NYPD Emerges as New Focus for NYC’s Livable Streets Movement

Arrest Her! T.A. membership coordinator Abby King tears up the streets on a "sport utility bicycle."

With their rampant illegal parking, refusal to enforce basic traffic laws and unwillingness to treat pedestrian injuries and fatalities with any level of seriousness, the Police Department is establishing itself as the New York City government agency most in need of Livable Streets reform (is that cheering I hear coming out of DOT headquarters?) Close to the top of the list of things that need to change: The way that the NYPD treats cyclists.

A few weeks ago we caught blogger Robert Jones’ story of being harassed and detained by police in Brooklyn for momentarily riding his bicycle on a sidewalk to avoid being hit by a city bus. While the police action was obviously excessive, riding a bike on the sidewalk is, technically, illegal so what are you going to do? If the cops are looking for an excuse to stop you, riding on the sidewalk will do the trick.

Now another story of NYPD cyclist harassment comes along and this one appears to be completely unjustified. Abby King is Transportation Alternatives’ generally law-abiding 23-year-old bookkeeper and membership coordinator. This is what she says happened to her on Wednesday, November 14:

Today I was harassed by four plainclothes cops and summonsed for disorderly conduct while riding down the Second Avenue bicycle lane in the East Village obeying all traffic laws. I was riding the T.A. Xtracycle and was forced into traffic by a black sedan parked in the bike lane. As I passed by I said, “Bike lane!”

The car, driving in the bike lane, followed me and forced me to stop by sandwiching me against the lane of parked cars. A plainclothes police officer jumped out of the sedan and began writing me a ticket. He claimed that I kicked his car as I passed him. But the Xtracycle is giant and
difficult to maneuver. It would have been near impossible for me
to kick their car and still keep my balance.
The officer did not put his name on
the ticket and wrote “Refused” in the line where I was supposed to put
my signature.

After handing me the ticket the officer ran back to the car and sped off. I caught up to them at the next light and again asked for their badge numbers and told them that they had mistakenly written “refused” on the signature line (they never asked me for my signature). Both the driver and the ticketing officer again refused to give me their names or badge numbers and drove off.

Pathetic. If you believe that you were harassed by police or ticketed unfairly while riding, tell TA about it. 

  • Glad to see this laser focus on the NYPD as the biggest impediment to livable streets. Once again, S’blog reads my mind (often before I do!).

    Please, though: fix the back half of the lede to read: “… the Police Dept is increasingly viewed by Livable Streets advocates …” As written, we advocates are the ones doing the illegal parking, refusing to enforce laws, etc.

  • fdr

    Abby should have taken down the car’s license plate number.
    By the way, Aaron, your grammar needs improvement. According to your opening sentence, Livable Streets advocates are guilty of “rampant illegal parking, refusal to enforce basic traffic laws and unwillingness to treat pedestrian injuries and fatalities with any level of seriousness.” You should have written “With the Police Department’s rampant (etc.)…Livable Streets advocates are…”

  • fdr

    Charlie’s a little faster than I am.

  • Thanks for the open source copy edit.

  • Hilary

    Even without a name on the ticket, it can be traced with a number because every ticket has to be accounted for. Give the information to the Daily News and let them track him down!

  • ddartley

    NYPD is permeated to the core with–make no mistake–HATRED for cyclists.

    It is a serious, serious problem that results in too many of them acting like thuggish, bullying, above-the-law police in the world’s most broke, third world cities.

    It stems largely, I’m sure, from the mere fact that cyclists often know the laws and call bs when they see it.

    But that’s what we get when we hire people for a pittance, isn’t it?

  • Hilary

    The best way to combat this might be to create a bicycle corps, similar to the mounted police.

  • ddartley

    Also, this is just based on my own narrow experience, but doesn’t it seem that when we hear stories about bad treatment of cyclists by cops, it’s almost always the relatively responsible, law abiding cyclists, rather than the real pedestrian-buzzing, speeding terrors?

  • Gwin

    ddartley: maybe because non-law-abiding cyclists know that they deserve the bad treatment they might get from cops?

    (a girl can dream, can’t she?)

