How NYPD Bike Enforcement Is Making Streets Less Safe

Considering what happened to longtime street safety advocate Hilda Cohen last Friday afternoon, you have to wonder how many “scofflaw cyclists” are in actuality the victims of police harassment. The incident is also another example of wasted NYPD resources that could be used to make streets safer.

Officers from the 6th Precinct putting cyclist lives at risk, and ticketing them for the privilege. Photo: Hilda Cohen

Cohen says she rode through a yellow light on Bleecker at Charles Street, and was about to ride around a car parked in the bike lane ahead when she was stopped by NYPD. The car was an unmarked police car.

Here’s what Cohen says happened next, as excerpted from her Facebook page:

I get stopped by the guy standing next to the car, NYPD in uniform.

“You just ran a red light.”

“The light was yellow when I went through the intersection.”

“No, it was red”, he said. “I saw it.”

“I am actually 100% positive that it was yellow. I looked for it, I saw it, and I don’t run red lights,” I said. “Why do you say it was red?”

“We saw the pedestrian crossing sign change from a flashing hand to a solid hand when you entered the intersection.” These police officers could not even see the light that they were referring to, they were about 30 feet past the intersection on a one way street. “That means that it was a red light.”

“Actually that proves that it was yellow. That is when the light changes from green to yellow.”

“Well you can’t go through yellow lights.”

To this I did say, “you’re not serious.”

“A yellow light means put on your brakes,” he continued, “and you can’t go through a yellow light. You must have been going too fast to stop in time. I’ll give you a ticket for running a yellow and speeding. The speed limit is 25 mph, you were going faster than that.”

[I]n as even a tone as I could muster [I] said, “you can enter the intersection when the light is yellow.”

“Then I’ll give you a ticket for being outside of the bike lane, and for speeding.”

I responded, “I could not stay in the bike lane as you are parked in the bike lane, and the speed limit is 30, and there is no way I was going 30 mph.”

“Lady, you just don’t shut up do you!”

Cohen was cited for reckless operation of a bicycle and obstructing vehicle traffic. The latter is a disorderly conduct charge. Reckless operation of a bicycle is the third most common criminal summons issued by NYPD.

“These are criminal offenses, and I have to show up to court whether I plead guilty or not,” writes Cohen. “I was stopped for running a yellow light, and then given two tickets for knowing my rights, and the law.”

For perspective’s sake: At least two pedestrians were killed by motorists in the 6th Precinct within the last 14 months. One was killed by a trucker in an oversized rig, and one was struck by a cab driver who was reportedly speeding.

At last year’s City Council hearing on traffic safety and NYPD crash investigations, department brass said that in 2011, police issued roughly the same number of moving violations, and three times as many criminal court summonses, to cyclists as to truck drivers.

As of June, the 6th Precinct had written 30 speeding tickets this year, and precinct officers ticketed 21 motorists for speeding in 2012.

Entrapment and harassment aside, parking in a bike lane is illegal, and it’s illegal because it forces cyclists to veer into traffic. The 6th Precinct is not only ignoring motorist behavior that puts lives at risk, they’re engaging in it.

To tell Deputy Inspector Elisa Cokkinos, the commanding officer, what you think of the 6th Precinct’s approach to traffic enforcement, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 6th Precinct council meets at 7:30 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month at 25 Carmine Street. Information on the council’s summer schedule was not immediately available, but reader KeNYC2030 says the next meeting isn’t until September. Call 212-741-4826 for information.

  • “Even if she were making minimum wage, a red light ticket would be a lesser financial penalty that a successful defense of the charges she now faces.”

    A ticket for running a red light on a bicycle in New York can not simply be paid. The DMV’s violations system is set up entirely for motorists. If you somehow pay for the ticket online or by mail, you will be paying the full elevated NYC price for motorists, you will have points on your license, and you will be lying.

    No one does that. Everyone goes to court. The police officer tells you you have to go to court. The comparison you’re drawing just isn’t accurate.

    And aside from that, your straw man is a straw man. No one suggests that Cohen can reform the NYPD by herself. I’ve suggested that if all of us displayed the courage and conviction that Cohen has, police reform would have a foothold. You can belittle the efforts of an individual all you want; what I have to give is my respect and thanks.

    If it’s needed, I’ll contribute to a defense fund as well.

  • Ridgewoodian

    Exactly. I wrote at length in another post a while back about getting a ticket for riding on the (nearly empty) promenade at Orchard Beach last summer. I had a still camera so I took lots of photos as the officer was writing me up. I was later able to bring them to court. My public defender saw them, showed them to the cop, don’t know what got said, but I was given an “Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal.” I stayed out of “trouble” for six months and it was done. I wish that everyone would contest their fines and tickets – flood the system, grind it to a halt, make it cost them more to collect than they can hope to collect, then maybe they’ll have to start being reasonable. But that’s just me.

  • Ian Turner

    How many does it take? After $million settlements for Critical Mass, arrests of people like Andrew Carnevale, well documented bogus tickets and outrageous ticketing ratios, I think it’s just wishful thinking to say that all we need is more documentation. There is plenty of documentation.

    To put things a different way, if the case of Adrian Schoolcraft didn’t lead to any NYPD reform, what makes you think this case would?

  • Anonymous

    They f—ed Adrian Schoolcraft hard. Have you listened to the This American Life podcast on it? Oh man . . . just disgusting.

