Does NYPD Understand the NYPD Bike Crackdown?

Page one of NYPD's two-page handout distributed to cyclists on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Page one of an NYPD handout distributed to cyclists on the Brooklyn Bridge

Streetsblog reader Hilda sent us a report of her encounter with two NYPD officers on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday evening, when she was handed a two-page flier explaining the rules of the road.

“A friendly head’s up,” said the first officer. “It is getting more dangerous out there, and we are doing what we can to keep it safe.”

The officer continued, and to paraphrase, said that I should not be surprised if I was pulled over for not following traffic regulations, like running a red light, or riding the wrong way in a bike lane, or on the sidewalk.

The officer seemed apologetic, and very friendly. I assured him that I was all for enforcement, and that I was absolutely confident that this was a universal approach, to target all unsafe and illegal actions, by cars and pedestrians as well as bicyclists.

“We will do what we can,” he responded.

Setting aside for a moment the questionable value of a bike crackdown when drivers continue to maim and kill unimpeded, it’s encouraging that a precinct at least has officers engaging — rather than harassing — cyclists. Thing is, the papers Hilda received cited city regulations for commercial cyclists.

It’s hard to perceive “Operation Safe Cycle” as a serious effort to reduce cyclist-involved collisions when beat cops, courteous as they may be, don’t know the difference between private commuters and commercial delivery workers. And it makes one wonder what, if anything, NYPD is hoping to accomplish.

  • NYPD is hoping to expend the minimal effort in order to appease the vocal minority which is anti-bike, continue to collect their paychecks, while continuing their brilliant failure to enforce traffic laws in any way that makes people safer.

    Lazy. They will receive no real training unless it comes from cyclists. Know your rights, know the rules, and lecture the NYPD at every opportunity. Community Council meetings are a good start. But the pressure has to be constant, and in the streets.

  • MRN

    No matter how you slice it, they’re still issuing citations to drivers, they’re not allowed to kill and maim “unimpeded”. Perhaps feature an interview with one of these drivers who is involved in one of these collisions and see if a criminal charge is the beginning and end of the consequences of these incidents.

    Overall I am continually disappointed by streetsblog refusal to look at these issues from an objective standpoint. All I read is “max penalty for drivers, look the other way for cyclists”.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    NYPD is hoping to expend the minimal effort in order to appease the vocal minority which is anti-bike, continue to collect their paychecks, while continuing their brilliant failure to enforce traffic laws in any way that makes people safer.

    Couldn’t have said it any better myself.

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    What do they hope to accomplish? Said perfectly by Mellow Yellow above.

    What may be the actual result? Unfortunately, if the crackdown continues for any substantial period of time, it will likely have a chilling effect on both overall bike riding and on the use of bikes as a means of transportation. Enforcement of truly dangerous bicycle behavior such as riding the wrong way, riding on sidewalks or blowing through red lights directly into crosswalks filled with pedestrians is quite appropriate. But the nonsense and easier enforcement regarding red herrings like ticketing those who yield and then proceed at red lights and stop signs, will just discourage many polite, safe and mannered cyclists from riding at all.

  • Peter F

    What will be interesting to see is whether this stepped up enforcement continues into the spring or not. In all honesty, there’s not a lot of new cyclists taking to the road right now and there won’t be until at least April. The ones on the streets now are mostly the hard core cyclists and unlikely to be particularly deterred by this crackdown. The new crop of riders that hatches every spring is another matter…

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    MRN – Let me come down on the side of advocacy journalism. Objectivity has its value but its not really what I come to this site for. Advocacy is stronger when it is reasoned and supported by facts. Objectivity does not mean equivalency. The present situation is that bicyclists get $200 plus fine for riding on the sidewalk and a driver who mounts the sidewalk in injures to people waiting for a bus walks. Granted most cyclists get away with an occasional spin on the sidewalk. So what sort of objectivity do you need to look at this sort of disparate enforcement to be illogical.