  • galvo

    i don’t think the pedestrian buzzing speeding terrors get caught by the cops.
    kudos to abby for chasing them down and asking for the badge number and names.
    ccrb complaint should be filed next, as they are obligated to provide such information upon request by citizen. might as well add blocking bike lane to the ccrb complaint, they will have to justify the police activity that caused therm to stop there.(well i wish)

  • Matt

    Abby SHOULD have kicked that car. Get out of the BIKE LANE! Cops could at least be setting a better example for the hundreds of cabs and car service folks that endanger bikers every day in the bike lanes!

  • William

    “ddartley: maybe because non-law-abiding cyclists know that they deserve the bad treatment they might get from cops?”

    Innocent or guilty, nobody deserves bad treatment from cops for any reason.

  • NotAnIPhoneOwnerEither

    Here’s another obnoxious cop story for you …
    Last weekend, I was walking my bike across an intersection with my toddler son in the kiddy seat. Quiet neighborhood, quiet street, next to a playground, basically no traffic. A marked squad car with two officers on board takes a left turn in our path, without even slowing down, and I have to swerve/stop in quick order to keep from getting knocked over. Without really considering that it was a cop car, I shout “Ya know, you can stop.” Cop comes to stop, pokes his head out the window, stares daggers at me, then moves on.

    On the other hand, I was on my evening commute heading north on the westside greenway a couple of months back, and there was a flotilla of cop cars ca. Canal Street partially blocking the path. I stopped and asked them why, and whether they realized that they were creating a hazard (people were zig-zagging, stopping short, crossing into on-coming lanes, etc., even more than they usually do) . One of them (a sgt) replies very politely that he’s sorry, explains that it’s in relation to the president of Iran’s visit to Ground Zero, says he’s sorry, but their bosses are making them station themselves there, and that they’ll do what they can to minimize the impact. He was so pleasant and sane about the whole thing that I almost felt guilty.

    So, I think the moral of the story(ies) is that the NYPD is a population of nearly 40,000. It’s a mistake to reduce them to a stereoype of “bike haters”. If I were to compare the sorts of public-space interactions I’ve had with cops vs. those I’ve had with citizens, I’d say they’re not that different. Overall, I think they ratio of jerks:decent folk in NYPD is probably comparable to NY’ers as a whole. Granted, given their role in society, they should be better than the general population, but that’s probably expecting to much out of 40,000 people. Still, there’s no question that the institution of NYPD promulgates policies and encourages behaviors that are extremely counter productive.

  • Brownstone

    There is clearly a salary problem with the NYPD.

    The cops we need are not being paid enough,
    and the cops we got are being paid way too much.

  • Number 19

    Going into court to fight a Critical Mass traffic ticket, I get a motor scooter cop who flat out lies to the judge about where we were riding and what I was doing. This time I have a few photographs that show we were not where he says we were.
    These photos go into the DMV appeal and also into a CCRB complaint. He swore to tell the truth in court, he may be swearing a bit more later.

    The worst legacy of Bernie Kerik is not his impact on Rudy’s run, but the roll model he has been to a whole generation of NYC cops. Lie, cheat and steal, as long as you kiss the bosses – ring – (this is a family blog) you will get ahead. No, not all the cops are corrupt, but there shouldn’t be any.

  • I regularly ride the Greenway around Manhattan, meaning that to get from east 63 to the entrance on 35 at the FDR, I MUST ride on the most crowded, dangerous streets in New York, following the so-called “on-street” Greenway along York and Second Avenues (or First Avenue and York going uptown). There are no less than 4 entrances and exits to the FDR between 63 and 60 streets on York Avenue. Supposedly, an extension of the Greenway park will lead to an exit on 60th street, but meantime, a biker is forced to ride up the very steep hill under the 59 street bridge, while impatient motorists angle to get into or out of the FDR, or the gas station on 61. Oh, and the traffic cops don’t help. I admit to using the sidewalk in the interest of self-preservation – for various reasons, there are usually few pedestrians on this section of York. The traffic cops haven’t stopped me yet, but I time the signals well and go slow. The Greenway needs to be completed!

