The Gulf Between NYPD’s Street Safety Message and Police Behavior

It’s day two of NYPD’s bike enforcement blitz, and for all its professed good intentions, image-wise the department isn’t doing itself any favors.

There is a gulf between NYPD messaging, improved as it is, and how police officers conduct themselves with respect to traffic laws. The above illustration from Andrew Yackira, a parody of the “Operation Safe Cycle” pamphlet, pretty much says it all. At the same time that NYPD says it will help keep bike lanes clear while issuing tickets to people on bikes according to the letter of the law, police themselves are constantly placing obstacles in the way of cyclists — vehicle-sized obstacles with big blue letters that read “NYPD” on them.

We’ve lost count of the number of “cops in bike lanes” photos we’ve seen since yesterday morning, but Gothamist posted a sizable collection, apparently featuring Commissioner Bratton himself, practically standing on top of a thermoplast cyclist as he enters his chauffeur-driven SUV.

Of course, this is symptomatic of a bigger problem: While top police commanders are saying the right things and some precincts are getting serious about traffic safety, it’s still incredibly common to encounter rank-and-file officers who don’t think it’s their job to make streets safer. It will take a lot of effort to change NYPD’s enormous bureaucracy and workforce, and recently, Bratton hasn’t shown the same commitment to the task that he did at the beginning of the year. If NYPD is serious about eliminating traffic deaths, the department’s words and actions need to sync up.

  • Ace

    And the traffic cops waiving cars through red lights all along 42nd and 34th streets in Manhattan and Atlantic/Flatbush in Brooklyn while hundreds of pedestrians are waiting to cross. Vision Zero or Zero Vision?

  • Mark Walker

    Perhaps the mayor should make clear that the extraordinarily high ratio of police personnel to civilians, and their gold-plated benefits, are contingent on cooperation with safety initiatives. If they’re not willing to do the job, we can get by with fewer of them, and perhaps their retirement benefits should look more like mine — with no pension and a 100% self-funded 401k.

  • There’s also a gulf between what Vision Zero really is – a true Swedish interpretation of it – and how it’s being implemented so far in NYC. Crackdowns on jaywalkers and cyclists are not part of the equation.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/nyregion/a-safety-plan-with-swedish-logic-and-city-smarts.html

    “It’s actually quite horrible,” said Ylva Berg, the national coordinator of road safety for the Swedish Transport Administration, of some such education efforts, including a New York Police Department campaign earlier this year to deliver fliers in areas with a recent history of fatal crashes. “Those being victimized in those crashes are those being told to do better.”

  • Morris Zapp

    It’s true. My (and others’ I’m sure) fear was that NYC would appropriate the language of Vision Zero with no action to back it up. Other than the City Council passing a bunch of bills that NYPD won’t enforce, that’s basically what’s happened (see West End Ave.).

    After seven months it’s pretty clear that de Blasio either doesn’t have the guts for this or was never really on board in the first place.

  • Dan Berkman

    Back in May of last year I ‘fixed’ DOT’s mixing zone instructions to reflect reality. https://twitter.com/danberkman/status/337753958737133569

    Mostly this is driver education, but you’ll never get the kind of compliance that makes mixing zones safe until people who drive know what it’s like(effing terrifying) to watch the business end of a box truck moving obliviously towards you at 35mph. And I know that the signalized version is no better because it shortens the green phase for cyclists and makes it that much more annoying to deal with intersections.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Why do NYPD have to park in bike lanes when it’s not an emergency? What’s the major benefit to them? Just park in traffic lane and end this stupid controversy.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I’ll state the obvious:

    NYC cyclists understand that the streets are crowded. “Our” allocated space will occasionally be subject to incursions, ranging from relatively benign pedestrian crossings of bike lanes to get to refuge islands, to fully-justified urgent emergency vehicle pull-overs, to completely unjustified non-emergency blockages-of-convenience by self-entitled cops (and motorists who follow the cops’ lead).

    I don’t think cyclists are “special” and that our space should be magically inviolate in this crowded city. What I do object to is the deranged calculus of those who block bike lanes instead of motor vehicle traffic lanes, or park several feet from the curb next to hydrants, because in their cramped view of the world, it’s the “safer” option. These people simply aren’t factoring the safety of cyclists into their actions *at all*. And too many of them are cops.

  • Wilfried84

    Cops, in my experience, are the worst offenders regarding red lights, parking willy nilly in the middle of the street, whatever, just cause they can, and can’t be bothered.

    Just the other night, I was coming down somewhere near Morningside Park, where I come upon a driver in the cross street with his head stuck out the window, inching into the intersection, clearly trying to make a turn through a red light. If he pulled out, he’d have pull out right into me, so I said, “Yo, red light.” Just as I pass, he booped his siren; it was an unmarked car, and this was his way of saying “f*** you.” He didn’t make his turn, however. This was some combination of funny, infuriating, and creepy; I had visions of him chasing me down and hassling me, just cause.

