TA: Unfocused, Ineffective NYPD Enforcement Isn’t Helping With Vision Zero

NYPD precincts that issued more tickets for tinted windows than for speeding and failure to yield combined from January through May 2016. Image: TA
NYPD precincts that issued more tickets for tinted windows than for speeding and failure to yield combined from January through May 2016. Image: TA

Since the launch of Vision Zero more than two years ago, NYPD has yet to develop a comprehensive strategy to target dangerous driver behaviors that are known to cause most injuries and deaths. To the contrary, a new Transportation Alternatives report finds that NYPD enforcement often targets the people most vulnerable to traffic violence, while motorist violations like speeding, failure to yield, and even leaving the scene of a crash go unchecked.

“Death, Danger and Ignoring the Data: How the NYPD is Getting Vision Zero Wrong” [PDF] notes that injuries to pedestrians and cyclists increased by 11 percent the first five months of this year relative to the same time frame in 2015. While there was a slight decline in the number of people killed by drivers while walking, cyclist deaths more than doubled.

TA says scattershot traffic enforcement is a big part of the problem.

“The NYPD is falling short on its commitment to consistent, appropriate policing to deter the most deadly driving violations,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White in a statement accompanying the report. “Commissioner Bratton and other top police officials don’t even seem to have a clear plan for participation in Vision Zero, and their allocation of traffic enforcement resources does not appear to be based on actual conditions on New York City streets.”

Though the majority of cyclists who lost their lives this year were killed by drivers breaking traffic laws, NYPD tends to respond to cyclist fatalities by cracking down on cyclists and publicly blaming victims for their own deaths. This approach epitomizes the department’s failure to direct resources toward enforcement that would actually save lives, says TA.

In addition, enforcement priorities vary widely from precinct to precinct. While some precincts have stepped up enforcement against speeding and failure to yield, others are issuing fewer such tickets this year than in 2015, the report says.

TA found there are eight precincts where cyclists are more likely to receive a criminal court summons — which can lead to jail time and barriers to employment — than a moving violation for riding on the sidewalk. In the apparent absence of guidance from department brass, precinct COs are free to aggressively target relatively low-risk cycling offenses as motorists kill people in crosswalks.

Other findings from the report:

  • Between January and May of this year, officers in 32 precincts issued more tickets for tinted windows than speeding and failure to yield combined
  • About a third of pedestrian deaths this year were caused by drivers who failed to yield, but the Right of Way Law, adopted in 2014, “is still being applied infrequently and inconsistently”
  • Fatal hit-and-runs are up, with 22 through May compared to 15 during the first five months of 2015
  • Just 2.5 percent of hit-and-run crashes in 2015 resulted in NYPD action to hold drivers accountable; NYPD keeps a tight lid on information about hit-and-run cases, despite a law that requires the department to provide data to the City Council

“If 35,000 hit-and-run incidents per year are going completely unenforced, what message does that send to the city’s most dangerous drivers?” said White.

TA says the “Bicycle Safe Passage” initiative — periods of targeted enforcement against drivers who put cyclists at risk — should be standard practice at NYPD. White recommends the department “develop a framework for data-driven enforcement and demonstrate a cohesive, clear Vision Zero policy.”

“When drivers believe that they are likely to face consequences for unsafe actions, they change their behavior, and the result is safer streets,” White said. “Consistent, predictable enforcement is most likely to have the deterrent effect that changes behavior and saves lives.”

  • The only thing I see wrong with this is tinted windows are a safety issue. Being able to make eye contact with a driver, see if they are focused on the road, or their phone, this helps one be safe on the road. Tinted windows prevent this.

    Of course, I fail to see why tinted windows can’t be easily fixed, simply ticket them, and require an inspection to verify the windows have been *untinted* before renewing the vehicle registration.

    One problem I see with much of the enforcement is not only is it unfocused and *scattershot* but the actual penalties are not designed to correct the aberrant behaviour.

  • Of course, don’t get me wrong, tinted windows are a minor safety problem compared with speeding, failure to yield, texting and driving, etc. etc.

  • c2check

    NYPD likes to enforce the laws that are easiest to enforce, it seems.
    Unfortunately there’s a misalignment between what is easiest to enforce and what is actually the most dangerous.

