Eyes on the Street: Biking the Beat

Photo: Paco Abraham

Last week we shared a pic from reader Moocow, who spotted a traffic enforcement agent on two wheels in the South Slope. Today Dave “Paco” Abraham sent in this shot of a New York City police officer making the rounds on a bike.

Paco says that this officer left behind a trail of enhanced public safety as he cycled up through Midtown:

On Sixth Avenue… at 28th street or so, around 10:20 a.m. I came upon an NYPD officer biking his beat. It was thrilling and immediately brought both a smile and sense of calm to my commute. Not only was this officer getting a sense of frustrations and dangers every biker feels in nyc, he was in a position to change it. When a cabbie had inched across the intersection at 29th street and was then about to block the crosswalk… from his bike… he yelled to the driver “you’re heading north now.” It forced the driver to go uptown rather than cram into pedestrians who now had the walk signal. Then at the next intersection, as I had to swerve into traffic because cars were waiting in front of the hotel at 30th street, he stayed in the bike lane and cleared out each blocking vehicle.

I snapped this pic of him as he cruised up Sixth, between 35th and 36th, and wish I had a chance to give him a handshake and thank you. Without a doubt it was a surprise to see. Not only did it make me as a rider feel safer… I think it helped pedestrians immensely. Every morning, you cross the street and have to squeeze around or between cars that block the box and cause tie-ups in every direction. This officer didn’t need his gun, handcuffs, or a squad car… all he needed was two wheels to make the street safer.

It seems rare these days to encounter cops on bikes, but they weren’t always so few and far between. NYCHA police used to patrol housing projects on bikes, and under Lee Brown, who preceded Ray Kelly’s first stint as police commissioner in the early 90s, NYPD tried out a “cops-on-bikes” community policing program on the Upper West Side.

No time wasted sitting in traffic, more face-to-face interaction with the people you serve, and lower vehicle maintenance and fuel costs — what’s not to like about scaling up NYPD bike patrols?

  • Mike

    Wait, isn’t there supposed to be a bike lane there?  Is it just completely faded?

  • Brick

    I saw a trio of bike cops on the prince street bike lane a few days back. Felt absolutely great to see them, and I almost fell over laughing as each one of them made a left on a red light ^_^

  • Jeff

    I’ve always thought of bike sharing as the “nail in the coffin” for a more pedestrian/cyclist-friendly city, but maybe it’s wide-spread use of bicycles by NYPD.  Can you imagine an officer in a patrol car actually chastising a motorist for bullying pedestrians in a crosswalk?  Would NYPD continue to turn a blind eye to motorists chronically harassing and endangering cyclists if they, too, were on bicycles?  Would the Daily News have the audacity to bemoan the “scofflaw NYPD officers”?  Would there routinely be “no criminality suspected” if officers arrived to the scene of an accident on two wheels?

  • Anonymous


    After bike share, the powers that be will be begging for more bike infrastructure.  I foresee an ocean of new bikers taking advantage of thire increased mobility.  Tired of waiting for that cross town bus, well, here you go, you’re there in 5. 

  • Kevin Love

    The police officer seems to be riding in the door zone.  I would just love to be there when some moron car driver blythely hurls his car door open in front of the police officer.

  • Yep, it’s a door zone, but it’s also a striped (albeit faded) bike lane. DOT.. if you’re reading this… please re-stripe the class II lane on 6th avenue in the 30’s.

  • Eric McClure

    I have half a mind to buy a cheap Halloween cop costume and ride around on my bike shouting things at scofflaw drivers like “you’re heading north now; you’re blocking the bike lane; move along.”  Who’d know?

  • Mi

    Congrats to NYC for adopting bike cops.  Boston’s bike cops have been helpful paroling bike lanes.  I’ve seen them all over… Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville.  Here’s a recent local news discussion about the resourceful locking method of one Boston bike cop: http://www.universalhub.com/2011/how-bicycle-cops-secure-their-bikes

  • Matthijs van Guilder

    There was a Community Policing by bicycle effort in the 84th Precinct in Downtown Brooklyn as well. FYI

  • Anonymous

    I for one like seeing faded bike lanes, solely because it actually shows that they are becoming a part of the normal streetscape and arent shiny new hated-attracting spectacles.

    That one is a pretty good example of the sort of bike lane we should be replacing with better ones nowadays though. 

  • moocow

    I have tried a version of that, flat out lying to double parkers and bike lane sitters. I don’t say I’m a cop, but I do tell drivers, like I am on their side and confiding in them, that “They” (presumably the cops or the city) changed the fine for double parking to $300. And I like to throw in where applicable, the fine is double if you are double parked within 2 car lengths of an open curbside spot. It amazes me how often drivers tell me they have heard of this rule change.

