town, I once saw a college police car stopped in a bus stop…. then a city police car pulled over, and the cop got out and chewed out the college policeman and made him move. It’s the sort of thing which makes me have some trust in the city police.

    Does the NYPD *ever* force police to obey the law?

  • SafeSidewalksPlease

    So, for 2 weeks the elderly, small children, citizens with impaired vision, impaired hearing, ambulatory disabilities and their pets will be safe from people who think it’s ok to ride their bikes on the sidewalk?

    What happens when the 2 weeks are up? They all go back to having their well beings constantly threatened.

    I think Operation Safe Cycle is smart, but why is it going to be so short-lived?

  • Testy McTesterson

    I’m pretty sure the NYPD could make up a good percentage of its annual budget by spending an afternoon ticketing cyclists on Jay St. between Tillary and Schermerhorn.

    I’m not saying that cyclists don’t get a raw deal in other parts of the city, but this area is dangerous almost entirely because of cyclists ignoring lights and the switch to a one way street at Schermerhorn.

    That said, a block away at Hoyt St. you’ll almost always find cop cars parked in the painted bike lane, so …

  • Agreed

    I agree. There is absolutely no reason anyone needs to ride their bicycle on the sidewalk. EVER. Sidewalks are made for walking. More bicyclists need to learn to respect our sidewalks and WALK their bikes on them.

  • walks bikes drives

    The worst part is, when they stop someone for not following the letter of the law, they usually miss the dangerous situation that occurred right after. Case in point, I got a red light ticket, on bike, making a right on red after stopping. While the cop was writing the new ticket (after making a dangerous u-turn himself), a car took a red, barely missed a pedestrian. Nope, writing my ticket. Another car did a similar u-turn to the cop’s, but no lights and siren. Pedestrians jumped out of the way. Nope, writing my ticket. Car sped down the road, easily 10mph over the limit. Nope, guess what the cop was doing!

  • Furious

    Mindless inane enforcement was evident in full force along Riverside Drive in the 140’s as cyclists made their way southbound from the GWB this morning. Tickets ($270) were being given for riding through red lights at T intersections of one way residential streets and Riverside Drive. You’d think NYPD might actually focus on their stated goal of targeting “hazardous violations that create a danger for pedestrians and cyclists” but clearly that’s asking way too much,

  • Bikevictim

    Just got a ticket today for this, in a residential bike lane area.

  • walks bikes drives

    The ticket is not $270, but they will try to charge you that. The surcharge does not apply to bicycles. The correct charge is $190. Still ridiculous, but better than $270.

  • I routinely ride wrong-way for half a block on my one-lane one-way street with a bike lane in order to avoid riding on the very busy street at the other end.

  • Going the wrong way on a street with a bike lane is even worse than doing so on a street without a bike lane. In so doing, you are benefitting from the bike infrastructure, while at the same time abusing it.

    This kind of arrogance spits in the eye of the people whose decades of relentless activism advanced the idea that bicycles are a normal part of traffic, and who helped persuade the previous mayor to give us these great lanes.

    This is destructive behaviour; if you deny this fact, you are simply fooling yourself. The best way to get rid of bike infrastructure is to abuse it, in full view of everyone.

    To avoid riding on a very busy street is sensible. So you should walk your bike that half a block.

  • Nathanael

    How about a crackdown on corrupt cops? Apparently there’s never been one of those. Seems like it would take out most of the department.

  • Nathanael

    Right on red after stopping is, of course, legal unless there’s a sign specifically prohibiting it.

  • lop

    Not in NYC.

  • UWS’er

    Got my red light ticket on bike while going 5mph through T intersection, not crossing a lane, and after looking both ways. $280 ticket. Saw the cop car beforehand even, but didn’t realize they were incapable of using any reasonable judgement. NYPD harassing the citizens. Well done.

  • Hilary K

    I got a ticket at 26/6 for running a red light supposedly when absolutely no cars or pedestrians were coming. Should I fight it or pay it and how much should it cost? Thanks

  • Ian Turner

    I recommend fighting it.

