A Tale of Intimidation From the NYPD Bike Crackdown

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The Central Park entrance where NYPD hit a cyclist with a $210 ticket Saturday for turning right on red. Image: ##http://maps.google.com/maps?q=central+park+and+Fifth+Avenue&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Central+Park+S+%26+5+Ave,+New+York&gl=us&ll=40.779697,-73.943653&spn=0.015923,0.061111&z=14&layer=c&cbll=40.784226,-73.958505&panoid=4qRpbR6kyqRoEvs8z5mrFQ&cbp=13,272.91,,0,-1.25##Google Street View##

A week after NYPD announced that the agency will be stepping up its enforcement of cyclists, stories are starting to trickle in to our inbox and the comments section about encounters with cops on bike detail.

Reader Greg, who asked to go by his first name only, wrote in to share his experience in Central Park this Saturday. It’s a pretty clear-cut case of enforcement that’s not going to discourage risky and inconsiderate riding, but will discourage the act of riding a bike.

At about 1 p.m., nowhere close to any window of time when cars are allowed to enter the loop drive, Greg turned right on red into the park from Fifth Avenue at the 90th Street entrance…

I rolled in to the Central Park entrance and stopped to adjust my computer. Two uniformed police were standing outside their vehicle. One approached me and asked for ID. I gave it to him and he sat in his car without saying anything. After about 10 minutes I asked the other cop what was going on and he said he was giving me a ticket for turning in to the park when the light on Fifth Avenue was red. After he gave me the ticket I rode north in Central Park.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of my encounter with NYPD. After riding about a mile in Central Park a police SUV parked at an on-ramp on the UWS started to follow me. It was obvious I was being stalked. Worried they were searching for any infraction I stopped riding and got off my bike. The police car turned on its lights and parked about 50 yards behind me waiting for me to resume riding. It was freezing cold so I had to get back on and try to make it home. The car continued to follow me.

As I continued down the road I saw a police minivan with about three police and six cyclists arguing (one of the cyclists was disabled and was using a hand bike). Seemed like they had stopped in the middle of the road for some reason.

When I got to the boathouse the SUV finally sped past me. Made it back to the entrance at 90th, completing one lap, and the two policemen had left.

Probably not the type of enforcement that’s a useful allocation of NYPD’s resources while people are getting hospitalized or killed in traffic on a daily basis. (If you’d like NYPD to pay more attention to the behavior that’s actually putting lives at risk, it bears repeating that a good place to speak up is your local precinct community council meeting.)

Aside from the intimidation going on here, sticking someone with a fine for turning right on red into Central Park is a good example of why applying the same traffic rules to cyclists that you’d apply to drivers makes little sense. There are plenty of cases where we’ve established rules that already make a distinction between cars and bikes. One of the most obvious is that bikes are allowed into Central Park during car-free hours. If the crosswalk was clear, Greg was not in conflict with any motor vehicle traffic or pedestrians when he received his ticket with fines totaling $210.

Anyone have stories to share of cops on bike detail?  Email tips@streetsblog.org. Tales of good or bad judgment both welcome.

  • Eric

    The question that remains unanswered is; was there a sign that said no turns on red?

  • J. Mork

    The default in NYC is no turns on red, Eric.

  • J

    Eric,

    I’m assuming you’re either joking or not from NYC, as right-turn on red is illegal everywhere in the city.

    Agreed, though, that cops intimidating cyclists and handing out petty tickets is a waste of resources and not going to improve pedestrian safety, cyclist safety, or really anyone.

  • matt

    That’s not the question at all. The question is why is the NYPD focusing their enforcement on actions that pose no harm to cyclists, pedestrians or motor vehicles.

  • J

    Is it just me, or are NYC cops incapable of doing more than one thing at a time? It seems like cops are given the assignment “Ticket cyclists” and they go out and look for cyclists to ticket. This is why it takes so much manpower to do this task and probably explains why they ticket for obnoxiously small infractions.