    Granted number two, some drivers do continue to get summons for their behavior. So what number two? My work requires a lot of windshield time and anyone who drives knows that you can’t go for more than five minutes on any major road or highway in the area and find someone driving in an unbelievably dangerous and aggressive manner. Some get written up but it is obvious to anyone behind the wheel that enforcement is extremely rare.

    And the “kamikaze” commercial cyclists are entirely harmless compared to the “kamikaze” livery drivers and the “kamikaze” truckers. All three have the perverse incentive of piece rate work to pressure their operation but who really presents the most danger? My subjective opinion is that they make a much better target of public ire than the truckers and livery drivers because they are more recent immigrants and therefor less deserving than those who got here first.

  • Bike NYC better be ready for a massive campaign of encouraging courteous riding and/or legal support come spring.

    Whatever you do, don’t come ride Critical Mass this Friday at 7pm Grand Army Plaza. There we are just asking for it.

  • BicyclesOnly

    During the Community Board 8 meeting last night, the Commanding Officer of the local precinct spoke about the NYPD’s citywide “operation safe cycle.” He didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of the differences in the laws applicable to commercial vs. non-commercial cyclists.

    It appears that NYPD is relying on the synopses of the traffic laws prepared by DoT and TA. While these synopses are far more accurate than the infamous NYPD “cheat sheets” that begat scores of bogus summonses to critical mass cyclists, no synopsis is as good as the actual text of the law. Cyclists should familiarize themselves with the actual text of the laws if they hope to effectively challenge a bogus summons on the spot.

  • MRN, why call for objectivity from Streetsblog, which doesn’t make claims to be objective, but not from the police department, which should apply the law objectively?

  • Given the number of “blameless” pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the last two years alone, I don’t think it’s subjective to say that drivers routinely get away with killing. Nor is it a stretch to say that most who injure and kill drive off without as much as a summons. Follow the links.

  • Driver

    “Cyclists should familiarize themselves with the actual text of the laws if they hope to effectively challenge a bogus summons on the spot.”

    BicyclesOnly, trying to explain the law to a cop who is looking to make numbers (of tickets) is probably futile in my limited experience with police. My experience is that the ego of (many) cops does not facilitate trying to explain to them that they are wrong and why. My opinion, and this is only an opinion for consideration, is to not say anything, as explaining the law to a cop who does not properly know it will just help them to beat you in court, as they can be better prepared for your defense. If you know the law better than the cop, using that is court might be your best chance at beating a ticket.
    Sure it sucks to take the time (usually off work) to fight a ticket, but if a cop wants to write you a ticket it is difficult to convince him/her otherwise.
    I am curious to see antecedent evidence from those who have received tickets, and fought tickets both successfully and unsuccessfully either on the spot or in court. Perhaps a dedicated page linked on streetsblog where people can share their stories would be helpful to riders. It could also help to pinpoint common ticket spots and times.

  • JK

    Streetsblog writers know enough to be very skeptical of police cycling enforcement. Personally, I’m a fan of targeted, intelligent police bike enforcement. Cyclists on sidewalks and riding the wrong way endanger and annoy others, and undermine support for cycling. I’d go out and wave my arms around for more cycling enforcement if: it was done in a way that actually encouraged cyclists to behave better; was done in consultation with DOT education efforts and bike advocates; was informed by police cycling enforcement in bicycling cultures like Copenhagen, Munster and Amsterdam; was sustained beyond a nuisance crackdown. But, I’d be exceedingly surprised if any of this happens under Ray Kelly. ‘d be equally surprised if the PD actually had a long-term plan or any actual goal for changing cycling behavior. Or, if they took steps to create a rational enforcement plan: measured before and after numbers of sidewalk and wrong-way cyclists and used this to try out different combinations of enforcement and outreach, etc. And guess what, in years past, Transportation Alternates proposed these things to police brass, and they were not interested. Cycling enforcement can work. But not the way it is done here.

  • Driver,

    I’ve beaten several tickets by calmly explaining to the officer why the law didn’t apply to my situation the way he thought it did.

    Two of the three times this happened, I was ghost riding my son’s bike for him. I explained to the officers that I was not violating the laws against “carrying articles”, skitching, or towing other vehicles (see sec. 29). Both times, the officers let me go after confirming that the bike was not stolen.

