NYPD Issues More Tickets for Sidewalk Riding Than Speeding on Local Streets

NYPD issued more tickets for riding a bike on a sidewalk than for speeding on surface streets last year, according to summons data and court records.

The Criminal Court of the City of New York 2012 Annual Report [PDF] ranks sidewalk riding as the third most frequently charged summons, with around 25,000 issued. According to data scraped from NYPD moving violations reports, 71,305 motorists were cited for speeding in 2012, and 52,186 of those summonses were issued by the highway patrol. Local precincts ticketed just 19,119 drivers for speeding through neighborhoods last year.

Speeding was the number one cause of traffic deaths in NYC in 2012, according to DOT. A study released by Transportation Alternatives last year found that speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk driving and distracted driving combined. The last fatal crash caused by a New York City cyclist occurred in 2009.

The 25,000 figure represents criminal court summonses for sidewalk riding, and does not count cyclists who were ticketed for a moving violation, which is less serious. So the disparity between sidewalk riding stops and neighborhood speeding stops is at least somewhat higher than 6,000.

Last year was no outlier. The 2011 criminal court report [PDF] shows similar figures for sidewalk riding, and also ranks it as the third most frequently charged summons. Data show local precincts wrote 16,293 tickets for speeding on surface streets in 2011.

The number of overall moving violations issued by NYPD in 2012 was down sharply from the mid-aughts.

  • Driver

    Yes, as long as stop signs should be treated as yield signs. If you have a clear view of the cross street and it is clear that nothing is coming, what is gained by stopping?

  • Joe R.

    Four rules:

    1) Yield to pedestrians or vehicles with the legal right-of-way at intersections (this implies slowing or stopping as needed at red lights or stop signs according to lines of sight and traffic conditions).

    2) Ride with traffic (you could make exceptions on some quiet, one-way streets).

    3) If riding on sidewalks, ride at a speed inversely proportional to pedestrian density (and stay off crowded sidewalks altogether).

    4) Use lights for night riding.

    Other than those, I don’t see the need for any other rules.

  • Joe R.

    I would say it depends on where the red light is. In crowded midtown Manhattan, yes, stop at all red lights most times before going through, except late nights, just in case pedestrians dart out. In the outer boroughs, especially at night, it’s only necessary to slow enough so you can stop in time if anything is coming. This of course depends upon lines of sight. At most intersections slowing to 10-12 mph is safe. At some with lousy lines of sight I need to come nearly to a stop. And there’s a handful I can safely pass at 25 mph. In any case, it’s easy enough to have reds as yields for the general rule, but post exceptions at intersections where reds must be treated as stops. I should also point out there are a small number of places where bridge abutments obscure lines of sight, and the first lane is a traffic lane, not a parking lane. In these cases, you would disallow passing red lights altogether because there’s no way you can safely do it.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. The recent San Francisco case involving a pedestrian death is an example of bad bad cycling and awareness.

  • Damian White

    The problem is that most cyclists seem to think that the road laws do not apply to them, and continue to run through red lights, even when the pedestrian light is white, thereby endangering every single pedestrian that is crossing. I myself have been confronted closely by a cyclist for whizzing past me and my dog, and they continue on their merry way as if they did nothing wrong. God forbid a child runs into the street when it is white, and a cyclist barrels right through, and hurts or even worse kills the child. I fear for my life a lot of times in intersections that I have had experience in crossing, and have a “too close for comfort” brush with a cyclist who runs right through.

    The problem is that NYPD do not crack down on these offenders, and more than that, NYC DOT are not doing anything to educate these new bikers in bike safety laws. What we need are bike traffic lights installed at intersections to remind cyclists that they are responsible for adhering to the road laws.

    Why should I be afraid to cross the road when the street signs tell me it is safe to cross? I’ve seen a dog plowed over by a cyclist and it is one of my worst fears for it to happen to my dog.

  • Ian Turner

    Do you “fear for your life” around cars? They are a lot more likely to kill you. Last time a cyclist killed anybody in the city was 2008.

  • There is no doubt that cars are a danger to all — to pedestrians, to bicyclists, and even to drivers themselves, not to mention to the Earth’s environment as a whole. Driving is inherently a filthy and dangerous act; this fact cannot be changed, but only very slightly mitigated. A car operated legally is far more dangerous than a bicycle operated illegally; and a car operated illegally is a menace.

    Yet this does not absolve us bicyclists from our repsonsibility to follow the law. Just because we can point to a greater danger to pedestrians doesn’t mean that we ourselves don’t pose something of a danger when we ignore the rules of the road.

