When It Comes to Bike Enforcement, NYPD Can Do Better Than This

Warm weather means more bicyclists on city streets. It also means more ham-handed attempts by NYPD to improve bike safety, and officers are out in force this week ticketing people on bikes.

NYPD's traffic enforcement priorities yesterday on Hudson Street. Photo: BrooklynSpoke/Twitter
NYPD’s traffic enforcement priorities yesterday on Hudson Street. Photo: BrooklynSpoke/Twitter

Instead of ticketing wrong-way cyclists buzzing pedestrians in crosswalks, the police typically camp out and rack up tickets where cyclists break the letter of the law without jeopardizing anyone. Ticketing people for riding through a red light at a T-intersection is the bicycle equivalent of ticketing a pedestrian who crosses against the light when no cars are coming.

Bike enforcement operations have been spotted on the Hudson River Greenway, at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, on Hudson Street, and on Eighth Avenue. These are all locations where there are plenty of people biking, and probably plenty of people who bike through red lights after checking to see if the coast is clear.

Handing out red light violations at these locations is easy for police, but it’s not a good use of resources if the department is serious about Vision Zero.

Officers from the 5th Precinct, for example, can often be spotted issuing red light tickets to cyclists coming off the Manhattan Bridge and on Chrystie Street. The same precinct has issued just 46 speeding tickets and 71 failure to yield tickets so far this year.

If the department is going to spend time on bike enforcement, it should at least focus on the people riding the wrong way or cutting through crosswalks at speed. That would be harder than ticketing the “scofflaws” who are jaywalking on bikes, but it might actually improve conditions on the street.

  • I’ve said many times before that the way to change the NYPD’s attitude would be to have the promotion and career prospects of an officer in charge of traffic policing at every precinct depend on the trend in traffic injuries and deaths within the precinct. The incentives to issue pointless tickets for non-dangerous behavior would evaporate and there would suddenly be an urgent imperative to crack down on speeding and refusal to yield by motorists.

  • I work just down Hudson St from where Brooklyn Spoke took that picture, incidentally. After I’d bought my lunch yesterday, I went to cross Charlton at Hudson and a van blew through the crosswalk at speed turning the wrong way down the one-way street, refusing to yield to me. I yelled at the driver, who then stopped to yell abuse.

    The whole incident was watched by an NYPD traffic agent. I asked him why he wasn’t doing anything. “We’re not allowed to ticket moving violations,” he said. “If I am, I fuck him up.”

    It’s such a comfort under these circumstances to know that the sworn officers who can ticket such violations were occupied elsewhere on the street ticketing for minor cycling violations.

  • Jimmy Pirate

    It’s a pure and simple numbers game. We need quality enforcement. All for ticketing wrong way riding. Anything that endangers pedestrians. Riding on sidewalks in congested areas. Dangerously blowing a light. But most of this stuff isn’t helping anybody accomplish anything but drive down cycling and marginal infractions.

    One thing that might help? During these crackdowns also have police actively writing summons to drivers. At least cyclists will see a balance.

  • Reader

    One thing it is increasing, however, is the amount of cynicism most people have about NYPD’s commitment to saving lives that aren’t in cars. Four cops on the Manhattan Bridge ticketing cyclists? It’s really hard to believe Chief Chan or Commissioner Bratton when they say that the department needs more resources to make our streets safer.

  • Bolwerk

    They aren’t going to stop doing this until they fear being hurt when they abuse their power. They still have de Blasio, and most other executive/legisltative authorities in the city/state governments, protecting them from consequences.

  • walknseason

    The title is wrong: for morons and pigs at the precincts, this is literally the best they can do. The worst they can do – which they do normally – is actively ride against bikers.

  • armyvet00

    Or bikes that don’t have lights while riding at night. Because that a-hole almost hit me and then yelled at *me* like I did something other than not see the invisible bike careening towards me.

    **off soapbox**

  • Jesse

    This is plainly NYPD punishing people they find to be a nuisance.

  • Andy

    They wouldn’t be doing this if there weren’t quotas.

  • ddartley

    This harms public safety. If those cops could be working on driver behavior instead of cyclist behavior, this is NYPD making public safety worse, not better.

    Important note: cops at these stings will sometimes indicate that it’s the local community (cometimes the actual CB) who has asked for the operation.

  • BayRidge Phantom

    This is the kind of thing that makes people hate police and not want to bike in NYC. These ticket blitzes should be condemned.