    The one time I got a summons, it was for VTL 1234, which doesn’t apply in New York City. The officer wouldn’t listen to me because he was on Critical Mass detail and was writing the summons off the cheat sheet. The summons was dismissed.

    People should definitely challenge tickets they believe are improper in court. But it does waste a lot of time and it’s better if the ticket never gets issued in the first place.

  • buford puser

    let’s see: a woman was pulled over by cops who were apologetic about writing her up for violations that clearly don’t apply to non-commercial cyclists.
    FYI, the PD doesn’t follow up in any way as whether summonses written by a MOS stand up in court; the (non-existent) summons quotas are just about writing, not about validity, which is not a Compstat metric.
    I’m reminded of the time when I was a bike messenger when a scooter cop followed me from Canal & 6th to Center & Spring, told me he had observed me commit several hundred dollars worth of violations (absolutely true) & then wrote me up for no bell, telling me to go buy a bell and go show it to the desk sergeant at his precinct house within 24 hours to get the ticket voided.
    In NYC, we call this “looking out”, not something to whine about.

  • Driver

    BicyclesOnly, thanks for the links and sharing your experiences.
    I had no idea you can get a ticket for “body not on seat”. That’s just nuts. I can imagine cops setting up on a steep incline and nabbing cyclists for standing to crank up the hill.

  • Andrew


    Drivers in NYC aren’t required to enter the road from a driveway without stopping first? Why not?

  • BicyclesOnly


    I don’t know what the rule is for drivers entering the roadway from a driveway, but I didn’t intend to make a statement about that rule in my prior comment. But it makes sense to me that they should stop twice, once before crossing the sidewalk, and again before entring the road. And in my experience they usually do.

  • In response to Joe R.’s comment in a related thread, I think that differences in wording in traffic rules, such as the use of “shall” instead of “should” in 34 RCNY 4-12(p)(1)governing cyclists use of bike paths, are significant and are ignored at one’s peril. I’ve pasted in the test of this provision below.

    As a practical matter, I think that Joe’s advice of riding on the outer edge of Class 2 lane except at the very highest speeds is a good one, except that on some narrower roadways, this creates a risk of sideswiping. The 34th Avenue lane in Jackson Heights comes to mind. when using a narrow road with a “dooring zone” class 2 lane like that one, I would just keep slow and vigilant, and move to another roadway and take the lane if I needed to go faster than ~7-10 MPH. But such lanes still serve a useful purpose for low speed travel–I have used the 34th St. lane many times when riding with my kids out to the Hall of Science/Flushing Meadows Park.

    I also think it’s not quite accurate to say that the cyclist rather than a police officer or judge who determines whether it is reasonably necessary for the cyclist to depart from the bike lane for safety reasons in any given circumstances. In the first instance, it is of course the cyclist’s decision. But if you’re ticketed for violating 4-12(p)(1), this will be taken as a cop’s opinion that it was not reasonably necessary for you to do so. And it you want a judge to disagree with the cop’s call and dismiss the ticket, you have to convince the judge that, objectively speaking, there was a “reasonable necessity” present that forced you from the lane. A completely subjective “I felt unsafe in the bike lane” (such as expressed in this video)is not going to cut it. If it’s not rush hour, and there’s little pedestrian traffic, the fear of an errant pedestrian darting into a curbside bike lane or path will probably not be deemed an objective one by a cop or a judge. On the other hand, if you can actually point to cars with passengers or heavily tinted windows in a curbside parking lane creating a dooring risk in an adjacent “dooring zone” class two lane, then you’ve got an objective basis to your safety concerns that you can and should raise–respectfully and calmly–with a cop or a judge.

    Key point: Application of the bicycling laws are highly contextual. Driver makes an excellent suggestion that folks should collect their bicycling summons experiences in one place. Unfortunately, when traffic court judge dismisses a summons, s/he is not required to write down or even state the reasons for doing so. So there is no piece of paper you get when your ticket is dismissed to demonstrate that another judge agreed with a particular argument or approach to the bicycling laws (unless you take an appeal beyond the traffic court). But I still think a wiki relating people’s experiences with cops and in traffic court would be helpful.

