NYPD Ticketing People for Riding Bikes on the Willis Avenue Bridge Bike Path

NYPD is at it again, handing out tickets to cyclists for riding on a bike path. This time, the 25th Precinct was handing out sidewalk-riding summonses to people riding the shared bicycle-pedestrian path on the Willis Avenue Bridge between East Harlem and Mott Haven.

If it looks like a bike path and is marked as a bike path, NYPD will ticket you for cycling on it. Image: DOT
If it looks like a bike path and is marked as a bike path, NYPD will ticket you for cycling on it. Image: DOT

Just before 9:00 this morning, reader Joe Rienti was commuting from East Harlem to Fordham University when he was stopped by an officer immediately after getting on the bridge path at 125th Street. He wasn’t the only one. Rienti said officers had pulled over four other cyclists. Streetsblog also received a report from a reader who escaped getting a ticket but was told to dismount by officers who were already busy handing out summonses.

Rienti says the officer told him that the precinct had received complaints about cyclists using the path. Rienti told the officer that it’s a shared-use path where cyclists are allowed. “He sort of just shrugged his shoulders and wrote the ticket,” Rienti said. “I thought he was going to give me some sort of warning.”

“There used to be signage saying you can’t bike there because they were doing construction, but they took it down,” Rienti said. In fact, DOT’s work to replace the Willis Avenue Bridge wrapped in 2010; the project website touts a “combined pedestrian/bicycle pathway along its north side.” In a video describing the project, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says “the new bridge has important safety enhancements…[including] new pedestrian walkways and bikeway.” The city’s bike map [PDF] indicates that the bridge’s north side is a designated “bike/pedestrian path.”

Streetsblog asked the 25th Precinct about the ticketing, but the precinct referred questions to One Police Plaza, which has not replied to our inquiries. Rienti said he contacted Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito about the ticketing blitz and will fight his summons in court.

Update: Rienti says in a followup e-mail that he received another ticket on his commute home tonight on the Willis Avenue Bridge after an officer brushed away the DOT bike route information Rienti showed him. “He told me that you can only bike where there is a sign telling you it’s okay,” Rienti said, adding that he also plans to fight the second ticket in court.

  • S

    You cam post that picture in the comments.

  • JR

    Here’s the picture!

  • SteveF

    The law against riding on the sidewalk should be no more onerous for cyclists than it is for motorists. It’s legal for cars to drive on the sidewalk in a driveway, but illegal for a cyclist to do the same thing. The penalties for driving a car on the sidewalk is far lower than the penalties for riding a bicycle. The reality is that drivers are killing dozens of pedestrians on the sidewalks, and the police and courts are doing nothing to them – zero penalties, while cyclists, who at worst are causing “near misses”, are being castigated by pedestrians and heavily fined, even when there isn’t a pedestrian in sight, and even when on a designated shared use bike path.

    Definition of a Share Use Path: Indistinguishable from a sidewalk with “Bicycles Will Be Tolerated” signs.
    So lets show a little toleration here.

  • Joe R.

    The onus is on sidewalk cyclists to avoid hitting pedestrians, so there’s no reason pedestrians would have to look over their shoulders. Besides, most of the sidewalks where I think cycling should be legal are nearly empty. Not every sidewalk resembles midtown Manhattan during business hours.

    It’s pretty obvious the NYPD doesn’t know the meaning of selective enforcement, and that’s why there shouldn’t be a citiwide blanket prohibition against sidewalk cycling. If pedestrians were being giving tickets for wandering into bike lanes, especially when there were no bikes present, they would be up in arms. What’s happening here is the equivalent to that.

  • Joe R.

    I stand corrected. For some reason I thought the cyclist in that incident was riding on the sidewalk.

  • Joe R.