  • You have no grounds to fight the ticket. The fact that “absolutely no cars or pedestrians were coming” is irrelevant, because the law does not give the individual cycilst the right to make that judgement call at a red light.

    Pay the ticket; it properly should be $190. Most importantly, you should learn from the experience, and do better next time. Stop at red lights, as we are all required to do.

  • I will repeat once again my utter lack of esteem for New York’s police, who routinely use excessive violence, most especially against people from the most oppressed racial/ethnic groups. However, since you describe no violence nor even rudeness on the part of the police, then your claim of police harassment does not fly.

    Furthermore, It makes no difference how fast you were going, or how many ways you looked. The fact (to which you admit) is that you rode through a red light. Most of the time bicyclists get away with this, which has led to an unfortunate feeling of entitlement to ignore the law. We have no such entitlement; and when one of us is caught, it’s entirely our own fault.

    (Also, if you saw the cop car and did it anyway, well, that’s not very smart. You basically taunted the cops.)

    Despite the fact that I am the most vocal advocate for stopping at red lights, even I once got a ticket for this. It was in 2011, a few days after Matthieu Lefevre was killed in Brooklyn; and it was right at that same corner of Morgan and Meserole. I wasn’t actually pedalling through the intersection; I was walking the bike while straddling it, after having stopped at the light. By the standard that I use (creating a bad impression to witnesses), I thought I was OK, as no one would see that and think “those arrogant bicyclists”. But, evidently even that act is not in keeping with the law.

    This was infuriating on some level, because the cops responded to Lefevre’s killing by cracking down on the potential victims of vehicular violence, not on the potential perpetrators. Nevertheless, they had me on the technical violation of the law: I was in some sense “riding” the bike, even though I was only walking it while straddling it.

    (Side note: the cop who wrote the ticket didn’t harass me, either. In fact he actually apologised, saying that he had to do it, while gesturing to his older partner in the car.)

    So I paid the ticket, and just resolved to do better next time. Now, if I ever feel the need to go through a red light, I just get off the bike and walk it through. This happens many nights on the last leg of my ride home, at Woodhaven Blvd. and Jamaica Ave. The light typically turns red just as I approach Jamaica Ave. coming south on Woodhaven; so, rather than wait a full cycle, I just get off, walk around the corner to Jamaica, and get on again.

    The point is that no one — not you, not me, not anyone — is above the law. And it’s no good complaining when we’re caught doing something that we know we’re not allowed to do.

  • qrt145

    You are aware that walking your bike against the red light is unlawful too, right?

  • Crossing the street or (as more frequently applies to my circumstances) turning the corner as a pedestrian?

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    $278, same as a motorist when issued by a PO. You can fight, if you want, and try to lower the cost or dismiss it, however just be mindful there’s no plea bargaining in NYC, and if it’s a he said / she said case with no evidence on your side, NYC TVB courts tend to rule in favor of the cop, if present.

    If you’re found guilty, you should not be subject to points or surcharges. The law exempts cyclists and pedestrians, not motorists per No. 15 NYCRR 131.3 (b) (7) (v) for NYC Code Rules & Regulations.

    http://nycattorneys.com/No%20Points%20for%20Bicycle%20Moving%20Violations.pdf

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/08/19/dmv-cheating-cyclists-with-unlawful-surcharges-and-license-points/

    If you’re not confident that you will win in court or in an appeal, I would pay and move on. Just make sure they don’t issue you points, that’s a lot worse.

    Hope this helps.

  • Joe R.

    Agreed on the part about running a red in front of a cop. I never do that. To me it’s tempting fate.

  • UWS’er

    Totally disagre with your premise. It’s also against the law to walk across the street on a red light, it’s against the law to not have your blinker on for a turn, even if no one is around, it’s against the law to cross the street outside the crosswalk, and there numerous other examples of laws that are not striclty enforced to the letter of the law, but rather require ‘judgement’ by the police officer. They are paid to use judgement and reasonableness in enforcing laws. To think. In my case gliding through a red at 5 mph after i’ve looked both ways and there are no pedestrians and i’m not crossing the lane of traffic is beyond what i would consider reasonable.