  • Driver

    Only if you are using the light as a substitute for your own eyes and judgement.

  • Anonymous

    You need to post that.

  • Ian Turner

    Hi Nathan,

    Do you have a citation for your claim that “everyone goes to court”? I seriously doubt that “everyone” is willing to take a full day off of work in order to fight a ticket, be it $180 or $270, especially when the evidence amounts to he-said-she-said.

    I’m not trying to suggest that Cohen’s actions are wrong or even erroneous, but I do dispute the idea that the logic of martyrdom is the best way to fight NYPD injustice.

    I’m not sure what the “straw man” you think I’m using is (perhaps it would help if you explained yourself), but I do think that if “all of us” spent 3 days fighting NYPD justice in other ways (for example, civil disobedience, letter writing, campaign donations, protest, strikes, etc.), that would accomplish a lot more than if all of us signed up for losing 3 days of work waiting in a courtroom. If you disagree, please say why.

  • And coming next year, she’ll have gotten a ticket for annoying a police officer too.

    These are not bicyclist problems; the city has a policing problem. Until somebody reigns in the NYPD, they will continually brutalize the city’s population.

  • Why would it be surprising that the President who oversaw Orwellian surveillance is nominating the head of a fascist police department to oversee his secret police?

  • Kim


  • Anonymous

    I took out a Citibike for my first long ride and stopped at the red light at the first intersection. A mounted policeman rode up next to me. “Watch out,” he said, pointing down the avenue. “They’re ticketing cyclists today, because Citibike is new.”

    “You might not see them, but they’ll come out of hiding and get you. I heard it on my radio,” he said, patting the radio on his hip. Since this was an avenue with left turn lanes and lights, I stopped every 400 feet (2 blocks) for the next 2.5 miles. Starting up, I would see the bicycle light turn red, and then wait during the turn lane light cycle and the cross-street light cycle before the bicycle light turned green again.

  • Ian, I’m glad that you have apparently not received a red light ticket, but I am disappointed that you refuse to understand what I have already explained. When you go to court for this ticket it is not because you want to “fight” the charge or engage in he-said-she-said. You must go to court to pay a ticket for a red light violation on a bicycle. At court (where you must go) you may choose to “fight” it, or not. In paying by mail you would accrue violation points against your motor vehicle license and make a false claim that you ran a red light while driving a motor vehicle. If anyone actually does this, they are navigating a broken bureaucracy in order to overpay and be over-penalized for something no one claims that they did, perhaps perjuring themselves—you need a citation, for that? Look it up yourself.

    I am truly sorry that every time someone stands up for what’s right, others have to point out, “It’s easier not to do that.” As if that were ever in question. As if there were any doubt that it is personally easier to comply with authority. As if animals did not exhibit a solid understanding of the “tactic” of submission.

    Some rare humans stand up to unjust authority in spite of the obvious personal risk, because of their firmly held principles. You can be what you want, but I would suggest that the easy rationalizations for self-serving compliance can work just as well in private.

  • guest

    Great news from SF: Precedent-setting case where bike rider has been charged with manslaughter for killing pedestrian . So hope that this will also happen in NYC. Reckless riders need to be held responsible!

  • I know you’re just trolling but here’s a little fact check for you:
    1. The bicyclist in this article was not riding recklessly.
    2. The last time a cyclist killed a pedestrian in NYC was several years ago.
    3. The last time a driver killed a pedestrian in NYC was 6 days ago.
    4. Most of the time drivers who kills pedestrians here don’t face any serious charges what so ever.

    So, if you are suggesting that enforcing traffic laws for cyclists should be prioritized over enforcing traffic laws for drivers, your priorities are highly skewed.

  • Andrew

    Great news! Every single bike rider who has killed a pedestrian in NYC in the past four years has been charged with manslaughter as well.

  • SteveF

    The cops have been giving out tickets for “annoying a police officer” for years, after stopping cyclists for phony charges.

    Get the phony charge overturned (stopped for failure to ride in a bike lane on an avenue that does not even have a bike lane, for example), and the ticket for “annoying a police officer” – worded as “Disobeying an Officer” is still upheld.

    As I said before, you can be held guilty of “disobeying an illegal order”.

    We should add cyclists as additional victims in the Stop and Frisk lawsuit against the NYPD. Stopped illegally, then slapped with phony, trumped up and/or invented charges, with the further charge of annoying a police officer added on top.

  • H

    What do you expect from the NYPD.

  • Vaccaro & White

    Postscript: All charges against Hilda Cohen dismissed this morning!

  • TOM

    Sounds like another crap bike violation. I had one of these stupid ones last year too. I fought it in traffic court and the cop actually showed up for this. Judge threw out 3 of the 4 violations and made me pay a 50 dollar fine. Next day I started jumping the fare in the subways everyday until the 50 dollar fine was paid and my cost of missing a day’s work to fight this stupid thing. All told my total cost was 300 which was calculated as follows. 50 dollar fine. 240 for missing work for the day, 5 dollars to go to Coney Island to fight this. Food for day 4 dollars, Envelope and stamp 1 dollar. OK the State of New York ended up getting my 50 dollars but for 3 plus months I took it right back from the State of New York/MTA by fare evasion. In the end of the day the State of New York ended up losing 300 dollars. I did not lose. So there. Now we are even State of New York.


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