    34 RCNY § 4-12(p) Bicycles.
    (1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:
    (i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    (ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.

  • J.J. Hunsecker

    Much as I like streetsblog, the premise of this piece is simple wrong, fuzzy-headed thinking. Brad Aaron displays a near-stereotypical attitude of entitlement that many anti-cycling zealots complain about in us.

    Brad – how are “the rules” for commuters and commercial cyclists different when it applies to running a red light, or riding the wrong way in a bike lane, or on the sidewalk? It’s illegal, annoying and wrong no matter who does it. The cops should always write it up when they catch it. Saying that different rules apply to “us” is elitist at best. Is that what you really want to put out there?

    Your thinking is equally fuzzy when it comes to traffic enforcement against motor vehicles. Do you really think the police always look the other way when they see something dangerous? The police can never do enough to stop drivers from killing and maiming, but MRN is right — they do enforce the traffic laws on cars. And they do it in proportions well in excess of what cyclists can expect to experience with this crackdown. To complain otherwise is to create a straw-man for your argument and nothing else.

    I don’t know what the NYPD brass’s ultimate intention is. While their beef with Critical Mass is personal, I suspect that they want the complaining about “deadly bikers” to just go away more than to get cyclists off the road altogether. Either way, Hilda’s experience proves that beat cops don’t have to be looked at as the bogeyman. Sheriff Pusser’s right. Quit whining about things that aren’t happening and save your energies for the real fights. Oh, and walk softly and carry a big stick.

  • This post was in no way intended to suggest that commuter cyclists should be exempted from basic rules of the road, but to point out that police are handing out leaflets printed with laws for commercial cyclists to people riding home from work. While some of the same rules apply, a lot of them don’t. This, to me, is indicative of fuzzy thinking, and I don’t see how it helps achieve the stated goals of Operation Safe Cycle. (Also, for clarification’s sake, I don’t ride a bike, J.J., and technically am not part of the “us” you refer to.)

    Nowhere did I say that police never enforce traffic laws as they apply to drivers, or suggest that “police always look the other way when they see something dangerous.” As pointed out in my previous comment, I have followed and reported on hundreds of collisions for Streetsblog, many of which involved summonses or criminal charges, most of which have not.

    If police do in fact enforce traffic laws as applied to drivers “in proportions well in excess of what cyclists can expect to experience with this crackdown,” I’m all for it.

  • I live on Long Island. I am always deeply concerned about police action in New York City, because I can’t leave Long Island without going though NYC.
    I don’t ride in CM rallies anymore because I don’t want to go to jail.
    Sometimes, however, I ride my bike on Hillside Avenue into Queens, just to see what conditions are like in NYC. I need to make these incursions more often. I ride slow and look all around, to be aware of my surroundings. I prefer to yield rather than argue that I have the right of way.
    You guys handle midtown, while I hack away at eastern Queens. we’re all in this together.

  • J.J. Hunsecker


    You say that some of the same rules apply, but a lot of them don’t.

    I’m sure that’s true if you go deep into the regulation, like proper identification and use of signage on commercial bikes. But please be realistic. The police are only going after the biggies – running red lights, going the wrong way down bike lanes and one way streets, failure to yield to pedestrians. Please explain to me how their enforcement for commuters committing those offenses should differ from that for commercial cyclists?

    While you didn’t say the police look the other way about motorists who hit people, you did “question the value of a bike crackdown when drivers continue to maim and kill unimpeded.”

    I’m not willing to agree that such things ALWAYS go on, or are NYPD unofficial policy. The police are out there, which I wish you would acknowledge — and I don’t even like cops most of the time. Still, I can’t solely blame the police here. District Attorney’s offices aren’t doing their jobs all the time either. And the general public’s failure to get mad doesn’t help.

    I’ll agree that there’s outrageous injustice. The latest atrocity in Brooklyn yesterday involved a doctor who hit two people on a sidewalk with his SUV, injured them, didn’t help (on advice from the lawyer) and got off without a ticket.

