NYPD Bike Equipment Checkpoint Snares Cyclists For Missing Bells

##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/dot_bikesmart_brochure.pdf##DOT materials## reminding cyclists to use lights when riding at night and to have a bell on your bike.

Check your bells, New York City cyclists, and check your reflectors. The NYPD looks to be stepping up its bike safety efforts — not by ticketing speeding motorists or bike lane blockers, and not even by citing reckless cyclists, but with checkpoints for improperly equipped bikes. Based on an initial report, the checkpoints seem more like an exercise in cyclist harassment than an effort to help cyclists ride safely.

According to the Village Voice, NYPD checkpoints to pull over cyclists for missing bells and lights will continue through the summer. One Voice reader commented on her experience at one of these checkpoints:

“He explained that this was a checkpoint for enforcing bike safety, and that I was about to be issued a summons for failing to have a bell on my bike,” she said.

“While this was happening, another car rolled up, and there were total about five officers on the scene, blocking traffic on Bedford and trying to stop every biker that went by. I saw several bike go by without bells who the cops didn’t get to, or who just plain ignored the calls to stop. I was corralled in with another young man who was stopped. He suggested to the officer that we leave our IDs and run to the bike shop up the street to purchase a bell on the spot. The officer denied it.

Having a properly equipped bike is important; lights and reflectors, in particular, help drivers see you at night. But the NYPD’s efforts, as the Voice notes, seem more punitive than supportive. While targeted motorist enforcement is often announced in advance — think drunk driving checkpoints over a holiday weekend, or the special heads up that often precedes a distracted driving ticket blitz — the NYPD is keeping its bike checkpoints under wraps.

“If bike checkpoints are supposed to encourage safety so that people get things like bells and lights — why not give some heads up?” the Voice asked the NYPD. “Some have said that not giving any indication beforehand makes it seem like the police department is more concerned with ticketing than safety.” The paper has yet to receive a response.

If you want to double-check your compliance with the city’s bike laws, head over to the Department of Transportation’s website.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t have a bell, but I have a horn. While the law clearly says “bell or other device
    capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least one hundred feet”, I worry that I’ll encounter some dumb cop who says “the told me to ticket cyclists without bells, and a horn is not a bell; tell that to the judge”.

  • KeNYC2030

    how safe our streets would be if the police applied the same zealous,
    no-discretion enforcement to motorists who speed, run red lights, fail to
    yield, park in bike lanes, pass too close, or menace other street users?  Cyclists are easy to catch and are still a
    vulnerable underclass without a lot of political heft.  This is slowly changing, assuming the NYPD and
    the New York Post don’t succeed in smothering the cycling boom in its cradle.


  • If the NYPD was really interested in the safety provided by bells and lights it would work with DOT to distribute these items for free at checkpoints.  Instead it seems as if the department is more interested in low-hanging-fruit police work and harassing cyclists with pricey tickets and court summons.

  • Anonymous

    I hope that from now on, in surveys asking people what is keeping them from riding a bicycle, nypd harassment is an options as well as the usual answers like safety, no safe storage, etc.

  • Anonymous

    This reminds me of the video from a couple of weeks back of cop ramming his car directly into a cyclist’s path.

    Police stop and ticket cyclists precisely *because* we’re not dangerous–especially not to them. But pulling over a car is, both apparently and statistically, a very risky thing.

    None of which is an argument against bikers using bells, blah blah blah.

  • bill b

    Tickets,tickets and more tickets , the new New York way. The police should just give out a warning to the offenders . Maybe we don’t have enough work for the police to do.

    Is it true that second offenders will have their bikes taken away and the offenders locked up in Rikers Island.

  • Anonymous

    I have a bell. I use it. No one responds. I don’t really consider it a safety device.

  • bicyclebelle

    Doug B-  Just for the record DOT did hand out free bells recently at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn side, during the evening commute. I should have known something was up and asked for enough for all of my bikes.     