  • olafg

    Definitely seen plenty of harrassment, bogus tickets, perjury, and malicious enforcement by members of the NYPD against cyclists and residents in general, having myself experienced all of these as a result of legally riding my bike.

    Seen plenty of lack of enforcement against cars, including an unwillingness to pursue a hummer driver who’d left me unconscioius in the middle of street after driving right into me, even though i’d got the guy’s license plate, because “anybody could have been driving” even though i was able to give them a description.

    Have also encountered some rank and file who really dislike the department’s attitude towards cyclists.

    Would love to one day see the rule against idling a car engine for more than 3 minutes enforced!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Ahhh… Just keep on reminding me why I like Philadelphia over NYC and why I will continue to take my bike and spend my money on the weekends in Philadelphia instead of NYC!

    Mmmm…. Cheesesteaks!

    Also if NYC didn’t have so many cops then maybe they could pay each individual more. I read a stat that said something to the effect that the NYPD is bigger than the next 6 largest US PDs combined!

  • paulb

    Starting salaries for NYPD are low, but cops do pretty well after a few years on the force. Benefits are also outstanding, where else (except other gov’t agencies) can you retire with a full pension after 20 years of service?

    Maybe the new(ish) transportation commissioner could convene a cyclist/NYPD peace conference.

  • For what it’s worth

    I would also add that the starting salary for cops is actually what they are paid for going to school to become one.

  • ben

    had an bike accident last night at 7th and 34th where the cops really treated me like a criminal.

    i had the green light riding down 7th, but the peds rushing to get to penn station flooded into the road as soon as the cars had passed.

    even though i had lights on my bike and was shouting an alert, i was unable to stop in time and hit a woman who was waffling back and forth.

    she fell down, i went down hard, tangled in my bike.

    i get up, somewhat dazed and full of adrenaline, yelling that i had the green light and why are people walking, etc.

    seconds later, i hear “POLICE” and had my hands pinned behind my back by an undercover.

    he led me to the sidewalk, told me to sit down, told me i was under arrest, and used hostile language like “if it was me you hit, i’d knock your f***ing teeth out”. conferring with a uniformed officer, he told him i ran the red light. when i tried to argue my side, he repeatedly told me to “shut the f*** up”.

    interestingly, he asked me if i “rode my bike in manhattan on the last friday of the month”. i told him i didn’t ride critical mass, to which he replied “shut the f*** up”

    anyway, i’m a regular cyclist who rides safely, and have been commuting to work for years. this was an accident where i was not at fault, the woman i collided with was not injured, yet the cop was treating me like a criminal.

    he gave the woman my license info (“in case you want to sue him”), and i was released with no arrest and no ticket, but was quite shaken and intimidated by this guy, i felt like asking for his badge number would have driven him over the edge. i just wanted to get out of there.

  • Slopion

    “But the Xtracycle is giant and difficult to maneuver. It would have been near impossible for me to kick their car and still keep my balance.”

    Yet from the Xtracycle web site: “…your bike is still lightweight and fast, and because the load is centered between your two wheels, the whole package handles with ease.”

    Sorry to hear it doesn’t come as advertised. They look cool. Would love to take one of those shopping.

    Not surprised, unfortunately, to hear about the obnoxious cops. I encounter marked PD cars blocking and driving in bike lanes all the time.

    (That said, Andy B, I’ll take NYC’s safety over Philly’s anyday.)

  • Ben,

    Shoot an email to tips@streetsblog.org, would you?

  • ddartley

    NotAnIPhoneOwnerEither, I am sorry if my words sounded like I was promoting a stereotype against cops; despite all their bad behavior I hear about, I do always try, for many reasons, not to actually promote stereotypes, and never accuse “all” of them of anythying. Just a while back, a cop friend told me he’s a former T.A. member himself.

    Nevertheless, the hatred towards cyclists widespread through NYPD remains a serious, serious problem as evidenced by Ben’s blood-boiling story, and it MUST be addressed by the City. MANY, many of them (not “all”) act like bullying criminal thugs. Someone ought to tell them that the police force is not a gang, but a body of uniformed civil servants who should be proud to set an example of following laws.

    Here’s a suggestion:

    Their name tags and badge numbers should be huge,

    so you don’t even have to have the inherently confrontational conversation of asking for them. I see no reason for NYPD to resist such a change–unless they have things to be ashamed of.