    It’s legal for cars to drive on the sidewalk in a driveway, but illegal for a cyclist to do the same thing.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not true even if police may be giving tickets for it. Legally, a driveway is considered an extension of the street, as well as an uncontrolled intersection with the crosswalk, where drivers are legally obligated to yield to pedestrians. Because bikes are legally considered to be vehicles, the same definition applies. I would love for this to be decided in an appeals court. For that matter, I would love for a higher court to take up the entire sidewalk cycling statute. I feel it would be dismissed for prejudicial reasons because it singles out bicycles but not other wheeled vehicles which move just as fast, and can potentially present as much or more danger to pedestrians. Among those are roller skates, roller blades, Segways, motorized wheelchairs, probably some others I can’t think of at the moment. It also fails the test of natural law, which is basically that the government can’t deprive someone of money or freedom unless that person has caused injury, loss of property, or loss of life. Sidewalk cycling is at worst a low-level urban annoyance, but then so are many other things in a big city. It’s not statistically dangerous, which might be the only possible justification for a law against it (as there are laws against shooting firearms in public places). Historically, laws which are made against things other people find annoying or immoral don’t last.

  • Andrew

    Onus shmonus. If pedestrians don’t look over their shoulders, they will inadvertently step into the path of approaching bicycles and will be hit.
    If you want to allow cycling on selected very-low-usage sidewalks, then post prominent signs on those specific sidewalks to warn pedestrians. In general, though, pedestrians should have free reign on sidewalks, without having to worry about motorists or cyclists.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Not economically viable without a large number of clients. 🙁

  • Joe R.

    You’re entirely missing my point. The point is that a blanket citiwide prohibition on sidewalk cycling has resulted in widespread abuse and harassment of cyclists by the NYPD, even in cases like this one where they’re legally allowed on the sidewalk. The police aren’t going to bother checking out cycling maps or looking for shared use signs. After all, that cuts into their donut time. Rather, if they see a cyclist on the sidewalk, that cyclist gets a ticket, even if there are signs allowing them there. This being the case, it’s time throw out the law and make a new one which only prohibits sidewalk cycling if there are signs on that block. Granted, the police probably still won’t bothering looking for signs, but at least the thrust of the law will be sidewalk cycling is generally legal, so police will be far less likely to give tickets for it.

    Making sidewalk cycling legal isn’t going to massively increase it. Remember most cyclists, me included, don’t like riding on sidewalks. Sidewalks are very slow compared to the street. I only take to sidewalks when I feel the street is too dangerous to ride on.

    Let me put this question to you. It’s currently illegal for pedestrians to stand in bike lanes or walk in them. The only place a pedestrian is supposed to enter a bike lane is at designated crosswalks. If there is a traffic signal, then legally they may only enter if they have a green light. How would you feel if pedestrians were ticketed mercilessly for randomly wandering into bike lanes, even empty bike lanes? That’s the current situation with sidewalk cycling. Reckless riding on crowded sidewalks absolutely merits a ticket but just physically being on a sidewalk shouldn’t.

    You say pedestrians should have free reign on sidewalks. Fine, and perhaps if they extended the same courtesy by staying out of bike lanes unless they’re crossing the street I might agree. Or maybe we could just compromise. I’m fine with pedestrians wandering into bike lanes so long as they don’t make abrupt maneuvers or get in my way. I realize sometimes sidewalks are crowded and someone in a hurry might make better time walking in a bike lane. By the same token, realize there are (rare) instances where it makes more sense to ride on the sidewalk instead of the street. When cyclists do this, they should absolutely realize they’re on pedestrian turf. Ride slowly, don’t expect pedestrians to change direction, and when passing pedestrians from behind go very slowly and/or give a wide berth. Remember pedestrians change direction unpredictably so take this into account. I feel we can all coexist with a simple set of give and take rules like that. My one goal is always to ride safely. I don’t like when government micromanages my riding with silly rules or traffic controls which limit my options. General Patton said it best: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

  • Sewer_Crawler

    On which side is the sign? I can’t see the photo you posted. I just rolled by and across the bridge and did not see anything. Time to write DOT a letter.