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I have a bell. I use it. No one responds. I don’t really consider it a safety device.”Just a weak little act of revenge, as I ride at walking speed behind a group of pedestrians strolling down the Broadway bike lane ringing, ringing, ringing, ringing.”Maybe we don’t have enough work for the police to do.”We have far fewer officers than 15 years ago.  But we also have 2 1/2 times the U.S. average number of officers relative to population, and a below average crime rate.  So pick your metric.

  • USbike

    The bull is the motor car, no doubt about it and any effort to promote and enforce safety should be allocated according.  That is, focus most of the attention and resources on getting motorists to yield to cyclists/peds, not running lights, blocking bike lanes or crossings, etc.  Everyone has a responsibility, but cars have way more potential to injure and kill others.  

    That being said, bells (or some other sound device) and lights are a good thing to have on bikes used for commuting.  Countries like Holland and Denmark, where a very high percentage of people get around by bike, these two items are required.  I don’t know how vigilant they ticket people without bells, but they have been known to ticket cyclists without lights at night.  Most bikes sold there already have these items and it is well-known that they are required, so not many issues there.

    Cycling as a legitimate mode of transport has only begun to really take off here in the US. But most bikes still do not come with these accessories.  As stated by the Voice, there needs to be plenty of advanced notice about such requirements.  Bike shops would be the place to start getting the word out, followed by public awareness campaigns and a grace period before actual implementation. 

    There should be absolutely no harassment from police even after the grace period.  I’m a little indifferent about not having bells or horns; it does eliminate the need to shout or speak out.  As far as lights, I would only be okay with police stopping cyclists in the dark when/where it would make sense to have them.  It’s wouldn’t be appropriate to require all bikes to have them because some people may only ride during the day and yet others only for recreation.  I don’t like the idea of ticketing these cyclists, perhaps a warning or suggestion or even giving out lights.  The campus police at my university has given out lights to several of my friends for biking at night without them.  

  • Anonymous

    @qrt145:disqus  and more to that point, I can shout louder than most bike bells, so WTF?  I can easily shout 100ft.  That’s my device, this is a stupid law.

  • SafetyGal

    @8e087287ca32305264277fdf03c4bae1:disqus  NYCDOT gives out bells in the Spring (Ring in the Spring) and lights in the fall as the light changes every year. 

  • Anonymous

    I have a bell. I use it. People respond all the time–people on bikes, people on the sidewalk, and people in cars.

    Sometimes people shout at me angrily for using it. Sometimes (meaning, twice) they thank me.

    But lack of a response, not a problem.

  • Anonymous

    I have 4 lights and reflective tires, but no “reflectors” because they always get fucking stolen and I gave up. Are they going to ticket me for that? Probably

  • Reflectors are not required on bikes in NYC, except that bicycles being sold as new in NYC have to have lateral reflectors on the wheels. 

  • I’ve got a loud pedicab-style “ding-dong” bell, it gets the attention of others far more slowly and far less reliably than one would expect.  But as long as I have time, I always ring first.  If they don’t hear a few rings, I’ll use my voice, and I feel justified in being loud and sharp with my voice if they’ve failed to respond to the bell.  Of course, if there’s isn’t time for the bell, I use my voice first and only.

  • Ty

    I used to have a squeeze ball horn when living in Boston… probably 80% of the time, people looked UP when I honked.  They thought it was a goose. 

  • Danny G

    Though I have a bell that looks and sounds like a nice bike bell, I’m partial to bells that take the form of things that are not bells, such as food or animal shapes.

  • redbike9

    I have a horn. It’s manufactured by Bell. This should be fun….

  • Joe R.

    This is why I usually turn off the road whenever I see a police car parked up ahead. They may be just stopped for donuts, or they may be harassing cyclists. Either way, I’m happy to go a few blocks out of my way to avoid them.