  • law-abiding

    A suggestion:
    Everyone who reads this story should Email the link for this story and thread to the League of American Bicyclists, who recently granted NYC a bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community award. NYC had to apply for the award–it’s not just handed out. The LAB was made well aware of NYPD’s hostility towards cyclists (and not just CM cyclists), lack of enforcement against parking in bike lanes and bike paths, the rank & file’s ignorance of traffic laws pertaining to cycling, their tendency to write bogus tickets and make up new laws for them, and their refusal to do serious crash investigations where cyclists are involved. And yet the LAB overlooked all this data in giving out the award to NYC.
    The head of the LAB’s Bicycle Friendly Community’s program is Bill Nestor, bill at bikeleague dot org. The executive director is Andy Clarke, andy at bikeleague dot org .

    The Bicycle Friendly Community award should actually mean something, and should have some standards. The LAB missed an opportunity to use its clout to hold the city’s feet to the fire over NYPD’s treatment of cyclists. Let the LAB know that its silence allows this stuff to continue, and undermines its own position as a national voice for cyclists.

    law-abiding (does law mean law, or league of american wheelmen?)

  • law-abiding

    Oops — in the previous post that should read
    Bill Nesper, not Bill Nestor. But the email address is the same.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    At least in Philly I know its the criminals I need to look out for and not the homicidal auto drivers nor those that have sworn an oath to serve and protect. Well they have homicidal auto drivers there too but they seem to know how to lookout for cyclists alot better than those in NYC.

    But this is besides the point. The real point of my message is that the NYPD has such a bad reputation concerning cyclists I personally prefer to go to Philly so I do not have to worry about getting into a scrape with a NY cop and therefore end up SPENDING MY MONEY THERE! I’m quite sure I’m not the only one. NYC is loosing out on some dollars, even if the money figures are minor, because of its Police so openly hostile to cyclists.

    My one very minor interaction with NYC cop while on a bike only reinforces my opinion from what I’ve heard from others. I was in the city back in October and very politely asked a beat cop some directions. He responded nicely enough but as I walked away with my bike on the sidewalk I could overhear him talking to his partner about the legality of me walking my bike on sidewalk. I could tell from what I heard they were possibly looking to bust me for something just because they could.

    No big deal but I don’t know if I want to come back to NYC with my bike to go site seeing, bar hoping, etc. anytime soon.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Bar hopping! Hmmm… Hoping for a bar??

  • Harlem

    While riding home late one Sunday evening I avoided garbage and hopped on the curb. Immediately, was pulled over by a female officer who said, “get off the bike and show me id”. As I watched across the street and saw someone double parked in front of a hydrant and wondered why the person who had spilled all the garbage wasn’t ticketed. I asked this to the officer who was too busy writing me a ticket. I did a little research and the ticket ended up being throw out of court because she gave me a court date of a Sunday and bike tickets should not be heard in Criminal Court.

  • cvarrick

    Let me preface this by saying:

    They way you were treated by police is shameful.

    Any cyclist realizes how frustrating it can be when pedestrians cross against the light and generally make unpredictable movements. I’ve certainly done my share of cursing after a near miss.

    Riding in a sea of 4000lb fast-moving objects tends to get the adrenaline flowing.


    If you’ve been commuting for years you know people are going to be crossing 7th and 34th (or any corner) regardless of what color the light is.

    You were unable to slow your vehicle to avoid colliding with a pedestrian. It could be said you were not riding “safely”, you were riding too fast.

    Exchange “car” for “bike” in your post and we’re left with exactly the kind of “driver runs over pedestrian and nothing happens” story that’s reported everyday.

    Superseding any legal regulation for operating a car/bike/helicopter/whatever should be the general humanistic “do everything possible not to injure/kill someone” rule.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Exchange “car” for “bike” in your post and we’re left with exactly the kind of “driver runs over pedestrian and nothing happens” story that’s reported everyday.

    You’re leaving out one big difference, C. The pedestrian was uninjured.

