NYPD Would Like to Lecture You on How to Ride a Bike in New York City

Cyclists need NYPD to enforce laws against reckless driving behaviors, not platitudes from a precinct where motorists injure and kill with impunity.

Good thing there weren't any police cruisers blocking this guy's way.
Good thing there weren't any police cruisers blocking this guy's way.

NYPD and the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct have a message for New Yorkers who ride bikes: Be more like Officer Timothy Stamm.

Stamm, profiled in a short PSA the precinct posted on Twitter last week, is a bike commuter who knows it’s his “responsibility” to keep himself and his fellow New Yorkers “safe.”

“I always wear a helmet,” Stamm says in the clip. “I always obey traffic laws.”

Give Stamm credit for biking to work, but the cycling environment depicted in the video doesn’t square with the reality of biking on NYC streets, which is more dangerous than it should be due in no small part to NYPD.

In the PSA, every bike lane is clear of double-parked drivers and other obstructions. No one honks at Stamm, passes him within inches, or opens a car door in his path, safe in the knowledge that police generally don’t care when drivers endanger cyclists’ lives.

In actual New York City, street users who put others at risk aren’t on bikes. That’s true in the 19th Precinct, where drivers killed eight people in the last 24 months, according to data compiled by Streetsblog, and cyclists killed no one. Yet the precinct, with the blessing of Council Member Ben Kallos, has concentrated much of its traffic enforcement efforts on working cyclists, confiscating bikes while motorists injure and kill people every day.

NYPD could have produced a PSA from a cyclist’s perspective targeting dangerous driver behaviors like failing to yield and passing too closely — traffic violations that get people killed. But that would conflict with the NYPD worldview that people on bikes are by and large responsible for whatever befalls them.

And while it may be inspiring to see a cop follow traffic laws and wear a helmet, NYPD doesn’t live up to Stamm’s standards for safe behavior.

Imagine a video portraying a typical police officer’s drive to work: “I put tape on my license plate to avoid tolls and speed cameras,” the officer might say. Or: “I use my parking placard to park in the bike lane because I can get away with it, and it’s closer to where I stop for coffee.”

That would be more realistic than a lecture on how all a New Yorker needs to ride safely is a helmet and a strict adherence to the rules of the road.

  • reasonableexplanation

    “Fluff piece on bicycle safety produced by local police department fails to impress, news at 11.”

    “Fluff piece on SUBJECT produced by GOVERNMENT AGENCY fails to impress, news at 11.”

  • Pat

    He also “blew” through a stop sign at :23.

    Not that I have any problem with it, but perhaps the NYPD shouldn’t be promoting something they ticket for.

  • com63

    Also at that stop sign, he turned right from the far left side of the lane. Should have merged into car lane before stopping and then turning.

  • Joe R.

    “Wear a helmet and obey traffic laws” is the same tired old meme we’ve been hearing for decades. Neither will keep you safe. It’s victim blaming at its finest, along with a failure to acknowledge how traffic laws can make cycling unsafe and highly inefficient. It might be nice to have someone without the obligatory helmet do a piece of how you really need to cycle to stay safe (and that will certainly include “bending” traffic laws as needed).

  • JK

    Easy to slag this as ham handed, dorky, unhelpful and about 30 years behind the times, but it’s probably intended to show the cycling public that the cops feel cycling is a valid way to get around — because, look, even cops do it. Instead of snark and anger, would be more helpful to suggest what cyclists would like to see in an NYPD produced video on cycling. Related, it would be helpful if Streetsblog might actually acknowledge the obvious reality that a lot of people ride like complete jerks, do not yield to pedestrians, ride on sidewalks, ride the wrong way and generally irritate and yes, endanger other cyclists and pedestrians. Of course cyclists are a tiny danger compared to motorists, likewise people pissing on sidewalks are tiny public health threat. But who wants some guy pissing on the sidewalk in front of them? Who wants to live in a place where that’s acceptable and wouldn’t be enforced? From the general public’s perspective, and mine, there is a lot of pissing going on by cyclists, and that reasonable public sentiment is what the cops are reacting to. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

  • JK makes some valid points. Snarky potshots at the NYPD may feel good and appeal to the base, but how is it responsible journalism?

  • reasonableexplanation

    Okay, so don’t wear a helmet or obey traffic laws?

  • Joe R.

    No, I’m just saying neither of those things are a sure way to keep you safe, and in some circumstances both can actually make things worse. Acting like all you need to do to stay safe on a bike is obey traffic laws and wear a helmet is doing cyclists a disservice. Maybe “obey the spirit of traffic laws (i.e. those with legal right-of-way get priority) and “wear a helmet if it makes you feel safer” would make more sense. Then after that start with a long list of the tactics a cyclist can use to stay safe.

  • Brad Aaron

    “NYPD could have produced a PSA from a cyclist’s perspective targeting dangerous driver behaviors like failing to yield and passing too closely — traffic violations that get people killed.”

    Speaking for myself: As someone who doesn’t ride a bike, I don’t consider obnoxious cyclists a threat to my safety or quality of life. People who are looking for confirmation that cyclists are bad can turn to basically any publication in NYC that isn’t Streetsblog or Gothamist. We don’t have the resources to keep up with motorist-induced carnage as it is.

  • Brad Aaron

    I don’t see anything irresponsible in pointing out that NYPD has a different standard for a certain segment of the public than it has for another, or for its own officers. Especially when that double-standard gets people killed.

  • Of course there is nothing irresponsible in pointing it out. It’s the tone that is overly sarcastic and juvenile. By only addressing those who agree with you, you defeat your own argument.

  • qatzelok

    Thing is, if there aren’t any public toilettes anywhere, people will end up pissing on the sidewalks. NOT providing public facilities is criminal negligence on the part of those who are responsible for providing it.