Is This NYT Article on NYPD Traffic Safety Priorities From 1997 or 2013?

Last week, we brought you the story of Sam Shankman, a cyclist who got caught up in NYPD’s bike ticket blitz by legally turning on a green light. Shankman, who isn’t the first cyclist to get a ticket for not breaking the law, sent along this New York Times account of NYPD targeting cyclists for tickets, dating to August 1997:

Without a data-driven focus on what's actually killing and injuring New Yorkers in traffic, this is what NYPD traffic enforcement looks like. Photo: ##

While the Police Department declined to provide citywide figures for bicycle summonses, officials said at least 1,168 riders received tickets in July alone in the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, half the total number of tickets issued in the precinct this year…

”This is an egregious case of harassment disguised as public safety,” said Gian-Claudia Sciara, the program director at Transportation Alternatives, a cycling advocacy group. Ms. Sciara and others complain that compared with cyclists, drivers seem to get off easy. Only 31 speeding tickets were issued in the 19th Precinct from July 1 to 24, the police said. In 1995, 20 cyclists and 236 pedestrians were killed by cars in the city. No pedestrians died from injuries caused by cyclists. ”It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that cyclists aren’t the ones mowing down pedestrians,” Ms. Sciara said.

But many people, including Councilman A. Gifford Miller, who represents the Upper East Side, applaud the crackdown. Until recently, he said, cyclists were rarely given tickets. ”Reckless riders are the number one complaint in my district,” he said, adding that his office receives up to a dozen calls each week from frightened pedestrians.

While it’s amazing in itself that this article could be written nearly word-for-word today, some of its statistics are worth repeating. From January to August of 1997, cyclists received half of all tickets issued in the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side. During most of July 1997, the precinct issued 31 speeding tickets.

Sixteen years later, NYPD hasn’t changed its approach to traffic. In July 2013, the same precinct issued only four speeding tickets. Last year, NYPD issued fewer moving violations summonses than at any time since 2002. And what speeding enforcement the NYPD does is usually performed by the Highway Patrol, with precincts leaving speed limits on local streets virtually unenforced. Even though speed enforcement is up slightly this year, it’s still dwarfed by the number of tickets NYPD issues to cyclists.

But even the total number of moving violations, reported each year in the NYPD’s section of the Mayor’s Management Report, is a poor barometer for measuring traffic safety, since it doesn’t take compliance into account. Whatever tickets NYPD does issue are a drop in the bucket, and drivers make countless violations each day that go unpenalized.

It’s difficult to know how often NYPD is ticketing bike riders because the department still refuses to break out the number of cyclist citations, and its compliance with open data laws that it opposed has been marginal at best.

The way New York City manages its streets has changed a lot in recent years. DOT has transformed from a backwater of political patronage to an agency that has systematically implemented street safety improvements and evaluated their effectiveness.

Meanwhile, at a police department that prides itself on using data to transform New York into the nation’s safest large city, efforts to improve street safety with data-driven traffic enforcement have withered. As motorists for the most part still break the law with impunity, NYPD continues to target cyclists for low-risk offenses — and sometimes, just for being on a bike.

  • Frank Dell

    “a police department that prides itself on using data” NYPD fudges data to back up their assumptions and lies.

  • JK

    Bloomberg did lots of good things for cyclists — Ray Kelly isn’t one of them. It’s a low bar, but it’s a good bet the next NYPD commissioner will be much better on street safety. (And we thought 31 speeding tickets was lame for July 1997 — compare that 4 this July. Worse than I thought.)

  • BkBiker

    Every time there’s an article that quotes the station commander, he says that he’s responding to complaints about bicycles. Makes you wonder – if each of us were to phone the local precinct whenever we see a driver menacing pedestrians or bicyclists, or speeding, or running reds, could we turn this around?

  • Anonymous

    NYPD brass hand out Cheat Sheets – summary lists of offenses and relevant laws – to officers sent out on bicycle harassment – oops – enforcement patrols.
    Unfortunately, these official Cheat Sheets have included bogus offenses and the wrong laws. NYC had to supersede the NY State bike lane law in 1978, because V&T Sec 1234 does not recognize riding on the far left of one way avenues. The city was putting bus lanes on the right side and wanted bikes on the left side. The city also added to the “exceptions”, valid reasons for NOT riding in or leaving bike lanes. (The 4 foot wide 1978 lanes were known to be substandard and unsafe.) So a new Rules of the City of New York law was written. That was 35 years ago.

    Admittedly, I have not checked a Cheat Sheet today, but fairly recently, many of these sheets were still listing “not riding in bike lanes” as an offense, with no mention of the exceptions in both City and State law, and the Cheat Sheets still list NYS V&T 1234 as the law to use to issue a bike lane ticket in NYC.

    16 years is a long time to be getting the law wrong, but 35 years? Cops retire in 20 years, so it’s nearly the third generation of cops still being handed the wrong bike lane law, and a bunch of other wrong laws, by their superior officers.

    Is anybody watching the store?