  • Judge

    NYC Traffic Rules and Regs. – the provisions of which “apply to all vehicles, operators of vehicles, bicycles…” – prohibit right-on-red movement except where posted otherwise; I don’t remember there being such a sign at that intersection.

  • Kurt

    Actually, I think the question is, can it be considered turning right on red if the street in question was not open to vehicular traffic? Can vehicluar traffic laws be applied to areas not open/accessible to vehicular traffic?

  • Chris

    I’m more concerned with the stalking behavior than the red-light running. Clearly they’re trying to intimidate riders.

  • Mike

    Why isn’t anyone pressing to change the law? Bikes are fundamentally different creatures than automobiles and there should at least be hearings on whether it should be legal for bikes to turn right on red when it poses no danger to anyone.

  • “…sticking someone with a fine for turning right on red into Central Park is a good example of why applying the same traffic rules to cyclists that you’d apply to drivers makes little sense”

    No Ben you are absolutely wrong! It does make sense to have the same rules apply to cyclists as they do to cars (even though “No RTOR” may be one of those areas where the law could be rewritten to allow bicyclists to turn right on red after STOPPING). The thing that needs to be different is a bit of police discretion. The police in NYC seem to have plenty of it for drivers that drive like lunatics and very little of it for cyclists lately.

    Do I think it was absurd for Greg to be ticketed for this? Absolutely! As long as Greg took it slow and proceeded with caution when he made his turn, he obviously was not a hazard to himself or anyone around (your story doesn’t mention how he made the turn BTW). This is where police discretion comes into play.

    What’s needed are better traffic laws that take into consideration the needs of cyclists, not statements that perpetuate the general public perception that bicyclists feel that they are above the law.

  • J:Lai

    Is anyone really surprised by this?

    If you have the time, contest the ticket and show up in court. The odds are that you will get it dismissed if you actually go in front of a judge.

    Also, try to note the badge numbers or at least names of any NYPD officer who summons you. You can file a CCRB complaint if they are intimidating or behaving inappropriately.

  • AlexB

    Ticket delivery people going the wrong way on one way streets.

  • Eric

    NYPD CCRB website – http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/html/who.html

    If I were greg I would contest the ticket and file a complaint about the SUV who blatantly stalked him.

  • Sam

    Ridiculous the police is trying to intimidate cyclists… aren’t their other crimes in the city that need more attention?

  • J:Lai

    Andy B, I half agree with you.

    Yes, bicycle riders must realize that we are not above the law. We can not justify flouting the law any more than drivers.

    The remedy, however, is not discretion by enforcement officers. It is a mystery to me why anyone would trust the discretion of the same officers who stalking, intimidating, blocking bike lanes, driving recklessly, etc. (And it is not true that drivers do not get targeted in the same way. Drivers get tickets all the time for behavior that is arguablu not dangerous, while others engaging in clearly dangerous behavior are not stopped.)

    The remedy is to change the laws, so that for example Bicycles may proceed through red lights after checking that the intersection is clear. Such changes take time and poitical effort.

    What we should work towards are transparent laws governing bicycle use that strike the right balance between facilitating travel and protecting bikers and other road users, and enforcement that is standard and precictable. What do not want are laws that don’t make sense, coupled with an enforcement policy which leaves it up to the police whether to act.

  • Streetsman

    No doubt the ticket is legally justified given that Greg proceeded through an intersection while the light was red, and the law explicitly prohibits that action whether on a bike or in a vehicle. However, it becomes evident how silly it is for laws to always treat bikes like vehicles when you consider it would be perfectly legal to hop off the bike, run through the intersection for about 40 feet while the light is red, and then hop back on and continue cycling. At even the most benign, traffic-free intersections with no vehicle conflicts, is such a ridiculous maneuver really all that our officials are willing to legally accommodate? In dense urban areas where there are traffic lights every block?

  • Tubulus

    The behavior of the cop seems ridiculously obnoxious in this case.