  • BikeJock

    We (in Florida) are allowed to ride bikes on sidewalks, but pedestrians have the right of way on sidewalks over bicyclists. Works fine. I also prefer to ride in the streets on my road bike most of the time, but there are some streets which are major commute arteries which have no bike lanes, only adjacent sidewalks, so those segments are not safe to ride on bikes on the road, particularly during heavy commute hours in the dark.

  • Andrew

    I understand, and share, your intense frustration with the NYPD. Since they get unofficial (and illegal) parking at work and wherever else they go, most police officers drive everywhere and naturally see driving as the only true mode of transport – cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders are all treated with similar disdain. The issue is one of attitude, not one of law.
    But taking out your frustrations on pedestrians is counterproductive.

    I’m sorry that some pedestrians step carelessly into the bike lane. They should be better educated. But other pedestrians, such as myself, are careful to cross the bike lane (and the rest of the street) only when I have the legal right of way or when no traffic is approaching. I’ve learned here that cyclists who obey the law and are respectful of others resent being lumped into the class of disobedient and disrespectful cyclists. So why are you lumping me and my fellow pedestrians who respect bike lanes into the same class add those who don’t?

  • Joe R.

    I’m not lumping you into that class at all. I’m also not really seeing how advocating the change in the law I mentioned makes me anti-pedestrian. You can ride safely or recklessly on sidewalks. The choice is strictly up to the rider. Blanket prohibitions against sidewalk riding inherently assume the worst behavior, and that’s what I resent. For that matter, so do blanket prohibitions against pedestrians being in the bike lane. Laws like this just result in the continued infantilization of adults by our society. We continually remove choice by making more and more actions illegal, even those which statistically cause little or no harm. And we wonder why adults are acting more like children? Maybe it’s because society is increasingly treating them that way. I should know better than a legislator or a judge in an ivory tower whether I can ride on a sidewalk, pass a red light, ride outside a bike lane, etc.

    This is why I continually advocate less regimentation, fewer laws, fewer controls. After a brief adjustment period, people will start to use their eyes, ears, and brains to avoid conflicts. Moreover, drivers won’t be able to kill someone and the police say tough luck, the driver had the light. You need to put the onus on everyone to look out for and watch out for everyone else. As for the police, I would like to see most of the force on foot, bikes, or even Segways. Putting them in patrol cars guarantees they’ll see things with a windshield perspective.

  • Ian Turner

    Sadly, it is true. There was a citation recently elsewhere in these comments. The reason is that the prohibition against bicycle riding on the sidewalk is not a part of the motor vehicle code.

  • Ian Turner

    I think it was the one before that.

  • Guest

    Unfortunate but understandable reality…

    How many cyclists would they have to ticket on this operation to create a large enough class?

  • Ari_FS

    Do the bike decals on the pavement count as signs? That’s what DOT installed in at least one spot in the Grand Army Plaza.

    They are a lot faster/cheaper to install than poles.

  • KeNYC2030

    Agree with JR on legalizing riding on most sidewalks. Both Washington, D.C., and Portland, OR, allow it outside of downtown. Both cities still functioning, at last report.

  • SteveVaccaro

    ~10. Would do a group complaint, rather than as a class.

  • PercolatorJ

    It works fine in florida because no one walks or rides there.

  • dk12

    could this be considered police intimidation? I’m thinking someone well-connected complained.

  • Paul Schimek

    Just because they built a bike path doesn’t mean a bike RIDING path, they meant a bike WALKING path.

  • archie

    Bikes are allowed on the sidewalk in Seattle, and it works great for
    slow riders intimidated by mingling with car traffic. Believe it or not,
    the “fast moving” bike riders you’re worried about don’t like riding on
    the sidewalk…

  • HamTech87

    This is true. In Boca Raton, FL, there are large unprotected lanes along the curb on some major roads. But since road speeds are around 45-50, cyclists are afraid to ride in those lanes and choose sidewalks instead. And nobody is walking.

  • Bolwerk

    The City Council needs to pass a law compensating people when police are found to be wrong. And the compensation should come out of the officer’s paycheck.

  • moocow

    Send the tix to JSK. I love her DoT, but come on departments, get it together.