  • I’d wager the 115th has given out more bike tickets from undercover cars than they have given out for speeding. Every time I go for a walk or bike, you see them pulling over cyclists on 34th Avenue. But never a ticket for a double parked car. Or cars that blow red lights which is common, and not even close calls – 2 or 3 seconds after it turns red! Here they are ticketing #bikenyc yesterday, same as every day. On the way up I saw at least four double parked cars. Meanwhile we had a 3 car pile up on our block last night, an obvious someone ran a red situation. (See both photos)

  • Reader

    I’m not sure it has to do with easy versus hard, although ticketing cyclists at T intersections certainly is easier that catching speeding drivers. Perhaps it has more to do with the common obsession police obsession with order, which is wholly different from safety. Bratton loves order. Thus Times Square plazas – with their nudity, costumed characters, panhandlers, and crowds of people going in every direction – are seen as far worse than the days when cars were allowed to barrel through. Streets are governed by signals and signs, leaving the perception that traffic is orderly: pedestrians over here, cars and trucks over there, etc. Sure, people got injured every now and then, but at least things *felt* orderly from a certain POV. It’s why he hates a craze like Pokemon Go. All these kids going this way and that staring into their phones! Chaos! And once chaos takes root – watch out! – ANYTHING is possible.

    Bratton is conditioned to seeing traffic, even the occasional death, as the natural state of things. Order. That’s how it’s been forever. Cyclists going through lights, salmoning, and doing other statistically harmless things, is disorder. And Bratton can’t have that.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I think 31st Av is a pretty good alternative to avoid this nonsense. And use a street in Astoria to go south towards the bridge.

    Dont know if it would help to mention this misplaced police priority in a future community board meeting.

  • I use 35th Ave now as an alternate. Not because I am a rule breaker, but I just don’t need to deal with the nonsense and get angry (the traffic lights are also timed much better for steady bike riding.) But the sad thing is now you’ll see there are lots more teens and kids biking on Northern Blvd as an alternative – a far more dangerous place – because they don’t want to deal with 34th Avenue hassle,. And I mean lots of immigrants here too and pretty sure they are likely getting pulled over in larger numbers on average (no statistical evidence, but anecdotal says yes to me.)

    So by doing this ticketing, NYPD is actually making it MORE dangerous for cyclists by having younger, newer cyclists riding on Northern Blvd. So much for VisionZero.

  • Kevin Love

    Clarence wrote:
    “Not because I am a rule breaker…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    If following a rule means risking my life, then that is not a choice I am going to make. The solution, of course, is to have sensible rules and a police force that does not have far too many vicious bigots whose behavior makes crystal clear their belief that cyclist’s lives do not matter.

  • Kevin Love

    I must disagree with the description “Scattershot.” In my opinion a more accurate description is “Bigotry, discrimination and leadership policies that cyclists lives do not matter.”

    I agree with the proposal made by Robert Wright: A large part of the salary of the leadership should be contingent upon meeting targets for traffic violence. If that is put in place, all of a sudden allocation of police resources will become data-driven and targeted at the most unsafe behaviors.

    Right now, the allocation of police resources is not data-driven but dependent upon the whims and bigotry of whoever happens to be in charge. Not good.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I can’t help wondering about the racial profile of your typical tinted window car driver.

    Anybody know?

  • Andrew

    Perhaps it has more to do with the common obsession police obsession with order, which is wholly different from safety. Bratton loves order.

    I don’t think that’s it. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with the disorder that characterizes the sidewalks in front of so many police stations. Not does he mind the disorder of motorists routinely obstructing crosswalks and not letting pedestrians through.

  • And of course minutes after stepping out my door and walking on 34th Ave. I watch the whole thing happen this guy was waiting at the light through the cycle decided to start with three seconds left in the cycle no cars coming in any direction. Cop pulled a U-turn to write him a ticket !

  • Yes technically he broke the law. But he abided in spirit waited for about 20 seconds until the countdown clock hit three – decided to get an early jump and go forth. There’s got to be 1 million better tickets to write in the city, cyclists going the wrong way, people riding bikes on the sidewalk, so many automobile infractions in Jackson Heights failure to signal, red light running, speeding, double parking but these are the easy tickets to write

  • I follow most rules. The number one thing is I don’t put anyone else in danger from my actions: pedestrian, other cyclist, or driver. But they are writing tickets for the most innocent of offenses, yet nothing for drivers in my neighborhood. I just can’t believe they are using under cover vehicles to write cyclists tickets. Yet – nothing for drivers. See top of article. Just walked out and they got a cyclist basically doing something I would similarly do, wait at a light. If no one is coming and not interfereing with anyone else, I might leave a few seconds before the green.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Looks like the same car from the other photo (trying to judge by the license plate). And it’s the end of the month.