    Some bicyclists will claim that they ride through red lights only when it’s safe. Not good enough. Your judgement of when it’s safe might be wrong in any particular instance, despite the annoyance of sitting at an empty intersection.

    The law certainly should allow for bicyclists to treat a red light as a stop sign — full stop, then proceed when safe. But right now it doesn’t; and we bicyclists have to operate in that reality.

    Unfortunately, most of us refuse to. When Damian says “The problem is that most cyclists seem to think that the road laws do not apply to them”, he is speaking the sad truth. Anyone who spends any time on the street (as either a pedestrian, a cyclist, or a driver) can see that there is a culture of lawlessness amongst bicyclists. This gives us a well-deserved reputation a scofflaws, a reputation which will surely foreclose the possibility of laws being made more sensible to accomodate our needs.

    Anyway, pedestrians are entitled to cross streets in the crosswalk with the light in their favour without having to worry about any vehicles — be they cars or bikes — blowing the light and coming across their path. Cars are by far the greater danger. But we bicyclists have a responsibility to follow the law, and most of us aren’t living up to that responsibility.

  • M

    Damien – If I understand your line of reasoning correctly, cyclists should follow the law… because its a law. Fair enough.

    Does this apply to those using other modes of transit? Millions of pedestrians cross against the lights every day in NYC alone. In crossing maybe 5 streets yesterday in Brooklyn (78th precinct), I counted five cars running red lights. How many cars drive the speed limit in NYC?

    So, what makes cyclists special? Why should they be held to a higher/different standard?

    I don’t disagree with Damien’s observation about cyclists flaunting traffic signals. His anecdotal data about the impact of this behavior, however, runs counter to the fact that Ian provides. Some cyclists are annoying, but they won’t kill you.

    Damien – look at the ‘weekly carnage’ column for the past few years on this blog. Advocating for more NYPD enforcement of cycling will do relatively little to improve safety on our streets.

    By bottom line – when it comes to spending enforcement resources, let’s spend it where it’ll do most good. Let’s start stop cars speeding. Let’s stop cars running red lights.

  • Jonathan R

    I see. And yet the PD recommends we cyclists wear bright clothes so we can be seen more clearly by the same drivers whom you attest hold this belief that all cyclists are scofflaws, drifting through red lights as they “think that the road laws do not apply to them.”

    If drivers by and large believed that cyclists could come through any intersection from any direction at any time, they would drive more carefully, if only to avoid dents and other cosmetic damage.

    Occam’s razor implies that only crypto-advocates like yourself are paying attention to this “culture of lawlessness among bicyclists.”

  • So you think that no one really notices what I am calling a culture of lawlessness amongst bicyclists? Wow.

    I can tell you that virtually everyone who knows me (and who therefore knows that I am a daily cyclist) comes to me with complaints about bicyclists’ bad behaviour. (Of course I tell these people that drivers’ bad behaviour is a worse problem; but I do not dismiss the accurate observations that they make about bicyclists, which are similar to the observations that I make.)

    I can also tell you that I, being one of the few bicyclists following the law, have actually received thanks from pedestrians and even from drivers for stopping at a light. Imagine that: being thanked for doing what should be commonplace. This tells us that stopping at a red light is in fact not commonplace, but rather is a sight that is unusual enough to warrant mention from strangers.

    Don’t take my word for it — conduct your own experiment: ask random people in the street what they think about bicyclists’ behaviour. Given what you profess to believe about public perception of the conduct of bicyclists, you will be shocked. But I won’t.

    When the post-Bloomberg rollback of bike infrastructure begins, this public which (according to you) takes no notice of bicyclists’ culture of lawlessness will celebrate our being put in our place.

    And none of this should be taken to imply any support for or any sympathy with drivers. Drivers are currently aware that bicyclists can appear in any intersection from any direction; and we see the effect that this has on their behaviour: none. They injure and kill us with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they will not be blamed — neither by the justice system nor by public opinion.

    The only thing that has to any degree influenced the behaviour of these otherwise-oblivious drivers in my experience is bike lanes. On Manhattan avenues especially, drivers expect us to be there. I have been riding in our City for more than 35 years, since long before I ever saw a bike lane. I have witnessed the change that bike lanes have made; and I don’t want to go back.

    This is why I am so adamant about protecting these lanes, which represent a huge betterment of our quality of life. We have a responsibility to the rest of society to follow the law, and we have a responsibility to ourselves to not stoke our enemies’ ire and thereby give the politicians a reason to take our bike lanes away.