    If we’re going to get mad about this — and we should — it’s because too often the privileged (that doctor, cops, media, politicians, that rich scumbag in Colorado) get away with it. It usually takes someone unlicensed, drunk, on the lower socioeconomic scale and who actually kills for vehicular manslaughter to be a crime.

  • Brad and Streetsblog are not arguing that enforcement standards should be different for different types of cyclists. This post is about 1) the fact that these beat cops were courteous and nice, as opposed to the creeps we wrote about last week, and 2) the tone deaf-ness of handing out instructions for commercial cyclists, which include the regulation that they have to wear a helmet at all times, to bicyclists at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    The city has produced a clear, concise, graphically legible guide to riding the right way and obeying the law — see this PDF. Maybe they need to print out more copies, but it would have been perfect to hand out in this situation. Instead we have a small but telling example of how NYPD did not use the right tool for the job.

  • Driver

    Has the hand signal for a right turn changed, or does the person who wrote the pamphlet not even know the proper hand signal?

  • Joe R.


    It seems to me so far 100% of the enforcement is in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn areas like Williamsburg, all areas with heavy bicycle use. Given the limited resources of the police, I doubt you’ll see this city-wide. It makes more sense from a public safety perspective to stick to areas where cyclist violations are most likely to put pedestrians in danger.

    I ride on both Hillside Avenue like you, and also Jericho Turnpike/Jamaica Avenue ( NY 25 ) quite a bit on my rides coming back into the city. I usually take Union Turnpike going out. Back last year when there were supposed bike crackdowns by the police in October, nothing was any different on those routes. I’ll hazard a good guess that the police are generally sticking to roads with heavily used bike lanes for this enforcement campaign. The roads I mentioned not only don’t have bike lanes, but I rarely see cyclists on them, especially on the eastern parts. They also have fewer traffic lights than most inner city roads ( actually one big reason why I prefer them ), making it less likely for police to catch red-light runners. Even though I treat red lights as yields, I greatly prefer it if I can make good time but still do everything by the book. It’s one less thing to worry about. On something like NY 25 that’s relative easy, especially on the Eastern stretches where I’ve gone over 2 miles between red lights at times. On rides where I don’t leave the city I stick to things like the LIE service road which has lights about half a mile apart on average. Again, I can often go a mile or two between red lights. And if I’m forced to stop at one due to heavy cross traffic, it’s not a huge burden compared to roads where you might encounter red lights every 2 or 3 blocks. Oh, and most of my riding is between 9 and 11 PM, when there are almost no police around anyway. Hint-avoid the roads around midnight when there’s a shift change. Not that police are more likely to ticket then than other times, but there’s just more of them, hence a greater chance of running into one.

  • Joe R.

    “Overall I am continually disappointed by streetsblog refusal to look at these issues from an objective standpoint. All I read is “max penalty for drivers, look the other way for cyclists”.”

    MRN, I’ll break with the chorus here in calling for maximum penalty for drivers. I actually feel the police should look the other way for both cyclists and motorists for violations which technically break the law, but don’t put anyone in danger. That might be a cyclist passing a red light on a quiet street, or a motorist going 10 or 15 over the limit on a wide arterial during times of light traffic. I’ll even give a motorist who runs a long red light late nights a free pass, provided they stop and look before going through ( and I see this quite a bit by me ). It really serves no public safety purpose ticketing motorists/cyclists who do things safely, but may not adhere to every law simply because the laws are often designed for the worst-case situation, and the most clueless class of users. It also goes without saying that many laws are solely designed for revenue, especially setting speed limits way below the 95% percentile as is often done on highways. In that case, enforcement serves zero public safety purpose. In fact, it makes things worse. When some laws don’t serve a safety purpose ( i.e. artificially low speed limits ), they tend to be violated without harm. Once that happens, other laws which do in fact have a valid basis in safety tend to be treated casually, often with detrimental results.