    HOWEVER, that intersection is very sketchy. There are usually cars parked right to the corner, and there are always people walking out from behind said cars as they exit the park (often with much-harder-to-see dogs in front of them). In an effort to improve cyclist/ped relations, please exercise caution going into the park!

  • Joe R.

    J:Lai,

    Changing the law to allow treating reds as yields is only part of the solution. The second part, if we actually want safe streets, is to push to have most of the traffic lights removed. They serve no purpose other than to allow cars to proceed at unsafe speeds. Take them all out so motorists won’t be able to drive faster than about 15 or 20 without risking a crash on every corner. A pedestrian or cyclist is ten times less likely to die when struck at 20 mph instead of 40 mph. Of course, the city won’t do that even if it’ll make things safer because it’ll lose a great source of revenue from motorists ( and now from cyclists also ), namely red light tickets.

    As for the enforcement, I’m really interested in hearing if it’s spread to parts of the outer boroughs which really haven’t experienced a rash of complaints against cyclists. Long term, yes, a change in law ( and definitely in infrastructure ) is in order to end this type of nonsense. Short term though I’d recommend remaining hyper alert for police. It seems if they can’t find a moving violation to ticket you for, they’ll try and find an arcane equipment violation ( i.e not having a bell, as if any motorist would actually be able to hear it ). It’s a shame the police aren’t going after truly dangerous actions, such as wrong-way riding on crowded streets, slaloming along crowded sidewalks, or running red lights through crosswalks full of pedestrians. The problem I guess is the police would actually have to work to catch cyclists like that. Most are moving a good clip. Many probably won’t stop if a cop on foot told them to. And a police cruiser might not easily be able to chase them given the congestion. Even if they do catch people like that ( probably mostly commercial cyclists ) half carry fake IDs anyway exactly for that sort of thing. They’ll give them a ticket, the person won’t show in court. Lots of luck issuing a warrant to someone who doesn’t exist. So the police are unsurprisingly going after the low-hanging fruit.

    A good strategy is to fight the fines in court, then pay in pennies if you do lose. Basically, clog up the system to the point where it takes ten times the cost in manpower compared to any revenue in fines. The city won’t listen to reason, but they’ll listen to dollar and cents.

    So I guess the question is answered-the police are doing enforcement against bikes the useless way.

  • st

    Contesting it in DMV traffic violations bureau court may lower the fine, but unfortunately it will NOT be dismissed (unless the PO is a no show.) The administrative law judge looks at these violations in an extremely black and white way–if the bicyclist turned right on red, he broke the law, end of story. Mike’s got it right–law needs to be amended.

  • car free nation

    Lucky they haven’t plowed the PPW bike lane, or I might have gotten a ticket this morning.

  • Eric

    “Take them all out so motorists won’t be able to drive faster than about 15 or 20 without risking a crash on every corner.” So your solution is to make traffic even more dangerous by creating a higher risk of collisions and pedestrians getting hit. reminds me of the saying “we had to kill the patient to save him”.

  • Joe R.

    “So your solution is to make traffic even more dangerous by creating a higher risk of collisions and pedestrians getting hit.”

    100% wrong Eric. I’m well versed in transportation engineering. They’re doing EXACTLY this in Europe now, even going one stop further with unmarked, unsigned streets, with GREAT results. When people don’t depend upon laws or traffic control devices, it results in more safety, not less safety. It forces all users to actually look for and negotitate at intersections, rather than blindly assume right-of-way. The only downside ( for motorists ) is they will no longer be able to fly along at 40 or even 30 mph. They’ll have to run at what amounts to the speed of a fast cyclist, or eventually get in a collision. Obviously we won’t go from lights at every corner to zero lights overnight on every street. We phase this in over a few months, motorists and everyone else will adjust. Ironically, for cyclists and pedestrians there will probably be very little adjustment. Most are already accustomed to just looking for traffic, then going if they can, regardless of the state of the signal.

  • Andy

    Seems simple to me. Don’t break laws, they won’t target cyclists, more people will bike, and the laws will eventually change in our favor.