    In another recent incident, I was coming up Madison near 34th St. just after rush hour, and there were two cop cars stopped next to each other, one in the right lane, the other in the next traffic lane, forcing the heavy traffic to merge left, creating a scrum, with me on a bike in the middle of it. When I passed, what were they doing? Drinking coffee and shooting the breeze.

    Anyway, I needed to vent, so took this opportunity.

  • J_12

    Steve, I agree with your sentiments here. When I see pedestrians spilling into a bike line from a crowded sidewalk, I understand, because bike traffic is relatively light while the sidewalks are at capacity. Likewise, when I see drivers using the sidewalk to park their cars in industrial areas with very little pedestrian traffic, I understand the utility of this compromise.

    I wish the same understanding were extended to bikers – i.e. a biker proceeding through a red light at an un- or lightly- trafficked intersection is a common sense response.

    Also, I have always wondered why drivers will stand their vehicles in a bike line when there is open curbside space next to a fire hydrant directly adjacent. Is the ticket for blocking a bike line much lower than for blocking a hydrant, or just not enforced as much?

  • JarekAF

    Man, I got a tix for treating a red as a stop sign. The cop gave me the spiel about “need to be safe out there, ” and I was like, “you saw me stop, look both ways, and then proceed slowly.” The f—ing guy, said to me, “if you want to be safe, here’s what you do, get off the bike and walk it through the intersection.” And I was like, “ok, but you saw me treat it as a stop sign and ride slowly, so I was being safe, even if I committed a traffic violation.”

    So annoying, my neighborhood has tons of bikes, tons of speeding cars, and a taxi stand on the bike lane. There’s chaos. And it’s the bikes they crack down on in the name of “safety.” Such f—ing horse s–t. Ticket the reckless cars. Ticket the MTA buses (which I’ve called 311 and the MTA to complain about, when they pass me across the yellow or flick me off for being too slow in my dense residential neighborhood).

    How f—ing stupid are they? Seriously. If I had to hop off my bike and jaywalk it through every red light, then I wouldn’t ride my bike. Nobody would ride a bike. Ticket the reckless bicyclists all day please.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Blocking the bike lane when there’s adjacent curbside space open (hydrant or not) is the epitome of NYC motorist disdain for cyclists. There should be a special term for this.

  • Cold Shoaler

    You would think the person standing in the middle of the street would a little more empathy for pedestrians. It’s amazing how traffic cops can maintain 100% windshield perspective directing motor vehicle traffic at these locations, despite their own vulnerability.

    http://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/cops-nypd-traffic-agent-hit-killed-in-manhattan-1.6519557

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/04/08/nypd-traffic-cop-my-objective-is-the-cars-not-the-people/

  • Kevin Love

    There already are several perfectly good Anglo-Saxon words to describe such persons and their ancestry.

  • walks bikes drives

    What neighborhood?

  • Daniel

    There is no ticket for standing at a hydrant. You are required to be behind the wheel and to move when a city employee asks you to, but otherwise it is permitted. Standing in a bicycle lane is the same as standing in a crosswalk or on the BQE, the ticket is $115. This is about half what a double parking ticket is so it is too low, but the real reason this happens is because the perps don’t feel any guilt over it and there is almost no chance of them getting a ticket.

  • Nathanael

    This is de Blasio’s problem.

    With a photo of *Bratton himelf* breaking the law, it seems that Bratton has no interest in running an actual police force or investigating criminal behavior. He should be replaced with an actual police chief, if you can find one.

    Has Bratton commented on his chauffeur’s lawbreaking? He could have, perhaps, explained that he chewed the chauffeur out and told him not to do it again. But so far, he doesn’t seem to have commented at all…

  • Nathanael

    If there were a police force in New York, you could report the NYPD “officers” to that police force for blocking traffic. But there isn’t. Which is really the problem.

    And I think people haven’t realized how bad the stiaution actually is. It seems like there’s no police force in NYC; it appears there are just a bunch of thugs in blue gang colors with government funding.

    You don’t seem to have a public prosecutor in Manhattan either; you instead have Cy Vance, who apparently thinks that driving buses onto the sidewalk at high speed isn’t reckless. Is Vance drunk or what?

  • walks bikes drives

    Just to put it out there: if you get a ticket during this blitz, or any other time, they will put the ticket into the system as a motor vehicle and charge you an $80 surcharge that does not apply to bicycles, and usually also add points. This is not right. You have to contact then oh order to get them to fix the amount and points to follow the law.

  • New Yorker

    If the mayoral election were today, I would not vote for Bill de Blasio.

  • JarekAF

    Battery Park City.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, who would you vote for? Lhota was probably worse in every way. Going back to the primary, every major candidate probably was worse.

    And don’t get me wrong. De Blasio sucks a lot. Self-identified liberals fell for his Kool-Aid the same way they well for Obama.

  • kencam

    Once again I have to wonder why there is no accountability for NYPD’s misguided approach. Why do we pay them to do stupid things? Time to organize and rein them in.

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