    The roads in the US tend to be overregulated compared to other countries where traffic controls are sparse. I’d rather have fewer laws/traffic controls, but have the ones which do exist strictly enforced, rather than the current situation, which is many far too many unneeded laws/traffic controls, but sparse enforcement.

  • Joe R.

    @BicyclesOnly ( comment #18 ),

    What you say here makes sense. One question though-assuming there wasn’t any blockage of a protected bike lane, and a cyclist decided to ride at 26 mph in one rather than risk a ticket for 4-12(p)(1), I wonder if a cop would pull them over for “speeding”, even though technically they’re not? You’ve even said yourself that the protected bike lanes are really only safe for travel up to about ~15 mph. And again assuming the protected lane was not blocked, but filled with too many slower cyclists, would this be considered “unsafe” for a faster cyclist to ride in, hence giving them cause to ride in traffic lanes? These are questions I’m curious about even if they’re not directly applicable to my situation. Remember that the speed limit is 30 mph ( which ends up being defacto 37 mph accounting for speedometer/radar error ). Like a motorist, a cyclist has a legal right to travel at any speed up to the speed limit, traffic conditions allowing of course. So is traveling faster than is safely possible in a protected bike lane legal grounds for not using it? On something like the 1st Avenue protected bike lane, this is especially relevant. For example, in the last six minutes of this video (

    ), the cyclist manages to go up First Avenue from Delancy Street to 39th Street by riding fast enough to stay in the green wave ( his average speed on 1st Avenue was about 22 mph using Google Earth distances ). In your video using the bike lane at ~15 mph you got caught at a light after 13 blocks, averaged about 11 mph overall. Presumably you would have hit about 2 more lights along the same stetch. End result, it takes you 11 or 12 minutes to do what can be safely done in under 6 if you just take the traffic lane.

    My concern about all this as a cyclist is that I don’t wish for cyclists to be legally shunted into the “gutter”, so to speak, if it has the effect of greatly increasing travel time. Adding 5 or 6 minutes over just a 2 mile stretch of a commute is a very serious time penalty. Imagine similar time penalties, but over a 10 mile one-way commute. I’m not saying the protected bike lanes are a bad idea in general. They get people riding who otherwise wouldn’t even consider it. These new cyclists couldn’t keep up with the green wave anyhow, so the lane doesn’t slow them down. Long term though these new cyclists will eventually become fast enough to “outgrow” the protected lanes. Right now we only have a relatively small number of hard-core riders avoiding the lanes because they’re “too slow”. That will become a chorus in a few years as today’s new riders gain experience. Don’t get me wrong-I love the idea of separate bike infrastructure but not the way we’re doing it. Next step is completely grade-separated infrastructure, complete with ample room to accomodate both fast and slow cyclists. In the end, most of the poor behavoir exhibited by cyclists can be directly traced to lack of infrastructure. We need better solutions than those put forth by DOT.

  • BicyclesOnly


    In my opinion, which isn’t worth much, a cyclists riding the green wave at 22 MPH should be permitted to take a traffic lane on lower First or Second, because it is “reasonably necessary” to do so to avoid the actual or potential hazards likely to be found in the bike paths, which can’t easily be avoided at 22 MPH. I don’t know if a cyclist has ever succeeded in having a 4-12(p)(3) on this ground, but the defense is certainlyy consistent with the law. But ultimately, only about 10% or 15% of the cyclists are moving at these speeds, so the bulk of the cyclists should be happy to use the bike path. Even cyclists capable of cruising at 22 MPH don’t necessarily want to do so all the time!

    To mean an extra 5 minutes per 2 miles isn’t a big deal. I think it’s counterproductive to always measure my speed against the maximum possible. That encourages shortcuts and frustration with others on the road. I’m happy to just move faster than the subways and the cars, which is easy to do at 17 MPH or so between 8 am and 6 pm.

  • Joe R.