    I’m trying to imagine a cop pulling over a motorist who’d just hit a pedestrian and treating them with that kind of contempt and intimidation. The only way I could imagine it is if the motorist is a member of some unpopular minority group.

  • ddartley

    Not presuming to blame Ben for his collision, but a suggestion for all cyclists approaching such busey, jay-walked pedestrians:

    YELL, “Heads up!”

    I have a feeling that cyclists don’t vocalize enough in such situations because they don’t know the right thing to say. “Excuse me” doesn’t work (or feel right), and bells aren’t well heard. But buzzing without any warning, no matter how bad peds are, is asinine b.s. that hurts us all.

    I recommend trying “heads up,” nice and loud. It’s not terribly impolite, and it’s quick.

    Of course every cyclist is entitled to get mad in such situations from time to time. In those instances, try yelling “Car!”

    (that’s a joke (sort of), but I’m serious about trying “heads up.”)

  • cvarrick

    I’m certainly not excusing the police behavior
    As far as the police, (who spend all day in cars) and drivers in general are concerned, cyclists *are* “some unpopular minority group” who are always ‘slowing them down and ‘getting in the way’ and should ‘stay on the sidewalk where they belong’.

    I’m trying to make the more general point that, as a cyclist, it’s easy to apply that same thinking to pedestrians and this seems contrary to goal of making streets safer for everyone.

  • ddartley

    Two very fun errors in my first paragraph above:

    I should have said,

    “a suggestion for all cyclists approaching such busy, jay-walked intersections”

    I myself have not yet encountered Busey pedestrians.

  • Steve

    Ben’s story is interesting, particularly the part about the cop asking him if he is associated with Critical Mass. I will sometimes give pedestrians of the type he describes a tongue-lashing, but I make sure never to hit them. I think bicyclists probably have the same duty under the NYC law to use due care to avoid hitting pedestrians that motor vehicles do, even though bicycles are much less likely to injure. I think “heads-up” is a fair way to assert one’s rights in that situation and avoid a collision. In particularly egregious cases I will maneuver into the path of the oblivious pedestrian without the right of way, come to a full stop, and glower at them, or ask them if they see the “don’t walk” sign. Then they have to walk around me and deal with what I am saying, however fleetingly.

  • andy at bikeleague

    Thanks, law-abiding, for the advice on the Bicycle Friendly Community program. We’re well aware of the policing issues that are so fully, appropriately and well documented on Streetsblog and elsewhere, and that was definitely a factor we weighed in reviewing the city’s application for BFC status. And if it were just the NYPD we were reveiewing, I don’t think we would have been dishing out any awards for friendliness.

    But it isn’t. The application considers everything from the NYPD to the incredibly vibrant bicycling culture that thrives in NYC; it’s not just about what government does or doesn’t do. It’s about streets, parks, rides, events, training, crashes, levels of use, parking (or lack thereof).

    And, the program is all about inspiring and helping cities to do better. So you can bet that the feedback we give the city includes enforcement issues, and that if we get a chance to hand over the award in person we’ll bring it up as well.


  • Monts

    I was harassed by two cops in a cruiser a few weeks ago at 110 and Columbus. I was traveling east and I moved out into the lane to avoid some potholes where left by some building construction there. The cruiser flew up behind me at very high speed and whooped its siren. They were literally a foot off my rear wheel. It scared the hell out of me. When we pulled up to the stop light — they obviously weren’t in some kind of emergency situation — I asked them why they did that. The driver immediately got aggressive, asking me for my license. I complied but started arguing with them. I asked for badge numbers and they said that they would now give me a ticket. I said, for what? Avoiding potholes? I started taking pictures with my cellphone and writing down their names and badge numbers. Amazingly, the cop riding shotgun convinced his partner to drop it.
    I was shaking from the incident, being scared to death like that and having to deal with these assholes.
    After I rode off, of course, I thought of a good line: What part of Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect did their actions represent? “CPR”, the bullshit acronym painted on every cruiser in town.
    Good riddance.

  • Jonathan

    Did anyone read the TimesMetropolitan Diary column yesterday? At the end is a story of two motorists who were pulled over for making an illegal right turn from 42d St. They were able to get off by naming characters from a movie. I wish it were so easy for everyone.


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