An Open Letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

This letter originally appeared this month in Transportation Alternatives’ magazine, Reclaim. Author Steve Hindy is a member of the T.A. Board of
Directors. He and his wife, Ellen Foote, became
advocates of safer streets after their son Sam was
killed in a bicycle crash on the Manhattan Bridge
in 2007.

rasha_shamoon.jpgRasha Shamoon was struck riding her bike on Delancey and died of her injuries. NYPD failed to fully investigate the crash.

Dear Commissioner Kelly,

As you know, Mayor Bloomberg’s
PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New
calls for a range of projects to
improve mass transit, reduce congestion and
promote bicycling. The plans for transit may
be stymied or delayed by the recession, but
bicycling is booming in New York. DOT
Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is painting bike lanes all over town, and many commuters are switching from cars to bicycles
to save money, get in shape and reduce their
carbon footprint.

In 2008, bicycling in New York City grew
by 35%! The cycling boom means New
York’s Finest must recognize the rights of
bicyclists and accord them the same respect
that drivers of cars, trucks and buses receive.
A human being encased in two tons of steel
has the same moral weight as a human being
riding 25 pounds of steel, or one on foot.
A recent fatal crash indicates the extent to
which this is not now the case.

Early on August 6, 2008, Rasha Shamoon
was riding east on Delancey Street when she
was struck and killed by an SUV traveling
northbound on Bowery. Police interviewed
the 21-year-old driver and his two young
passengers who blamed the unconscious and
dying woman. No other witnesses were interviewed, even though several people reported
the crash to 911. No skid marks were measured. Remarkably, although the SUV driver
had six prior motor vehicle convictions, he
was allowed to leave the scene after giving a
statement. Shamoon, 31, a lecturer at Hunter
and City colleges, was the daughter of a physician who fled tyranny in Iraq in the late
1970s. She was by all accounts a wonderful
person and responsible bicyclist. Her bike
had front and back running lights and was
swathed in reflector tape.

There are many other examples.
As bicycling becomes more prevalent in
New York, police officers must thoroughly
and consistently investigate all crashes. Inconsistent and incomplete reporting undermines
efforts to improve the safety of city streets.
At the moment, crashes caused by negligent
drivers often are recorded in sketchy “aided
reports.” More detailed MV-104 reports are
only filed when there is physical contact
between cyclist and motor vehicle. This often
leaves injured cyclists with little recourse to

Breathalyzer tests should be required for
all involved in a crash. Street
locations and conditions should
be noted so that data can be
gathered to improve safety and
prevent further crashes. Red
light and speed cameras should
be installed at dangerous intersections. The NYPD should
commit to a Vision Zero policy
for traffic fatalities, and thoroughly investigate all fatal
crashes to determine a formal
finding of cause and responsibility. Those in the wrong
should be fully prosecuted.
I recognize that cyclists also
have a responsibility to ride
safely. Transportation Alternatives is undertaking a new
campaign in 2009 to encourage
lawful riding on city streets,
starting in Brooklyn. “Biking
Rules in Brooklyn” will outline
the rules of the road for bicyclists.

I realize it is not the
NYPD’s problem, but I find
it sadly ironic that the District
Attorney goes on the warpath
when a handful of people die
in dramatic crane accidents in
Manhattan while more than
100 pedestrians and bicyclists
die on New York City streets
every year.

Over the past 20 years, the
NYPD has made amazing
progress in making the city
safer for its growing population. There is no
reason why a focus on the safety of bicyclists
and pedestrians should not be an objective
of the next 20 years. With the population
expected to increase by another million by
2030, bicycling will be a critical element of
that “Greener, Greater New York.”

Steve Hindy

  • Respect the Past

    The police force’s negligence in properly reporting crimes against bicyclists is not solely due to lack of good policy but also due to lack of true empathy. This is not to characterize the police force as a cruel, brutal class of people that is completely unable to empathize with the common man. Rather, it is a product of most police officers being drivers rather than bicyclists. Therefore, too many have a windshield view of justice.

    In a time when budget cutbacks are drastic, if not draconian, a possible alternative to cutting additional police officers would be to replace police cars with police bicycles. I am sure once police officers become more knowledgeable about the daily frustrations and dangers of bicyclists from a first-hand perspective that they will respond to all calls for justice in a more equitable manner, no matter the mode of transportation.

  • Car Free Nation

    I often think that NYPD could reach the scene of a crime faster during the day on cycles. The actual size of a typical police district are such, that from the central office, an officer could ride to a crime in progress, without having to worry about traffic. Many times I see police cars stuck in traffic with sirens blaring.

    Police officers on bikes would be much better connected to situations. For example, we used to have a drug problem on our block, and cops would sit in the car as drug transactions occurred a half block away. If the cops had been on bikes, or on foot, they would have seen the transactions, and intervened.

  • I’ve always thought bike patrols would be a great idea. So would foot patrols. Unfortunately most NYPD employees disagree. Remember how they hated Mayor Dinkins when he hired a bunch of extra cops and made them pound a beat? The PBA knifed Dinkins in the back and endorsed Giuliani, the guy who made term limits look like a great idea.

