Will NYPD Enforce Cycling the Effective Way or the Useless Way?

The Brooklyn Paper reported today that police precincts across the borough, following orders from the top of the department, will soon embark on an enforcement campaign targeting cyclist infractions. A Streetsblog source who’s spoken to the 78th Precinct verified that a coordinated effort to step up cycling enforcement is in the works.

Suggestion: To avoid cycling enforcement based on windshield perspective, assign bike cops to bike enforcement detail.
Suggestion: To avoid cycling enforcement based on windshield perspective, assign bike cops to bike enforcement detail. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/joeshlabotnik/4054758508/##Joe Shlabotnick/Flickr##

We’ve written here before that from a public safety perspective, more cyclist enforcement only makes sense as one piece in a broader effort to police traffic safety, especially by targeting the most dangerous behavior on the street, like motorist speeding and failure-to-yield.

But it looks like the orders from One Police Plaza are just about cycling infractions. As outrageous as it is to see NYPD devote more resources to bike enforcement when kids are getting critically injured by hit-and-run drivers, there’s still a helpful way to do it and an ineffective, counterproductive way to do it. The question now is whether officers will recognize the difference.

Police could enforce norms that make sense — no wrong-way riding, no riding through crosswalks when pedestrians have the right of way, no biking on crowded sidewalks. Or they could catch people in dragnets, ticket every cyclist who treats a red light as a stop sign, no matter how cautiously, and otherwise harass people without actually encouraging safer behavior. What’s it going to be?

If you want police to, at the very least, enforce cycling rules with some common sense, I recommend attending your local precinct community council meeting. Each precinct holds one every month — a public forum to convey your concerns to the officers who police your neighborhood (find out when and where). The best thing you can do to get NYPD to pay attention to the lawless driving that’s really endangering people’s lives is to tell them about it.

  • dporpentine, it’s no more logically consistent than trying to advocate for bicycling by urging people to do what motor vehicles do, except on bicycles. If I wanted to behave like a motorist, I’d motor, not cycle.

    The only way to get People Who Hate Bikes Just For Existing to start riding bikes is to make it faster and safer to get from point A to point B on bicycles than in cars.

  • J.J. Hunsecker

    @dporpentine: FUNNY! Expect some hate mail, because it may hit too close to home for some.

  • david

    Which of the following should be tolerated?

    – Cars blowing off red lights

    – Cyclists blowing off red lights

    – Pedestrians blowing off red lights

  • Look people, TA is controlled by the Mayor. Yes, he put in a bunch of bike lanes, but he did so to create congestion for cars as much as for cyclists. Now he is going to calm traffic for bikes as well. He used cyclists against motorists and now that bad feelings have been created there are a bunch angry public ready to throw bikers under the bus! None of the bike policy over the past few years has made any sense. Cyclists were fine without gov’t intervention and yes, bikers should not have to treat red lights the same way cars do, but that should be changed legally. The reasons for red light do not apply to bikes the way it does to cars–that’s just common sense. Sorry motorists. Treating a red light as a stop sign has no impact on traffic or safety. I am a motorist too BTW.

    That said, there are some safety issues worth enforcing (sidewalk and wrong way cyling), however, the poster who was approached by police and warned that he might be ticketed for talking on the cell or running red lights demonstrates that like most things associated with this administration, common sense has nothing to do with it.

  • J. Mork

    “None of the bike policy over the past few years has made any sense. Cyclists were fine without gov’t intervention”

    Cycling has *doubled* since 2006.


  • ScottNYC

    Ticket the salmon and pedestrian right-of-way violations. Those are the most dangerous violations and cyclists who break those rules tend to be the worst of the worst. Cyclists who go through reds with no pedestrians around, it’s their life. And if you are going to ticket that, ticket all the pedestrians who cross against lights (every single one of you has done it in the last 48 hours).