  • AnoNYC

    Cops hate window tint because they can’t see inside your vehicle. Not sure if it makes a difference in officer safety considering that several states have no window tint limits. Debatable in that respect.

    You are right that it makes it harder for other road users to see where the driver is looking though.

    Window tint fines are currently already a fix ticket. If you remove the tint and show up to the precinct to prove it, the fine will be retracted.

  • walks bikes drives

    Same way I ride. Which is the annoying thing. Instead of using judgement and focusing on what will make the world a safer place, they just focus on the numbers… perfectly benign behavior, easy to ticket: here is your summons. Dangerous behavior, have to actually work to catch you: have a nice day.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately the police don’t understand the difference between following the spirit of the law, which is to give cross traffic with a green light the right-of-way, versus the letter of law. The law itself doesn’t make any sense either, and neither does traffic control infrastructure which often forces cyclists (and drivers) to legally sit there even when there’s no cross traffic. Either change the law to allow yields on reds, or better yet start using smart traffic signals which never, ever go red when there’s no cross traffic.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Cops don’t like giving tickets, and only issue them if they have to. Basically, NYC should have a civil enforcement agency to take these sorts of things out of the hands of the NYPD (aside from perhaps pulling over motorists at night) altogether.

    And Cops don’t like Mayor DeBlasio.

    So if the beat cop is told “go out and issue some tickets to help cyclists and pedestrians, who Mayor DeBlaiso likes,” what do you think is going to happen.

  • For officer safety, I’m not sure how big a difference it makes, but it’s a big difference for pedestrian safety. I always watch to see if a driver has seen me when I go to cross while a driver is making a right turn on red. I’ll knock on their window or hood if necessary. If they have tinted windows, I’ll always knock.

    I didn’t realize that’s how tinted tickets were implemented. But presumably, you can also pay the fine (or ignore the fine) and keep your windows tinted? Does it prevent you from renewing the vehicle.

    In either case, I don’t believe this is the case where I live.

  • Kevin Love

    For many years, this has been legal in Idaho with zero problems.

  • djx

    It’s a combination of:
    + auto-centric attitude (from working in cars, living in suburbs, plus American culture) with contempt for cyclists and even pedestrians
    + laziness – going after what’s easiest to ticket
    + bad direction from the top
    + bad incentives from the top

  • Guest

    Do you mean the ones they ticket, or all those who are extended “professional courtesy”???

  • ? Over and over again, conflating enforcement with Vision Zero. Way to make the words unpopular. Sweden’s VZ, the one that was the original success, wasn’t about enforcement at all.

  • James Lynch

    Considering the unmarked car it’s probably the local precinct’s traffic enforcement unit

  • James Lynch

    I can tell you for a fact that at least in Brooklyn North traffic court window tint tickets are not fix it tickets.

  • James Lynch

    Most cops on patrol in NYC aren’t trained to write speeding tickets. They have to be sent to special training done by their Highway Patrol unit before they can use a radar gun

  • JK

    Does the TA report mention TrafficStat, the NYPD’s traffic safety version of CompStat? In the late ’90’s, TrafficStat was a big win for TA because it held precinct commanders accountable for traffic deaths and injuries, and summonsing, using real time data and computer maps. I went to three sessions and was impressed with the sensible, fact based approach the cops were using. What happened? Did NYPD stop doing TrafficStat? Has TA stopped going to these meetings to see directly how the cops are managing traffic enforcement? I’m perplexed that there is nothing about this. Seems like a big step backwards. TrafficStat is the place where PD senior management could call precincts on the carpet for doing stupid, untargeted enforcement.

    PS Add Riverside Drive in Manhattan 125th to 165th streets to your growing list of places where cops give out tons of nonsensical bike tickets while speeders rampage.

  • AnoNYC

    Correction, could have sworn it was a fix-it-ticket. Been years.

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