  • J

    I have seen small efforts to get cops on bikes, but there is no clear push for this at NYPD. Is there a movement towards this? What can we do to push for cops on bicycle? This would be certainly be a positive step towards generating police empathy with cyclists, in addition to adding thousands of new cyclists to city streets.

  • JohnT

    It would be great if we could get more cops on bikes. We’d be able to employ the class of 2010 instead of wasting their training because we’d be saving so much overhead by using bikes instead of cars. Undoubtedly, the police themselves would be fitter and undoubtedly they’d be able to descend on almost any crime scene more rapidly. A better understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist in this town would be second nature.

    The truth is, this is the future of law enforcement patrols in NYC. We certainly aren’t going to have the money to do it any other way in the near future. The sooner we start, the better.

  • mark, i see foot patrols in my neighborhood almost every day.

  • > i see foot patrols in my neighborhood almost every day

    Where’s that? I moved to Bay Ridge two years ago and I’ve seen a cop standing on a corner exactly once. And I’m not entirely sure she wasn’t just waiting for her partner to finish grabbing a slice from the (excellent) pizza joint on my corner.

    I lived in Astoria for seven years and I saw a cop walking the beat maybe twice.

  • The cops are out. Each morning, I see several stationed in the two block vicinity of Mayor Bloombergs’s/former Governor Spitzer’s residence. Just a few blocks south of that, there are cops parked 24/7 outside Bernie Madoff’s place. And then there are the scores of cops stationed at Union Square once a month; I think there are a bike-mounted cops at those gatherings, although they can be hard to spot.

  • In the Dinkins era, I saw lots of cops on the streets of the Upper West Side. Today I see very few. The only spot where I’ve seen them more than once recently is the TD Bank at Broadway and 94th — the chain’s banks tend to get robbed a lot.

    When Dinkins ran for mayor, crime was still considered rampant, so one of his main campaign promises was to control crime by hiring more cops. He was elected, went to then-Gov. Cuomo, got the money, hired the cops, and put them on the streets of my neighborhood. After years of seeing cops on my streets at most a couple of times a year, I began seeing them several times a day. I was amazed — I hadn’t known cops had legs!

    When Giuliani ran against Dinkins for the second time, he cut an endorsement deal with the PBA. A year after he took office, foot patrols on the UWS dropped to their pre-Dinkins level — practically nonexistent. That’s how it’s been ever since.

    Incidentally, Giuliani also fired Ray Kelly, who implemented the Community Policing program for Dinkins. It still exists but appears to have been repurposed to depend less on foot patrols, at least in my neighborhood.

  • Sarah Goodyear

    Just saw this post on one of our Streetsblog Network members about how the police force in Lawrence, KS, is considering installing bike racks on cop cars “so that it would be easier for police officers to do bike patrols in the city.”:

  • Jason

    I don’t want to start an online brawl here and I realize that many of you are law abiding cyclists but I’ve seen enough ourside my office at 40th and Broadway who 1. don’t use the new bicycle lane created, 2. go the wrong way on the bicycle lane provided, 3. ride either “in traffic” or on the pedestrian island and 4. ignore all traffic signals, never slowing down and weaving between vehicles. When you’re being provided with what you ask and don’t even use it, what are the rest of us supposed to think?

    I myself have been run over by a delivery person (I won’t say what type of delivery, sex, race or idenifier since it shouldn’t matter). Cyclist going northbound on Broadway (it’s a one way south at 40th and Broadway) without a green light for those traveling in the correct direction. I’m trying to walk across Broadway eastbound when he slams into me. Should I have him arrested?

    Also, in my neighborhood in Bay Ridge, there’s a perfectly resurfaced bicycle path separated by benches from the pedestrian path yet cyclists insist on riding on the pedestrian path. (Located along side the Belt Parkway between exits 1 and 2.) How about cyclists showing a little love for the joggers, walkers and assorted other no cyclists? You’re quick to blame everyone else for your troubles but unwilling to accept that you’re as guilty of failing to adhere to the rules.

    I agree that motor vehicles should share the road but if the cyclist doesn’t obey the same safety measures the vehicles must follow, someone will get injured and it won’t be the multi-ton vehicle. I’m sure if a full study was done on MV vs. bicycle accidents, it would be 50/50 on who’s at fault.

    Thanks for reading.. oyu may now go back to condemning everything over 50 lbs.

  • Can you even live in NYC on a cop’s salary?

    Underpaying the officers means we hire dudes from Suffolk, who don’t live here and aren’t like us. It’s like a weird form of ’50s bussing, a la schoolkids, from poor to richer districts.

    It’s strange, I manage to blame both Albany and the NYPD simultaneously for this state of affairs. I couldn’t be more cynical about our chances for improvement, either.

  • > How about cyclists showing a little love for the joggers, walkers and assorted other no cyclists? You’re quick to blame everyone else for your troubles but unwilling to accept that you’re as guilty of failing to adhere to the rules.

    Cyclists as a group don’t have intention, individual cyclists do.