    I find it funny that cyclists feel a need to cut corners like this to save time. If you wanted to save time, you probably wouldn’t be a bike.

  • Eric

    “I’m well versed in transportation engineering.” There’s a difference between being well versed in traffic engineering and having received the formal education and certification that qualifies you to be a traffic engineer. Anyone can read the literature, only some people make the effort to do all of the work.

    I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone who is well versed in law acting as my lawyer, well versed in medicine performing surgery or any number of industries. The same goes for transportation engineering.

  • They might throw it out. Something to do with the intent of the law.

    Turning right on a bike lane is not the same as turning right on a street with cars.

    It’s like if you got off your bike and walked the turn would you get a ticket for J-Walking? . . . stuff like that.

    Now, if you get off your bike in the middle of the street are you then J-Waling. i.e., the law is terrible, harrassment, is not good, is not just and does conform to the concept of rule of law . . .

    Further, were you making a right turn from a bike or a parking lane?

    Further, signage is not consistent around the city regarding bikes and is often up to interpretation.

    Cops often do not know the law.

  • Streetsman

    Seriously Joe I don’t think over in Europe that they’re removing signalization in areas with population densities of over 70,000 per square mile, on 5-lane streets that carry 1,500 vehicles an hour and have intersections every 200 feet or so. That would be chaos and gridlock. Monderman’s theories about adding uncertainty to the driving environment are fantastic but they don’t necessarily scale up to places like midtown Manhattan, and such streets would struggle to maintain even a fraction of the vehicle throughput. Yes, pedestrian safety should be the highest priority, but not fatally impacting vehicular mobility in Manhattan. I think the calls for a sensible balance here seem to be the more reasonable

  • #23 Andy, “funny that cyclists feel a need to cut corners”

    Funny, same with pedestrians, skateboarders, skaters, razor skooterists, etc.

    Bikes are much closer to these modes than cars.

  • m to the i

    There should be cases where bicycles are allowed to make turns on red after stopping. There are lots of intersections where traffic signals are not in sync with new bicycle infrastructure. I think the Manhattan side of the Manhattan bridge is the best example. Without turning on red, in order to legally continue on Canal Street to get from the bridge path to the Allen Street bike path, a cyclist would have to wait for the bicycle signal to turn green at the end of the bridge path to proceed a few feet into the intersection and then wait for the light to change again to continue straight on canal street to Allen Street. Its pretty punitive for cyclists to be forced to wait 2 signal changes to go through legally.

  • This sounds like a dubious ticket to me. That police followed the guy around the park after ticketing him just seems gratuitous. And creepy.

  • Joe R.

    “I wouldn’t be comfortable with someone who is well versed in law acting as my lawyer, well versed in medicine performing surgery or any number of industries. The same goes for transportation engineering.”

    No, Eric, people who ARE traffic engineers are doing exactly this with great results. I’m merely reading about it and reporting it to you. It’s time NYC started taking a more enlightened approach as it’s obvious the present system really isn’t working well for any group. Right now the system is optimized for cars ( even then it’s a poor optimization ). For other users it’s marginal at best. It’s time we made streets which work well for all users, not just the minority in 2-ton battering rams.

  • Andy

    @gecko Yeah… and they all follow similar laws. If you want to ride on the streets, you have to follow those laws. Your choice of vehicle doesn’t change that unless the laws specifically say so.

  • Joe R.

    @Streetsman,

    The very point of doing this is exactly to reduce vehicle throughput, especially in Manhattan. Why on Earth do we need to worry about vehicle throughput in a place where 99% of the people don’t drive, where real estate is hideously expensive, and most importantly where there are a bunch of other options to get around? What public good is served catering to this 1% minority? Delivery trucks, buses, emergency vehicles, yes, they’re needed but they’re not the bulk of Manhattan traffic. The bulk is passenger vehicles ( both private cars and taxis ). Neither are necessity there, just a convenience at best, a very costly convenience for everyone else.