    I agree the cop ‘can’ enforce the law. But to act like judgement isn’t used in enforcing common pedestrian/traffic laws is not accurate in my opinion.

    In my opinion, the police should be enforcing laws when they clearly see that someone is doing something that could harm someone or is unsafe. There are numberous bikers who deserve this enforcement. But blindly dropping the hammer on all bikers on a random 2-week period because ‘some’ bikers are unsafe seems like a ridiculous way of enforcing the law and policing the citizenry.

  • Joe R.

    I totally agree on everything you’re saying, and I pass reds myself, but only after ascertaining if the way is clear. That seems to be what you do as well. That said, in the interests of not giving the police cannon fodder, would it be that difficult to ask you NOT to pass red lights when you clearly see police are present, which is exactly what I do? That will mean you’ll have to wait the full cycle at some small percentage of lights, but it’s better than paying $190 of your hard-earned cash to NYC. If enough cyclists did this these dragnets would come up empty. The police would tell the locals who complain about bikes something like “Sorry, but we spent two weeks on this and only gave a few tickets. We have better things to do with our time.” This would be the end of these silly dragnets. They’re massive wastes of police manpower which do little for public safety (even Ferdinand would agree on that part).

    By the way, don’t expect “judgement” in the way the NYPD enforces the laws. The NYPD reminds me of the militant gorilla soldiers in the Planet of the Apes movies (I’m referring to the older ones with Charlton Heston).

  • lop

    This would be the end of these silly dragnets.

    No it would mean they’d devote a larger share of their fleet of unmarked cars to giving out tickets. They’d find every spot they can hide to catch people running reds and still give out tickets. Or they’d block the bike lane and then give you a ticket for leaving it. Looking for cops might save you from getting a ticket, but it won’t end the backlash against bikes that was necessary for the crackdown to take place anyway. If the city was on better terms with bikes then someone dying from a collision with a bike for the first time in five years would not have led to this crackdown.

  • Joe R.

    No it would mean they’d devote a larger share of their fleet of unmarked cars to giving out tickets.

    Unmarked cars to catch bicycles???? If that isn’t a gross misallocation of resources then I don’t know what is. Besides, there’s no f-ing way I would stop unless the car had NYPD markings on it. An unmarked car could be anything, including a bunch of yahoos trying to steal my bike. Unmarked police cars are a tool to go after major felons, not cyclists.

    If the city was on better terms with bikes then someone dying from a collision with a bike for the first time in five years would not have led to this crackdown.

    So how can we change that? From where I stand it seems the vast majority of complaints against bikes are caused by the behavior of delivery cyclists. Unfortunately, competition dictates that if only one establishment skirts the law for fast deliveries, the rest have to or they risk going out of business. Would the solution be to levy major fines against the establishment (not the delivery cyclist) for dangerous riding? Would such fines just result in a disincentive for dangerous riding, or would they result in establishments switching to cars for delivery, which in the end might actually be worse from a safety standpoint? I don’t have the answers to this. The backlash against bikes is illogical on many levels but it’s hard to control what the public thinks once they get an idea into their head. What might work is putting out gory pictures of motor vehicle carnage, even if it may be distasteful to the families of the victims. You will never see someone flattened on the street like a steam roller went over them if they’re hit by a bike, but that’s all too common for the poor pedestrian or cyclist who ends up under the wheels of a truck. We need to divert the public’s attention to the real problem.

  • lop

    Unmarked cars still have lights and sirens. They are frequently used to pull over cars, not just going after felons, and from a couple stories here they’ve been used to pull over bikes as well.

    People are used to cars. They know how to get around comfortably with a reasonable level of subjective safety (actual safety isn’t relevant, we’re talking about feelings here). Not so with bikes. Even when there are no collisions a bike missing you by a second is unnerving. Sometimes passing a pedestrian in a way that feels safe from the point of view of the cyclist leads to a pissed off pedestrian who is going to complain to 311, their councilman, police precinct etc…about reckless cyclists. It doesn’t matter that cars kill and injure more, because the person is used to them. And most people either know how to drive, or at least have ridden in cars enough to have some idea of what it’s like from the driver’s perspective. Quite a few have never ridden a bike, at least never on a street with cars and pedestrians.