  • Joe R.

    FYI the NYPD is giving cyclists tickets well out of proportion to their numbers, so lack of enforcement isn’t the problem you make it out to be. In fact, I could argue that cyclists should be ticketed in direct proportion to the number of people they kill. That would mean one bike ticket for about every 10,000 car tickets. Now the ratio is more like 1 bike ticket for every 2 or 3 car tickets despite the much lower hazard bikes pose.

    While I don’t defend or condone cyclists flying through crosswalks full of pedestrians, remember NYC has grossly overused traffic signals. Also, traffic signals are primarily there to keep allow cars to go 55 mph without colliding with each other, not to keep other modes safe (arguably they do the opposite). Both pedestrians and cyclists regularly pass red lights as a matter of safety and efficiency. And this is fine so long as both look before crossing, and yield to any pedestrians or vehicles with the right-of-way.

    I’ll clue you in on a little tip which has probably saved my life multiple times as both a cyclist and a pedestrian-look before crossing intersections-regardless of the color of the light. A red light isn’t a magical force field. I see motor vehicles running red lights all the time. Whether or not I technically had the right-of-way is moot if I’m dead. And by the way, the entire concept of right-of-way is flawed. Intersections should operate on a first-come, first-served basis without controls of any kind. That’s been proven safer for all users. It’s also the only way which makes any sense for cyclists or pedestrians, neither of whom need traffic signals to tell them if it’s safe to cross.

  • Joe R.

    The law certainly should allow for bicyclists to treat a red light as a stop sign — full stop, then proceed when safe.

    If we cyclists are ever to be given a set of laws which truly makes sense for our mode, then we need to stop compromising. A full stop is neither necessary nor safer in most cases when passing red lights unless lines of sight are blocked by buildings, bridge abutments, etc. Note that I didn’t include parked vehicles because we should never allow parking in places where it blocks lines of sight, even without laws which allow bikes to pass red lights. Anyway, in the few places where lines of sight are inherently poor and can’t be fixed, you can post signs requiring a complete stop before passing red. In all other places, it should be yield as needed.

    Note that I already consider “reds as yields” to be somewhat of a compromise. In my opinion anything human-powered (pedestrians or bikes) should have right-of-way over motor vehicles all the time, regardless of the state of the traffic signal. Reds as yields is a reasonable compromise which still gives motorists who have the green the right-of-way over cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    Replace bicyclists with pedestrians in your post, then let me know if there isn’t a double standard at work here. Pedestrians are far more lawless than cyclists, and yet we don’t see their fellow pedestrians calling them out on it as you’re doing here. The few times I’ve had people mention cyclist behavior to me, I calmly give a rational explanation of it, often using pedestrian behavior as an analogy. Is a pedestrian going to stand at an empty intersection at 10 PM for 60 seconds or more in the dead of winter while holding heavy grocery bags just because the light is red, even if their eyes tell them it’s perfectly safe to cross? Or for that matter, will that same pedestrian wait at every don’t walk signal while walking up a Manhattan Avenue, even when doing so can more than double their trip time? Please explain to me why cyclists should have to do things which are ridiculous by any reasonable standpoint while pedestrians don’t. If you’re advocating total obedience to the law, then it should apply to everyone. When you’re on foot, call out pedestrians who cross against the light, even at empty intersections, and give your little speech about how it looks bad, same as you’ve done when calling out cyclists passing red lights. I’ll bet good money you’ll have a few black eyes or missing teeth by the end of the day.

    One thing we can both do is just encourage more people to ride. When more people are riding, they’re more likely to see things from a cyclist’s point of view. Once they do, they understand why we don’t always adhere rigidly to the law. Incidentally, one of the first conversations I end up having with people after they’ve started riding is the one about passing red lights. It doesn’t take most people long before they realize stopping and waiting at every red light is just as pointless on a bike as it is on foot.

    While we’re at it we (that includes not only cyclists but also motorists and pedestrians) should file a class action lawsuit against NYC for failing to put pedestrian/vehicle sensors on all traffic signals. The entire “bikes passing red lights” issue mostly wouldn’t exist if traffic signals remained green unless something was actually crossing the intersection, and then only for as long as it takes that something to cross. I’ve seen this in action on NY 25 past city limits. After about 11 PM, when traffic is light, I can ride over 6 miles hardly seeing red lights. The rare times I do, they often change back to green by the time I get there. There is no excuse for NYC in 2013 to be using dumb, timed signals which force people to stop for nothing. It’s incumbent upon the state to engineer safety in the least intrusive way technically possible. NYC should be sued to make this so. The cumulative economic cost of all that time wasted at red lights when nothing is crossing can easily be measured in the billions of dollars.