  • moocow

    I caught up with a guy in the Jay St approach (can we PLEASE do something about that meatgrinder?) to the Manhattan Br. He said there was three of them at the 84 and they never ride in the rain. I thanked him and asked for more like him.
    I suppose 3 fair-weather bike cops is better than….um, all the other cops.

  • Lisa Sladkus

    I saw two NYPD officers riding up Amsterdam near West 72nd the other day.  There is one other officer on a bike from the 20th precinct.  I was thrilled to see two new ones.  I also thought it would be great security to wear an NYPD shirt while I ride…cars were very conscientious around these two officers.

  • Noah

    Last week I saw a pair of bike cops riding the wrong way down the bike lane on Willoughby in Bed Stuy. It’s better than not having cops on bikes….

  • Mad Park

    I continue to be amazed that NYPD don’t have more bike officers riding, riding, riding.  Here in Seattle we’ve had dozens just in the retail core for more than a decade; they are spread to other neighborhoods and parks as well.

  • Mad Park

    I continue to be amazed that NYPD don’t have more bike officers riding, riding, riding.  Here in Seattle we’ve had dozens just in the retail core for more than a decade; they are spread to other neighborhoods and parks as well.

  • Bikeback Policing

    The NYPD probably doesn’t realize it yet but this is the future of policing in Manhattan.

  • Mother Gaston

    1) I once saw a 76th Pct bike cop wipe out making too sharp turn after riding wrong way down a one way street– which as a cop he can do but everyone else should NOT save rare exceptions.

    2) I’d L-O-V-E a bike cop to ticket the 16 ** JACKASS ** cyclists I counted walking the north side Manhattan Bridge from 5-5:25 pm tonight…True, that’s a minor annoyance but no less so than all the whining fair weather cyclists made when told to go over the much W-I-D-E-R south side.Rhetorical Q: Where are all the cute little “volunteers” Ben or do you wrongly assume no cyclist would so goddamn stupid as to run all those gauntlets to get on the northside?

  • Ian Dutton

    I should mention that in several contexts (including enforcing cycling-related law violations), our community board has pressed the local precincts to return the Community Policing cycle patrols of “the old days”. Usually the response is that it’s due to budget constraints – there isn’t money for the training that’s required, and all cops have to be trained for squad-car operation. 

    I’m glad to say I’ve encountered cycle patrols a couple of times this summer and hope that they provide good examples of riding responsibly, in contrast with the vehicular-cops, who are without a doubt absolutely the worst examples of safe vehicle operation and law compliance.

  • velojoy

    My husband and I met and chatted with a bicycle-mounted officer in Flushing Meadows earlier this week; he said 4 officers are currently helping patrol the grounds of the US Open. Also, in London, we encountered bicycle-mounted EMTs (with custom panniers fitted with medical equipment) who help speed emergency care at public events where crowd volumes or tight corridors limit the movement of ambulances. Helping to support public safety with bike-mounted patrols just makes good sense for cities.

  • Tyler

    The gun and handcuffs help too… 🙂

  • Brendan

    Lucky for NYC to have such competent officers on bike. The police (yes, real police officers) that patrol downtown Providence by bike typically don’t wear helmets, ride on the sidewalks and ride on the left side of two-way streets. It’s truly embarrassing to see them in action.

  • Alex

    I had a disturbing experience with not one but two patrol cars in this area on sep 2nd. One car was parked in the bike lane on 8th and 53rd or so. I think one guy was getting soda. I made a bad joke and asked if this was a sting operation. He said he wasn’t going to ticket and I continued past. Then another squad car and this one zoomed past me and blocked me into the curb with no turn signals. I again made a comment about a sting even though the bike lane had ended a block earlier and went around them. I moved to the right side of the street as I am supposed to do with no bike lane and stopped at a red light at 58th. Then both cars pulled up beside me and asked if I wanted a ticket for not signalling my lane change. I asked how many cyclists they had given tickets to that day thinking of the countless people I see going the wrong way and ignoring red lights. He said only he only tickets the annoying ones and I should be careful what I say to the police. I did not get a ticket but this experience has shaken me completely. There cars say courtesy professionalism and respect but I rarely experience any of those things from the nypd.

    It is clear the nypd has no respect for cyclists. After this incident and countless others in the “bike” lanes on 6th and 8th ave.

    An officer standing in the middle of the lane puffed up and gave me a screw you glare instead of taking one step back towards the empty curb

    A mounted officer told me the lanes were a total waste of money

    Several officers have told me that walking in the bike lane is not jaywalking and not obstructing traffic and they can do nothing to ticket people or keep the lanes clear of pedestrians.

    And the most common response I have gotten from the police to any question or complaint is why don’t you just shut up and ride your bike.

    I have been riding regularly in the city for 4 years now and became a daily commuter two months ago. I will be avoiding the bike lanes because you can never win there and sticking with normal traffic since the speeding cars at least help keep the lawless pedestrians at bay.


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