    So yes, reduce throughput by getting rid of the lights, perhaps even ban passenger vehicles ( cars/ taxis ) when you do that. Commerce will be better than ever. So will public safety.

  • Andy

    Eric and Joe, the issue is that in the places where this is being tested, drivers are not above the law and are actually held responsible for their actions. They have a reason to drive slowly to avoid injuring others. The US is a different story. We have insurance so that if someone is hit, the insurance can pay for it. We have laws which aren’t held to drivers that maim and kill pedestrians. It would be mayhem to try to apply the same logic here, because for many drivers their actions wouldn’t change.

  • Joe R.

    Fine Andy, change the law. It honestly wouldn’t be a bad idea to permanently revoke someone’s drivers license if they’re at fault for killing or seriously injuring a pedestrian or cyclist. And auto insurance is a terrible idea exactly because it disassociates actions from financial liability.

  • Paul

    Damn, I miss Amsterdam where you don’t have to stop before turning right, since you’re usually on a cycle path on busy streets or small street where there are no stop signs. NYC can do better.

  • Eric

    “No, Eric, people who ARE traffic engineers are doing exactly this with great results. I’m merely reading about it and reporting it to you”. Like I said there is a difference between being well versed and being and transportation engineer. You are just regurgitating information that best suits your agenda and according to Streentsman he is reading and reporting information that disagrees with your viewpoint.

    But by all means read and regurgitate to me on cities with the same level of population density and automotive traffic as Manhattan and the boroughs that are getting rid of red lights on a mass scale.

  • #31 Andy, “they all follow similar laws.”

    Really?

  • Eric

    “Eric and Joe, the issue is that in the places where this is being tested, drivers are not above the law and are actually held responsible for their actions. They have a reason to drive slowly to avoid injuring others.” Care to give some examples, instead of vague conjecture?

  • Andy

    gecko, If you’re on a public road, than the laws do apply minus any exceptions.

    § 1231. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates.

    Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.

  • Andy

    Eric, but I though YOU were the one well versed in transportation. Huh

  • #31 Andy,

    Now let’s see a ten-year old kid has to get a drivers license must ride his or her bike, or razor skooter, or skate, or skateboard in the street; must not make a right turn on red whether on the sidewalk or in the street; oh yeah must stand in the street; oh wait; must not stand in the street except at cross walks; oh wait, must keep walking across street in cross walks, and if the light changes and that person is stuck in the middle of the street at a crosswalk that person is j-walking . . .

    Now change this to adult; some differences but not much; and, what about enforcement?

  • #31, Andy,

    What it comes down to is lousy law and lousy policy totally skewed toward maintaining local monopolies on transportation systems based on cars since other methods without armoring are not safe.

  • Joe R.

    “But by all means read and regurgitate to me on cities with the same level of population density and automotive traffic as Manhattan and the boroughs that are getting rid of red lights on a mass scale.”

    London is doing it to some extent in their 20 mph zones. Montreal for one hardly uses traffic lights on their arterials, never did. And frankly Eric, if you feel you need traffic lights just to tell you when to do a relatively simply action like pass an intersection, instead of just using your 5 senses, then I dread thinking how you might cope with an actual emergency situation where there is no cut-and-dried prescription on how to act. If you don’t hone your senses regularly, they’re not going to be there when you need them. That’s a fact.

    And my “agenda” is to avoid being harassed or fined doing what I’ve been SAFELY doing for the last 32 years to the point where I just throw in the towel and give it up. And to prevent anyone else in a similar position from having to deal with the same thing. I’ve never hit a pedestrian or motor vehicle, ever. I don’t operate right at the bleeding edge. I’m predictable even if I’m not 100% law-abiding. In short, I’m not a danger to myself or anyone else. I want enforcement against DANGEROUS, UNPREDICTABLE cyclists as much as you do. Sadly, that’s not what we’re getting now. I’ll bet good money despite your rigid adherence to traffic laws you’ll end up with a ticket anyway before this is over. None of this is benefitting people like you or I who have a good track record cycling.