  • “Please explain to me why cyclists should have to do things which are ridiculous by any reasonable standpoint while pedestrians don’t.”

    Because walking as a mode of transport is engrained into the City’s culture; whereas large-scale bicycling is relatively new.

    Furthermore, pedestrian infrastructure (which is to say: sidewalks) is under no threat of removal in New York City; it’s an integral and permanent part of the City’s landscape, used by the majority of New Yorkers every day.

    In contrast, bicycle infrastructure is ephemeral and easily removed; it is linked in the public mind to the outgoing mayor (with good reason); and it is used by a minority of New Yorkers (a lot of people, yes; but a small minority of the City’s total population).

    Bicyclists and pedestians have many overlapping interests, of course, around issues of traffic calming and livable streets. But the reality is that bicyclists face a political landscape that is very different from that which people who are pedestrians face.

    Bicyclists as a group have political vulnerabilities that pedestrians as a group do not have. Therefore protecting our interests requires measues that are different to those measures which would be necessary to protect pedestrians’ interests.

  • Joe R.

    You’re making the same mistake as those who only count “commuters” when figuring bicycle mode share. Upwards of half the population rides bicycles at least occasionally. I’ll guess that more than 10% rides regularly, albeit most of those are purely recreational riders like me. Remember other groups who comprised less than 10% of the general population somehow managed to get their interests accommodated.

    We can both agree that growing the number of cyclists will decrease any political vulnerability. The problem is your approach works counter to that. If I had to stop and wait at every single red light, I would give up riding. Totally not possible for me, nor would it make for enjoyable cycling even if it were. Cycling is purely an optional activity. Do anything to make it more burdensome or less enjoyable, and the numbers cycling will drop precipitously. Sure, it makes sense for both of us to do what we can to reign in the worst excesses of cyclist behavior like those Damian described. But I draw the line at aiming for impeccable behavior because it will cause us to lose too many riders. I’ve heard some people say they choose to bike because it’s faster than driving, even faster than the subway once you count waiting time. However, that’s only the case in NYC if you either have a very favorable route (i.e. greenway), or pass red lights whenever it’s safe. When you aim for impeccable behavior, the result can mean cycling is far slower than the alternatives, perhaps even no faster than a brisk walk. Constant stopping is also strenuous, especially in warmer weather when you sit there without a cooling breeze. Trust me-I highly doubt more than a few percent of cyclists could or would buy into your ideas. We have to deal with the reality which exists. Just let’s keep trying to end the worst types of cyclist behavior. That alone would go a really long way towards improving public perception without at the same time discouraging people from riding.

  • Damian White

    All great points guys.

    I want to also remind you, that when I say I fear for my life, I am also considering my life affected by injuries. My boyfriend slipped in the street earlier this year and has been bedridden since February. He is only now walking around albeit with a cane… So our lives have been turned upside down because of this unfortunate incident.

    I fear for people’s livelihood as well. We don;t have to always take it to the death level to do something about the issue of cyclists avoiding normal traffic laws. In cities in Europe I have noticed that cyclists NEVER run through a red light and was most impressed and in fact felt safe walking through streets in Barcelona and London. There is a stigma about bike laws here in NYC for most cyclists.

    I am proud to know that there are cyclists like Ferdinand that obey these laws and respect the people and surroundings around them. I am one of those people that thank cyclists (and even drivers) when they do something considerate.

    I encourage people to be on bikes. I think it is a great way to get around without having to use up natural resources. But just to remind you that even though a bike may not kill someone, they can certainly hurt someone in a very bad way. I imagine sometimes someone running to catch the white light to cross the road, and a cyclist not even seeing them and barrels right through them. Or my dog’s paws getting stuck in the spokes of the bike. They are dangerous when going at high speeds, but even at slow speeds, there are still mechanics that would hurt someone badly.

    I do not enjoy having to look the opposite way of oncoming traffic just to look for cyclists who decide to ride down the opposite way.

    I see cyclists forcing their way through crowds of people that are crossing, when they have the right of way, all the time, as if they are a nuisance.

    Traffic lights for bikes will not only encourage cyclists to heed to the traffic laws, but it will also send a message that the city cares about their cyclists, so much so that they get their own lights, and this will give a sense of pride for bikers who truck it to work everyday, or ride for leisure. We need to create a safe space for all of us to live harmoniously and take note of other cities that do it well. New York is certainly not equipped for cyclists, but we can make it that way with a little effort.