    With people stepping out in front of my bike (even though they see me), jogging and walking in the bike lane, threatening me for no reason, and reckless drivers almost killing me every day on 6th Avenue – I might just give it up altogether.

  • @ J. Mork

    If you compare a 100% increase in riding with the percentage of bike lanes put in, you begin to see that there is no correlation. Besides, they’re always blocked! Bicycling should be free and hassle free as well, but I see it moving in the other direction. Soon we’ll be expected to pay for insurance if not other fees to cover infrastructure, which are not needed. Cycling is seeing a resurgence that is yuppie-wannabee related and not a bad thing, but to suggest that cycling never was until now is absurd!

  • J. Mork

    “ticket all the pedestrians who cross against lights (every single one of you has done it in the last 48 hours)”

    Nope; I have not passed any intersection without a bicycle in the last 48 hours.

  • J. Mork

    Okay, Israel. I agree to disagree.

  • Joe R.

    @Jonathan ( #46 ),

    Thanks for doing that little experiment. I’ve done something similar once, at 2 AM when there was absolutely no traffic to affect the results, with even worse results. On a one mile stretch of arterial, stopping and waiting for every light it took me 10 minutes ( that’s a 6 mph average, not much faster than I can walk! ). Doing what I usually do, slowing enough to see if an intersection is clear, and then passing the light, I did the same stetch in 3:10 ( average speed 18.9 mph ). I believe I only had to pass two lights doing this. If we wish to make cycling an effective mode of transportation, all this points to a need to either change the law, or to build a LOT more grade-separated cycling infrastructure to allow perhaps 95% of a commute to be done without encountering a traffic light. While some may point to Copenhagen with its 12 mph cruising speeds as an example, remember that this is NYC where outer borough commuters especially may need to cover much larger distances than a typical commuter in Copenhagen. 12 miles at 12 mph ( assuming no stops ) takes an hour. At 20 mph it only takes 36 minutes. That’s a serious time savings of 48 minutes on a round trip. In short, we’re now at the point where we need to think in terms of getting average speeds as close to cruising speed as possible if we wish to encourage more bicycle use.

    Your little test, and Israel’s post #57, both illustrate some points I’ve been trying to drive home. Cycling is already a hard sell in NYC given the crazy motorists, poor street conditions, often lousy weather, etc. Throw into the mix attempts to make cycling less efficient in terms of speed, and more costly via tickets, possibly even insurance, and many will just say it’s not worth the bother. Many of the bike haters know this. The unsaid goal is to make cycling as burdensome as motoring but without the benefits. Like I said earlier, none of this is about safety because bikes already aren’t a major public health threat. A red-light running cyclist is almost always solely a danger only to himself/herself, and then only if they don’t know what they’re doing. However, cyclist education programs could easily fix that problem. In fact, in combination with an Idaho-type stop law, I would love to see enforcement where any cyclists who run lights inappropriately are sent to a 3-hour class to learn the proper technique ( and also when they should and shouldn’t pass a light ) in lieu of a fine. This would go much further towards public safety than a draconian “if you blow a light you’re paying a heavy fine” campaign. The latter will only cause many people, likely including myself if it spreads to the outer boroughs, to give up cycling for good. Once that happens, we lose our safety in numbers, making it worse for those remaining.

  • Joe, you are dead on. Most everything has been said. The thing I would add is that the privileged pedestrian’s place ought to be maintained and not enough cyclists respect that. This is tied to another problem. Most new cyclists don’t drive in this city, so naturally they find riding in traffic disconcerting. It’s discouraged wherever in the country they usually come from and likewise a pedestrian is an unusual thing. This is NYC and the rules are a little different here. There is not the space for a network of recreational type paths and these are often useless for commuters who just want to get from A to B ASAP! Common sense policy ladies and gents, that’s what we need–this ain’t Copenhagen and it never will be.

  • J. Mork


    My employee just got ticketed for running a red light in Park Slope (5th av/6th st). $270 (4 first offense)!

    Is that more than running a light with a motor vehicle?