    I’ve walked along the sidewalk with a non-cyclist who gets angry when he sees a bike going slow on the sidewalk down a one way street the wrong way. It doesn’t matter that the cyclist saw us and switched to the empty street before he got within a hundred feet of us. A pedestrian was pissed off. And knowing the guy I’d be surprised if he doesn’t complain to his community board, NYPD precincts etc…about reckless bikes on a regular basis.

    Actual dangers don’t matter. People are pissed at bikes.

    One thing cyclists can do is keep in mind they are silent and hard to see compared to cars. Stepping out into a quiet street after maybe half a glance can keep you from getting hit by cars, especially at night. Not so with bikes. Many cyclists take the view that the onus is on the pedestrian to see them, or at least partly, especially when the bike has the ROW. That leads to pissed off pedestrians. If all cyclists rode bearing in mind what pedestrians actually do when crossing the street, not what they should do, there would be some collisions and many more near collisions avoided, and that would go a long way towards pissing off fewer pedestrians. Although even that only does so much. If a pedestrian is walking in the middle of a shared path, completely unaware that cyclists are allowed to use it, there isn’t always much you can do. Whether I ring a bell (I do have a bell), speak calmly announcing my intent to pass, just squeeze around them, it doesn’t matter. Some people will still be startled by a ‘reckless’ cyclist. And some of them will complain about the influx of bikes taking over their space. And when the NYPD runs a ticket blitz they’ll smile and thank their representative.

    Ideal behavior from cyclists isn’t going to happen of course. If cycling continues to grow slowly, eventually people will come to understand them better. Better cycling infrastructure will lead to more predictable behavior as well. Seeing them on a regular basis will make them expected. Once bikes are understood and expected people won’t be as bothered by near misses, because it will become apparent that there wasn’t any danger. That will take many years though.

    I think for the time being any crackdown on reckless drivers will be justification for a similar crackdown on bikes, so pointing out the danger cars pose will lead to more bike tickets.

  • Joe R.

    Sad to say, most of what you said is true. I do in fact try to avoid passing closely to pedestrians, even when they’re crossing midblock or I have the light. I realize their reasons for doing what they do. It’s not a major burden to change speed or direction slightly to give them at least a 10 foot berth.

    If a pedestrian is walking in the middle of a shared path, completely unaware that cyclists are allowed to use it, there isn’t always much you can do.

    Just last night when I was out riding (at 5:30 AM-a really late night or really early morning ride depending upon how you look at it) I came up on a jogger on a shared path. I was going to pass him, but I figured I might startle him or otherwise piss him off, so I just left the path. I had other ways to get home. Hopefully that’s one less person pissed at cyclists.

    Ideal behavior from cyclists isn’t going to happen of course. If cycling continues to grow slowly, eventually people will come to understand them better. Better cycling infrastructure will lead to more predictable behavior as well. Seeing them on a regular basis will make them expected. Once bikes are understood and expected people won’t be as bothered by near misses, because it will become apparent that there wasn’t any danger. That will take many years though.

    Yes. Just watch any video in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Pedestrians aren’t phased one bit as bikes pass them by inches. It’s all looks like a nicely orchestrated ballet. So really, the best thing we can do for cycling is to get more people cycling so it becomes normalized.

    I think for the time being any crackdown on reckless drivers will be justification for a similar crackdown on bikes, so pointing out the danger cars pose will lead to more bike tickets.

    I frequently give admonishments here when people ask for more crackdowns on motorists. I’m on board for crackdowns on stuff which is dangerous, like failure to yield, but I kind of draw the line when people say we should crackdown on speeding 5 or 10 mph over the limit, provided the driver isn’t doing anything else wrong. In the end letter of the law crackdowns on motorists will only lead to the same on bikes.

  • SRahim

    Mostly agree, but I think kids should be allowed to ride. The roads aren’t safe enough for them to learn.

  • Kids 14 years old or younger are allowed to ride on the sidewalk.

  • Joe R.

    Actually 13 and younger:

    § 19-176 (3) The term “child” shall mean a person less than fourteen years of age.

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