    I generally agree here. I don’t always ride at 22 or 23 mph myself. Sometimes I just feel like laying back a bit and only going 17 or 18. Sure, 5-6 minutes per 2 miles is no big deal on a trip of a couple of miles. On some of my 25 miles rides though it would add a full hour. Oh, and obviously in Manhattan especially it’s counterproductive to always measure your speed against the maximum possible. That’s likely to be a lesson in frustration! I’d probably just lay back, enjoy the sights, were I to ride into Manhattan. In Eastern Queens though it’s 100% recreational rides where I’m going for the fastest average speeds consistent with safety.

  • StevenF

    Driver #24- Bicycle right turn signals have included the option of using either the right hand out or the left hand up in the air, for several decades. It was initially obvious that car drivers cannot extend their right hand all the way out the right window (unless diving an English car), hence the upright left hand. Since there is no car body around a cyclist, extending the right hand is a no brainer.
    The DOT guide on page 8 has it right.

    There is a lot more to traffic law than the first sentence of a section.

  • StevenF

    Bicycles Only #18 and Ben Fried #23 have provided the details of the traffic law – Thank You!

    Nearly all of the news articles and even most of the guides to traffic operations have been far too brief – from poorly summarized at best, and at worst – nothing better than bumper sticker – sound bites.

    The Brooklyn Paper last Friday has a sidebar box “They See You Rollin” with “The Laws” or at least what the average reader would think are the laws. For bike lanes the only information is Cyclists must use a bike lane (when one is provided).” The Paper ignores the two paragraphs of “34 RCNY § 4-12(p) Bicycles.” that are qualifiers of the law and explain when and how cyclists may be expected to ride out side the bike lane. They are repeated here:
    34 RCNY § 4-12(p) Bicycles
    (1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:
    (i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
    (ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.

    Note that sub-paragraph ii states that conditions include “but are not limited to…” those listed here. This is an open ended essay question.

    Probably the one item we should have explicitly included when we wrote the law in 1978 was the Door Zone. There should have been mention of staying outside of the doorswing of parked cars – which means riding about 5 feet out from the cars. It appears that quite a few drivers see cyclists riding outside of the door zone and accuse them of riding “in the middle of the road.” Unfortunately, most of the NYPD and far too many of the Traffic Court judges/hearing officers have not read past the first sentence of 34 RCNY § 4-12(p).

    Even the Transportation Alternatives pamphlet “Biking Rules” has truncated the discussion of bike lanes (p. 11) so much that the power of the exceptions will be overlooked. TA’s mention of car doors is on page 14, and is not linked to bike lanes. The NYC DOT web pamphlet includes a strong mention and graphic of staying out of the door zones, but does not combine this message with how to place ones self along a bike lane.

    Essentially every section of the state and city bicycle traffic laws involve much more than the single sound bite tag line that is commonly presented. This is failing to educate both cyclists and motorists.

    What makes this a fatal flaw is the Zero Tolerance approach being taken by self proclaimed bicycle traffic safety proponents.
    The synonym for Zero Tolerance is Maximum Intolerance.
    Failing to read the entire text of the relevant traffic law, or assuming that they know the law from the Bumper Sticker in the news article, these “experts” are decrying cyclists behavior that is, in fact, perfectly legal.

    As I said above – this is an open ended essay question, and does not have a true/false binary answer. Sorry, life is not quite that simple.

    Set the intersection traffic signal issue aside for a moment, the most serious thing about cyclists on the roadway is that they sometimes force drivers to change lanes or slow down because “the cyclist is riding in the middle of the road.” That really gets drivers angry and/or scared. This is the basis for demanding that cyclists get off the road. Unfortunately, most of the time, a cyclist is taking the outer lane because to be any closer to the parked cars is unsafe. Cyclists are out in the middle lanes because there are double parked cars, because cars are preparing to turn so the cyclist swings wide to avoid being hooked, or because the cyclist it preparing to make a turn in the blocks ahead. All of these issues and more are fully justified in the complete traffic law. But you would never know that from reading the one line: “Bicyclists must use the bike lane!”

    And Red Lights, outside NYC, with Right Turn On Red, red traffic signals no longer mean stop and wait for drivers. In fact, for turns, they don’t mean stop at all anymore, just slow down and force your way in. It’s a messy system.