  • red_greenlight1

    The CB thing is a lie they like to tell. Just like it’s okay for drivers to park in the bikelane for a minute.

  • c2check

    NYPD should put more cops on bikes so they know what it’s like.

  • Komanoff

    I’ve been saying the same for awhile. Seems plain as day.

  • ddartley

    Cops on bikes do NOT learn what it’s like for the rest of us. They do whatever they want with no fear of consequences.

  • c2check

    Good point—God knows cops don’t really pay much attention to lights when driving. But I’d hope it would at least help get rid of such a strong windshield perspective…

  • djx

    Hate is a strong word. Police violence, stop&frisk etc might provoke hate.

    This undermines respect for their competence on even simple stuff.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    The trouble is that measuring success based on numbers of deaths and injuries is too narrow. How would you measure quality of life improvement to target offenses like cars blocking crosswalks?

  • neroden

    Far too many in NYPD seem to want to harass the law-abiding citizens of NY rather than, say, doing their job. Time to liquidate NYPD and get rid of it. It’s so rotten that only starting completely fresh will help. (This will also get rid of the FOP police union, which is actually run by a *traitor* who has committed *treason*.)

  • neroden

    At this point, the NYPD needs to be eliminated, full stop. It’s proven incapable of reform. A fresh department is needed; make Frank Serpico or Adrian Schoolcraft the first chief of police and the new department (“PDNY”?) might start hiring the right sort of people as precinct captains.

  • Matt

    This is why traffic laws for bicycles need to be changed to reflect the actual realities of riding a bicycle in the city. Bicycles aren’t cars and shouldn’t be enforced the same way. Police themselves aren’t the problem (at least not completely). OF COURSE they’re going to go for the easy tickets, inconsistently, as needed. They can’t enforce everything, so to make themselves look good, they go after the easy stuff before the harder stuff. The easy laws to target regarding bicyclists are superfluous. A bicyclist going through a red light, after looking for pedestrians and cars doesn’t hurt anyone and is as common as jaywalking. There’s zero reason that it should be illegal.

    Let’s not give the NYPD these easy, unnecessary laws when choosing what they feel like enforcing that day.

  • The problem is they’re currently targeting “quality of life” offenses by going after cyclists. Noisy people at community meetings seem to hate cyclists and demand action. The blocking of crosswalks is bad because it makes the streets less safe, so makes deaths and injuries more likely. My suggestion would shift resources from harassing fairly blameless groups to cracking down on actually risky behavior.

  • Tower18

    Sounds about right. I drive, bike, and walk in the city, and I frequently see all manner of driving ills happen right in front of police officers and nothing is done. Just this weekend, I saw a unmarked cargo van blow through a red light about 2-3 seconds late, while a cop was sitting in the intersection waiting to turn left. So this van *badly* running a red light, actually nearly hit the police car. Did he do anything? No, just proceeded with his turn.

    You also see some of the worst “blocking the box” and terrible driving right in front of the 78th Pct at Bergen and 6th in Brooklyn. A cop or two who are bored could literally walk outside and issue tickets as fast as they can write.

    But, they don’t, because, I think, the vast majority of police officers drive to work, driving and parking with varying degrees of illegality, and so when they see other drivers breaking similar laws, it’s met with a shrug.

  • Jimmy

    To use the melodramatic hyperbole of the tabloids… I was “almost run over” just the other day by a cop biking on the sidewalk.

    (Turns out, it was perfectly safe… but the irony was not lost on me.)

  • JACK

    Traffic Court in NYC is a total joke. Most of the summons they write are money generating items and not for the safety of the road. Out of 10 about 2 seemed legitimate. As for me I was there in late March for biking tickets. One was going the wrong way down the street, the next was no helmet, another was for no light l on bike and the last was not listening to the cop. The cop showed up in court. I expected that. The judge ended up throwing out 3 of the 4 and I had to pay 50 dollars for going down the street the wrong way. Well I made it up for fare beating on the subways for 4 months. The state of NY stole $50 from me so I just decided to steal my money back for $50 the cost of the fine plus the lost salary of a day off for me and traveling to and from traffic cost. Cost of lost salary, $290. Cost of travel to Traffic court $5 and eating $5 after court in Coney Island. OK. The state of NY got $50 from me but the MTA which is run by the state lost $400 from me for Fare Beating for about 3.5 months. So in the end of the day the MTA/State of NY loses. I look at the $50 as a prepayment of future transit fares which I stole back. HA HA HA!!!

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