    Same thing goes for drivers, incidentally; not everyone piloting a 3K LB machine is irresponsibly bad at it.

    But it’s definitely not the law that cyclists must use the bike lane. I looked this up recently, but I fail at Google right now; iirc, the law says, you must use the lane if /you/ deem it safe.

    Often I do, often I don’t. That’s how it’s supposed to work, yeah?

  • Jason

    Kaja.. It might not be illegal but if you can ride in safety of a dedicated lane, why wouldn’t you use it? It’s better than being squeezed by the cars and trucks. If you don’t use the lane, why did the city spend all that money on building them?

    Yes individual cyclists have intention. Groups have the interests of their members and should work towards attainable goals and educate their members as well as non-members. More times than not, groups only think of themselves (see NRA) rather than another point of view. I’m just passing along my POV as a bit of contrast to the cyclists’ view of “We want to share but they don’t want to!”

    I’d be willing sit with you and watch on any street corner and count the number of cyclists weaving and riding erratically and causing more problems than the cars do.

    Trust me, I don’t hate cyclists. I hate careless drivers who weave and taxis who block up bus lanes, etc. The fact is that people are too damn selfish and think it’s their right to do whatever they want, when they want. If we all stopped for a minute to think what the other person amy be thinking, we may actually get somewhere as a species. Maybe we just need this guy Rob to spread the love give us all high fives:

  • > Kaja. It might not be illegal but if you can ride in safety of a dedicated lane, why wouldn’t you use it? It’s better than being squeezed by the cars and trucks. If you don’t use the lane, why did the city spend all that money on building them?

    We have this discussion every few weeks on Streetsblog.

    Conditions on the street change over time. One minute, your bike lane is blocked by a UPS truck; the next, it’s clear, and a car wants to do 30MPh, so you move into the lane; then you see a pothole, or a bunch of Chinamen or tourists waiting to cross the street by standing seven feet into it, ignoring your bell.

    I have a phobia about my fingers being crushed, as it’d destroy my income potential and utterly change my life; and I have a good friend who was doored by a cabbie and lost much of the movement in his right index finger; thus I am thus skittish about being doored. Bike lanes on the right side of the road adjacent parking are invitations to get doored.

    Thinking of yourself is only human. Thinking of what’s best for others is tyrranical. Thinking of how your interests can align elegantly with others, so that everyone gets what they want, is enlightened.

    Incidentally I’m a member of the NRA (or was ’til recently), watch it 😉

    I’m honestly inclined to take you up on the offer to sit and watch the street. Let’s make sure we bring a six pack and a camera. People are idiots, and their stupidity is only sometimes tragic; usually, it’s hilarious.

  • In fact: Sitting and watching Allen Street, with a _video camera_, and then doing it again at the end of this summer after they’ve JSKified that into a boulevard…

    This sounds like a spectacular early spring afternoon.

  • Ian Turner


    You said that you were recently run over by a cyclist. I’ve no doubt it was an unpleasant experience, but at least you are here to tell us about it. Would that be the case if you were run over by an automobile instead? I don’t think so. This is the essential difference between safety violations committed by drivers vs. by cyclists.


    –Ian Turner

  • Dude, “Chinamen” is not the preferred nomenclature. “Asian-American”, please.

  • Mike: Can’t I make objects of people, man?

  • somebody

    fwiw, there actually is a criminal justice expert/sociologist/ex-cop who has been calling for increased foot patrols:

  • As a lifelong cyclist, the one thing I really can’t stand, almost more than that homicidal dad who tried to kill me on my ride on Sunday (his kid was in the car when he told me I deserved to die because I had the temerity to ride my bike on the road), are cyclists who manage to break more traffic laws in ten seconds then Michael Jackson grabs his crotch in a 4 minute music video!

  • Yes it is!

    You know trees have s too and its not a dirty word.

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  • MOS Highway

    Among the comments on here that has stood out the most to me – a retired NYPD police officer is that from Mark Walker. Mark let me remind you of some facts – dinkins didn’t hire more officers to make us “Pound” a beat as you put it. “Safe Streets, Safe City” act was a federal program that demanded more officers be hired – Dinkins misappropriated those funds and placed teh money elsewhere – Community Policing was part of the Koch administration, NOT Dinkins. WE, the members of the PBA NEVER supported Dinkins – we actually demonstrated against him the the CCRB – due to changes that were absolutely wrong. Guilliani was supported by us in both elections he ran against Dinkins. Dinkins failed to properly allow us into Crown Heights – subsequently a neigborhood bruned due to his inaction. Kiko Garcia – look it up – one of Dinkins MORE confrontational events with us. A drug dealer was shot and killed by an MOS (Police Officer) and found that he, the officer acted properly – Dinkins flies this POS family in from the DR – and then – yepper revealed Garcia was a street thug – benefit of doubt – Dinkins. I could go on and on – but I believe I have debunked your states, thus impeaching your already impeached credibility!

  • I hope at MOS Highway’s lack of reason, articulation, and sentence structure don’t representat the rest of the force. See my comments above from six months ago about officer compensation affecting officer quality.



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