  • ChevyLvrNy

    Exactly Joe R, I been riding in NYC for 30 years, I do have all the required equipment, However why have to deal with the Harassment, Just go around the block, Takes a minute, When you see Police hanging around in areas where Bikes are, Assume the worst, Also use extra caution on the bridges because your pretty much cornered.

  • Anonymous

    @f9b2cb395abd5a101456b3b0a40912e1:disqus what I have found that works in a situation like that is loudly saying “PLEASE” over and over again until you can say “THANK YOU”

    @dporpentine:disqus it works some of the time, but not enough to take my hand off the brake. 
    Should I be signaling, ringing my bell or keeping my bicycle steady? I never know. All I know is every time I hear a horn I’m probably doing the wrong thing. I shoudl have 6 hands and only be in bike only infrastructure and always move as fast as a car, but never faster when they are stuck in traffic and when I die it’s my fault.

  • fj

    New York’s finest is worrying about lights and bells on bikes and cyclist misbehavior in what is supposed to be one of the world’s most iconic cities.

    Really dopy garbage as we spew the filth of fossil fuel transport ever faster without end out into our open air and ocean sewers forcing accelerating environmental collapse and human civilization . . . instead of the cell-phone-like rapid transformation to global net zero mobility and many other crucial changes to secure the future of humanity.

    Bloomberg should know a lot better than to allow this lunacy to continue.

  • Max Power

    Not sure if it’s SOP in NY, but in NJ, an equipment violation for a motorist (burned out headlight, etc.) usually has a “grace period” where you can have the ticket dismissed by the police simply by going to the station on the following day with a receipt for the repair.  The idea is that they want to improve safety, not just get ticket revenue.  Why no equivalent for cyclists?  

  • Ben Kintisch

    Shameless plug – TA has some nifty strap-on lights that run for, I think, $5  a pair, and they attach super easily. They also can be fitted pretty easily to the front and back of a vented helmet.
    Yes, this kind of ticketing is aggravating, but I have to say that cyclists riding at night without lights are running a high risk of causing an accident for themselves and possibly hurting other cyclists or pedestrians.

  • Ian Turner

    According to Transportation Alternatives (in 1999), “You have 24 hours to procure the missing gear, bring it to the officer’s precinct, and the ticket will be forgotten.”http://www.transalt.org/files/newsroom/magazine/991JanFeb/lights.html

  • David

    A free light and bell program (or at least affordable) would be a better idea.  Can one have a whistle instead of a bell?  One should have the proper equipment, but I don’t put my front light on when it’s day time, it’s removable. 

  • Anonymous

    Whistles are explicitly forbidden by law. Lights are only required at night (specifically, from 0.5 hours after sunset until 0.5 hours before sunrise). See http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bicyclerules_english.pdf

  • Harald Kliems

    I have a custom, extremely lightweight and fairly loud bell: when you push my stem cap my mouth automagically emits a loud “ring ding” sound. It can also be set up to say things like “excuse me” or “on your left”. I suspect it’s not approved by NYPD.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “According to Transportation Alternatives (in 1999), “You have 24 hours to procure the missing gear, bring it to the officer’s precinct, and the ticket will be forgotten.”
    Don’t think any officer will be doing THAT anymore.

  • Let’s start the advocacy to repeal the bell law. That’s the solution to this nonsense.

    A bicycle bell is handy—I have them on 2 out of 3 bicycles—but riding slow and waiting for pedestrians to move aside is also an option. You could argue that it’s the safer option.

    Either way, the police routinely abuse the bell law to penalize cyclists just for riding bicycles, not for riding unsafely. This is exactly the danger posed by over-eager “safety” law that is not founded on any statistical research—Do bells actually reduce injury for cyclists or pedestrians? Who knows? Who cares! Certainly not New York City.