  • dporpentine

    You feel a need to break the law. Go ahead. But recognize that no responsible organization is going to support your private urges toward law-breaking.

    You might also sit around sometime thinking about the consequences of your urge:

    Does it add to the general sense that people who ride bikes are indifferent to the rules of the road and can therefore be treated especially cavalierly by other people on the road?

    Does it directly threaten other bikers? (I can tell you that at least once a a day some red-light-blowing nimnull pulls up next to me at a light just as it changes, thereby coming very close to crashing into me when I push off. And at least once a week some idiot blows a light and is on a collision course with me in an intersection; presumably said idiot thought that blowing that light was fine since I’m another biker and I too must believe that bikers are the one group of citizens who get to pick and choose their own laws.)

    Does it threaten all kinds of other people? What happens if a person driving a car overreacts to your blowing the light in front of them and pulls the wrong way, causing an accident? What if you miscalculate or hit a pothole or get doored and fall and end up getting hurt by someone who was doing nothing wrong? Obviously, you’re not worried about the dangers of that for yourself. But do you worry about the psychological harm of that to someone else?

    I know, I know–you’re the biker who blows lights but who always does it in a way so that it’s not just clearly safe to you, but clearly safe to all the other people on the road. It’s clear to them because, after all, they’ve all biked here as adults. And when they’ve biked, they’ve followed the dictates of inanimate metal and rubber–not the law.

    And don’t get me started on your experiment. I mean, the amount of time I save when I blow all the lights driving to work in my [nonexistent] car . . .

  • dporpentine, I’ve evolved my thinking in today’s postings.

  • Joe R.

    “I can tell you that at least once a a day some red-light-blowing nimnull pulls up next to me at a light just as it changes, thereby coming very close to crashing into me when I push off.”

    dporpentine, I wouldn’t blindly make the assumption here that the intention of cyclists like these is to necessarily run the light. When you ride the same roads often enough, you have the light timing down pat. Yes, I admit to carefully passing red lights, when I can, but never at full speed. Generally, I slow to 8-10 mph or less to evaluate the situation, then slow or stop as needed if I can’t pass the intersection. This is common sense-yield right of way to anyone legally entitled to it.

    All that said, I’ll sometimes see a red light ahead which I know will be green by the time I hit the intersection simply because I have the light timing down to the second. In such cases, I may well hit the crosswalk at 22 mph just as the light is flipping to green. Yes, I check for pedestrians beforehand, and will slow as needed to allow them to finish crossing. I’ll also check for cars on the cross street who may be trying to make the light. But if nothing is blocking me, I may well hit the intersection just at the moment the light flips at full speed. This isn’t illegal. It certainly isn’t red-light running. Oh, and if there’s a stopped or slowly-moving cyclist in front on me, I give them a wide berth when passing. If I can’t, then I do in fact slow down a bit to keep from buzzing them.

    Incidentally, I learned how to do this type of thing watching MTA train operators. They also have signal timing of things like grade timers ( google it-I don’t have the time right now to describe what they are or how they work ) down. I sometimes see a train hit a GT signal one foot before it flips to green. Really amazing when you think about it, controlling a 400+ ton vehicle with poor braking/acceleration with that precision. By comparison, what I do on a bike is child’s play.

  • Jimmyschweb

    Have bike cops ticket the bicycle infractions. There would be less confrontation and time for proper education and peer pressure.

  • John

    Just got a
    $130 for riding “wrong way” in Central Park…

    It did’t matter than it was 8PM, 25 degrees and nobody else in the park, that I was riding carefully on the LHS with flashing lights front and rear.

    If they change the enforcement level, they should first give a warning.


  • Guest

    It’s simple, if cyclists want to be treated as vehicles, they should ACT as vehicles. That means stopping at stop signs and red lights. Time you speed to the lights and you won’t have to unclip much.

  • I’ll post the same information to my blog, thanks for
    ideas and great article.


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