  • Jonathan R

    If you got the Streetbeat email from Transportation Alternatives on Oct. 3rd as I did, you will read that 67% of NYC voters support “bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands” to their neighborhoods. Seems barren ground for the post-Bloomberg backlash you predict.

    Obviously there are groups of people who complain about bicyclists more than others, but to extrapolate from your particular peer group to all New Yorkers is a fallacy of composition.

    Besides that, you continue to speak of a “responsibility to ourselves,” referring to the population of people on bikes. As Joe R. has pointed out elsewhere in this comment thread, that includes about half the population. Seems like a pretty diffuse responsibility to me.

  • Ian Turner


    Even focusing on injuries, I can’t help but feel there is an irrational risk evaluation, or a double standard, at work. Cars injure over ten thousand New Yorkers every year, mostly pedestrians. If you live in New York for 40 years, that gives you roughly a 7% chance of being injured or killed by a motor vehicle. Where is your sense of outrage? Do you also “fear for your life” for this much greater risk?

    If we got more people to switch from cars to bikes, even if some of them operated those bikes recklessly, we’d still be better off from a safety perspective.

  • Joe R.

    In cities in Europe I have noticed that cyclists NEVER run through a red light and was most impressed and in fact felt safe walking through streets in Barcelona and London. There is a stigma about bike laws here in NYC for most cyclists.

    A general rule with any kind of traffic control device is that the more it’s used (or used inappropriately), the more likely it is to be treated casually by all users. NYC has somewhere north of 12,000 signalized intersections. I don’t know the figures for London but I know Chicago, which has a similar area as NYC, has about one tenth as many. NYC uses signals where often stop signs will do, and stop signs where yield signs might be fine. This is often at the behest of clueless community boards with no traffic engineering background who erroneously feel these measures are safer.

    In Europe there is also a tendency to use roundabouts in many places instead of regular intersections. This avoids the need for traffic signals or stop signs at these intersections. The bottom line is most European cycling routes are laid out to keep slowing or stopping to a minimum. There may be more frequent traffic signals for small parts of a path, but in general on many paths it’s possible to ride many miles while only stopping a few times. European traffic signals also tend to have much shorter red light cycles. They don’t stay red for 30 to 60 seconds as many signals do in NYC. Furthermore, in NYC you often have traffic signals every 250 feet. Moreover, if they’re timed at all it’s usually for car speeds. That might mean someone on a bike gets caught at a light every 2 or 3 blocks. Besides more than doubling the energy expended per mile traveled, this can reduce average speeds to those of a brisk walk. In short, cyclists often disobey red lights in NYC because they can effectively render cycling pointless given their frequency and timing.

    Traffic lights for bikes aren’t the answer here. The real answer is to start laying out cycling routes to keep stopping to a bare minimum. That could mean more grade separation at intersections, or just getting rid of as many traffic signals as possible (i.e. I would say upwards of 95% of traffic signals in NYC just aren’t needed from a safety standpoint). The idea is the less often you ask cyclists to stop, the more likely they will stop when you really need them to do so. It hardly helps when NYC has traffic signals on dumb timers which often force motorists and cyclists to stop when nothing is crossing. That’s just bad engineering. At the very least all traffic signals should have sensors so they only go red if something is actually crossing.

    All that said, there’s no valid excuse for cyclists to plow through crosswalks full of pedestrians. It’s important that cyclists passing red lights slow or stop as needed to yield right-of-way to those with the light. The fact that some don’t really seems to be the source of your complaints.

    Incidentally, since you mentioned your dog’s paws getting stuck in spokes, I made a rear wheel fairing which prevents exactly that. Granted, I made it primarily for better aerodynamics, but it’s also good at preventing objects from getting caught in the spokes. I would have put one on the front wheel also but front wheel fairings make the bike dangerous to handle in crosswinds.

  • sean

    Unfortunately race and gender play a huge role oon who is stopped for riding bicycles! I’ve literally seen officers stop exclusively black and hispanic men in prospect park, brooklyn for riding on pathways inside the park while white males and females of all races rode on the very same pathways without even a second look by the same exact officers ticketing the minority riders! Furthermore, I’ve seen similar incidence on the sidewalks in nyc! Clearly there is such a strong double standard when it comes to this issue atleast in the borough of brooklyn! If riding ones bicycle is illegal on the sidewalks and park pathways of nyc, it should be applied to all perpetrators and not just black and hispanic males and an occasional white male!


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