    Enforcement is useless without first knowing the law and second, having appropriate education to go along with it. Actually, good education is more important than the enforcement. It’s the education that will get cyclists and drivers to share the road, when they understand what compliance with the traffic law really entails.

    So let’s start with the education of the NY City Police Department – to to bottom. The lead of this this article is how the NYPD is handing out the commercial bicycle law to non-commercial cyclists. A few writer have tried to defend this, with a “So What? It’s a bike law, they all look the same to me.” No, the police do not know traffic law. They repeatedly write tickets for the wrong regulations, cite state law when city law applies, or just fabricate the entire incident. (I had a ticket dismissed on appeal for this, yet the cop was not sanctioned for perjury. They never are.)

    The cops don’t need you,
    and man, they expect the same.
    B. Dylan.

  • eveostay

    When I got stopped as a friendly reminder under the Manhattan Bridge a couple of weeks ago, the police gave me a 2011 NYC Bike map, which (I’m pretty sure) contains similar info on bike laws.

    -eveostay (formerly J. Mork)

  • Driver

    “Since there is no car body around a cyclist, extending the right hand is a no brainer.”
    Not for me it’s not. If I have to brake suddenly, I would not want to do it with my left hand (the front brake) and risk flipping over.

  • Joe R.


    The front brake is exactly the one you want to use in the event you need to brake suddenly. It takes me about four times the distance to stop using the rear brake instead of the front brake. You just need to learn how to modulate the brake. It may also need some adjustment ( I can’t flip my bike, no matter how hard I hit the front brake ). That being said, the idea of taking either hand off the handlebars to fulfill some arcane signaling requirement frightens me. The city streets are so full of unexpected obstacles like potholes that this would be a recipe for disaster. Besides, many times I don’t often know what I’ll be doing at an intersection until I get there ( i.e. if I can’t proceed straight through unimpeded, I might well decide to turn right ), so I obviously can’t signal my intentions in advance.

  • Steven F

    Driver and Joe R, one should try to signal in advance of a turn or lane change – it’s always smart to let traffic behind you know what your intentions are – if you can take your hands off the bars safely.
    Driver, use either hand if you want to – the law is not prescriptive.
    And by all means, keep your hands on the brakes as you approach the intersection and begin that turn if you feel you need the control.
    Controlling the bike comes first.
    But Joe, you sound a bit precipitous to ride behind. Could be annoying to cyclists and drivers if you always wait till the last second.

    With my car, the turn signal takes only one finger, and my hand never leaves the steering wheel. No excuse for not signaling. For some drivers that’s not possible, since they have their cell phone in that hand….

  • Joe R.

    “But Joe, you sound a bit precipitous to ride behind. Could be annoying to cyclists and drivers if you always wait till the last second.”

    Steve, my rides are 100% recreational without any need to follow a predetermined path. I generally just go whatever direction allows me to stay in motion. I usually don’t do things as suddenly as waiting until the last second. I can usually evaluate an intersection a few car lengths before getting there, and move over to the right if I intend to turn that way. That more or less signals my intention. I NEVER make sudden, spur of the moment LEFT turns. That’s a great way to get killed.

    I really do think LED turn signals make more sense than hand signals on a bike. I have yet to find any though that are visible and unambigous. Anyone have any ideas? I can program a microcontroller to flash the LEDs in any needed pattern if someone comes up with any good ideas.

  • CA3

    I don’t travel into Manhattan by bicycle much these days. When I do, it’s been usually to pass through on my way to more important locations. However, over the past few years I have noticed an increased frequency of stories detailing increased hostilities directed at bicyclists. Thank you for keeping us abreast of this disturbing and unfortunate trend.

  • ……..NY, (for a major city), is relatively safe to bike in, despite what a bunch of scared yuppie transplants are getting their panties in a bundle over….they don’t know any different. I miss being invisible on a bike, and not having to worry about stupid traffic tickets/ dumb bicycle laws. Way to take the fun out of fun.

  • ……It isn’t “getting more dangerous out there”. There are more people on bikes than ever. It should be the motorists responsibility to pay attention.