    I’m on your side here, Eric, but please get off your high horse about “the law”. You’re playing right into the hands of the bike haters here. This isn’t about safety here because statistically cyclists are barely a blip, right up there with falling tree limbs or lightning in the number of annual deaths. It’s about incrementalism, continually raising bar cyclists are expected to follow until the bar is so high it’s just not worth riding any more. Do we need to reign in reckless cyclists? Sure. Are fines the best way? I doubt it. I think 3 hour safety classes taught by experienced cyclists would do far more. I want solutions which work. When all this enforcement is over, I’ll bet good money the streets won’t be any safer for pedestrians.

  • Streetsman

    I agree with what you’re saying in principle Joe, but I think you’d be surprised how much of the peak vehicle traffic in midtown right now is commercial business/contractors and deliveries/shipping, taxis/black cars, buses, disabled persons, and otherwise people who live great distances poorly served by transit options, i.e. those driving “by necessity”. Do you really believe this intersection would work at all without traffic controls? And not being able to maintain access for most of the traffic it carries now could be extremely problematic for the neighborhood’s overall prosperity. But necessity aside, I am dubious that at these high vehicle volumes the pedestrian safety performance would actually improve. It would be a mess. I suppose you could ultimately argue for the complete closure of midtown to vehicles, but is that really a practical response? We’re talking about making cycling more viable here through sensitive legislation and enforcement, not crashing the whole system.

  • Andy

    #42, Joe, How about require that the offender takes a LAB course within 6 months, otherwise pay a larger fine. Sounds good to me.

  • Joe R.

    Streetsman ( post #44 ), I’m not saying we can do away with 100% of traffic lights but we can do away with most of them, particularly in the outer boroughs where there is indeed a lot less traffic. Certainly an intersection like the one you showed needs *something*. I think perhaps a traffic circle would work well there instead of signals. There’s certainly the room for one. Yes, we need something where arterials intersect, but lights on nearly every minor intersection? No cities except New York do things this stupid.

    In lieu of closing congested areas completely to vehicles, the proposed but failed congestion tax might have been a better solution. But in any case, we’re at a quandary right now. We need to get around somehow. We have no room for to build more roads. Mass transit is stretched. To me it makes all the sense in the world to encourage cycling by making it both safe, and at least as fast as the alternatives. We can talk all we want about laws and safety, but the fact is the present laws and infrastructure make cycling pretty much pointless as a means of transport in much of the city. 12 mph cruising, combined with stopping/waiting for every light to average 5-6 mph overall, might work just fine for a 2 mile commute in midtown ( and you can just as easily walk that distance, anyway ), but it’s not going to work at all for someone going 12 miles one way from outer Queens or Brooklyn. Efficiency ( i.e. speed ) is a very important parameter in the transportation work, second only to safety. Unless this is our next focus, efforts to further bike use will get nowhere. I cycled 3168 miles last year, sadly not one mile of it to actually go somewhere. Lack of parking, congestion, other factors essentially make cycling near useless to me as a means of practical transport to places I might go. I would love for that to change in the future.

  • Joe R.

    “Joe, How about require that the offender takes a LAB course within 6 months, otherwise pay a larger fine. Sounds good to me.”

    A big thumbs up to that idea, Andy! What I mostly see when I look at cyclists points to a severe lack of proper training on bike handling, looking for traffic, and judgement. Some cyclists pick up these skills, eventually, but many remain clueless. A course by certified, experienced instructors would lend a lot of uniformity to cycling behavoir. And that’s what we need here – more predictable behavoir.

  • LN

    This is an old webpage, and the contacts in it are no longer active. But the procedures for how to respond to a ticket and the methods to fight it are still good.

    http://www.bicycledefensefund.org/summons.html

  • Eric

    “Eric, but I though YOU were the one well versed in transportation. Huh” No I never made that claim and Joe R. backed his claims. Where are your examples?

  • Joe R.

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