  • Station45025

    This is a perfect example of the anti-bike forces using the mantra of “safety” to punish and discourage cycling. It is precisely why things like the “jerk” campaign and calls by the DOT and others for cyclists to “just [slavishly] follow all of the laws,” even if those laws are totally irrational, are used by the cops and the Vaccas of the world as excuses to harass people rather than doing anything to further the cause of increased cycling or bike infrastructure. The wider the gulf grows between punative enforcement policies and any kind of rational thought process or evidence based policy grows, the harder positive progress becomes.

  • Station45025

    Also, I really think more cyclists should have airhorns attached to their handlebars.

  • Anonymous

    I think bells can be useful communication devices if you want to use them, but they are not safety devices. It’s hard for me to think of a situation in which it would be safer to put your hand on the bell instead of on the break. Bike bells are not the same as car horns, which can sometimes be used as a safety device, because the latter can be used without reducing your ability to stop.

    Lights at night I do consider to be real safety devices, because they don’t compromise your ability to stop and increase visibility which hopefully reduces the chance of crashes. I actually don’t mind the idea of tickets for riding without lights at night (with a grace period to remedy the situation). The thing that bugs me, however, is how few bikes sold in the US come with lights included. I bought a bike in Germany a some years ago, and I think every bike in the store came with lights, bell, mudguards, and rack or basket. But many people in the US tend to think of cycling as a sport, and of such bike parts as uncool stuff that only your grandma would have on her bike!

  • Anonymous


    It’s hard for me to think of a situation in which it would be safer to put your hand on the bell instead of on the brake.

    Why does it have to be one or the other? I spend a lot of my ride with my hands on my brakes and my thumb hovering over a bell.

  • Anonymous

    @dporpentine:disqus : you got a point there. I have to say that either your bell is better placed than mine, or your thumb is longer than mine! 🙂

  • Tallycyclist

    Hopefully most bike shops will take the lead on lights and at least recommend it to customers based on how they plan to use their bicycles.  When I purchased mine 3 years ago, they never those suggestions even though I specifically said this was going to be for commuting.  Nor did they recommend a rear rack or fenders (it came with a bell).  Had I not ridden utility bikes in Denmark before which had all that, I probably wouldn’t have thought to make those purchases on my own accord.  And then it would have taken a mud-splat or two from the back tire on a wet ride as a wake-up call.  That would have been unpleasant.  

    It’s amazing how consumers can drive the market.  Almost all bikes in Denmark are equipped with what would be add-ons here, plus internal gears, brakes, partial or full chaincases and dynamo lights.  I don’t see that ever happening here, as there’s more of a demand for recreational riding.  But many of these things make commuting much more pleasant.  Some bikes don’t allow you to mount things like full fenders or racks, but removable lights can easily be put on just about any bike and it really can be a safety issue at night.  


Vacca Lectures DOT on NYPD Delivery Cyclist Enforcement

The City Council Transportation Committee is on a mission to bring bike delivery workers into compliance with traffic laws, but council members appear unsure as to how to go about it. Concern over sidewalk riding, red-light running and other behaviors by restaurant workers led to the creation of a DOT commercial cycling unit, which is […]

NYPD Public Hearing on Parade Permit Rules Changes

The Police Department is unilaterally proposing to change the City’s parade permit rules (PDF) and under these new rules, the NYPD will have the power to stop any ten or more cyclists "proceeding together" if one of them breaks any traffic rules, law or regulation. Simply put, this means that you can be arrested for […]

Assemble for Rights NYC Rally

The Police Department is unilaterally proposing to change the City’s parade permit rules (PDF) and under these new rules, the NYPD will have the power to stop any ten or more cyclists "proceeding together" if one of them breaks any traffic rules, law or regulation. Simply put, this means that you can be arrested for […]

Eyes On The Street: Cyclists Ticketing Cyclists

Via Bowery Boogie, two photos of bike-riding NYPD officers writing up two other cyclists for running red lights at the corner of Bowery and Delancey. The Good: NYPD officers on bikes are not a sight you see every day. Bicycles can help police get around better in heavily congested areas and break down officers’ windshield […]