  • empidonax_road

    Streetsblog just did a piece about this… you’re not the only one this happened to.

  • nybiker

    Here’s the picture

  • Ian Turner

    Hmm, it is ambiguous; it could be interpreted to mean that cyclists are invited to bike in the roadway.

  • Andrew

    I don’t think you are anti-pedestrian, and I apologize if I gave that impression. I do, however, think that some of your proposals are a bit naive.

    I have no objection to sidewalk cycling as long as it is strictly capped at the typical walking speed of 3 mph, but somehow I don’t think that’s what you had in mind. Pedestrians sometimes make “unpredictable” moves on the sidewalk, and cyclists traveling at faster than walking speed simply won’t have time to react.

    Without traffic controls, motorists would simply act as they do today at uncontrolled intersections and while turning: by ignoring pedestrians and plowing ahead. And the police would freely allow it, as they do today.
    I have no objection to moving police out of cars, but I think that altering their commuting patterns by subjecting them to the same decisions that other New Yorkers have to make (in particular, by not guaranteeing them free parking) would have a far greater impact. They’d finally see (and experience) firsthand that those annoying pedestrians and cyclists who get in the way of drivers are simply regular people with places to go who have decided that driving is not their best option.

  • Joe R.

    What I had in mind for sidewalk riding was riding at a speed inversely proportional to pedestrian density. That means no more than a fast walk on sidewalks with a medium number of pedestrians, even slower on very crowded sidewalks, and in no case much faster than perhaps 10 or 12 mph (and then only on an empty sidewalk without doorways or other places where people can suddenly appear). The rare times I’ve ridden on sidewalks I stick to these guidelines. They work out just fine. If a sidewalk cyclist has a near miss with a pedestrian, it means they’re riding too fast. I generally drop my speed to no faster than I usually walk (~5 mph) when passing pedestrians, and I give them as wide a berth as I physically can. LIke I said, I prefer to ride in the street because sidewalks are much slower. If I’m on a sidewalk, it’s only because I feel the street is too dangerous to ride on.

    Uncontrolled intersections imply a somewhat higher standard of driver training and licensing than exists today. Yes, lack of police enforcement makes things worse, but the fundamental problem is the idea that everyone should be able to drive. In my opinion upwards of half the population lacks the coordination, judgement, intelligence, or attitude to safely operate a motor vehicle, regardless of how much training they receive. They just inherently can’t do it. We’ve dumbed down our streets and cars to allow universal driving, but you can’t dumb down unusual situations. When they happen, those who are ill-equipped to drive end up in deadly collisions. Having drivers follow a script of sorts (which is what traffic controls are) makes things all the worse because they never have a chance to hone their judgement for use in unusual situations. My ideas I think would work, but they would need to be combined with stricter licensing, as well as stricter sanctions for unacceptable behavior. “Uncontrolled” doesn’t mean you zip through at 45 mph without looking. No, it’s more like you slow to 15 or 20 mph, with your foot covering the brake, prepared to stop for any crossing pedestrians or motor vehicles.

    Totally agree about the police. If we could have residency requirements, as well as getting rid of free parking, we might actually end up with a police force who can relate to all the dangerous crap people like us have to put up with at the hands of motorists.

  • Andrew

    How on earth do you expect cyclists out pedestrians to understand that in practice?

  • Joe R.

    It’s pretty much analogous to the concept of drivers slowing on a narrow or crowded road. If it feels like you’re going too fast, then you probably are and should slow down. I don’t see how a cyclist can physically ride that fast when the sidewalk is crowded anyway. Before they go ten feet they’ll run into somebody, and then get swamped by an angry mob.

    In practice most of the adult cyclists other than the delivery people seem to adhere to something close to my guidelines. It’s the kids who really have no idea of what kinds of speeds are appropriate. I’ve had older kids weave around me and my mother at upwards of 15 mph. The delivery cyclists in Manhattan are sometimes just as bad but at least they keep to a straight line. Anyway, as others have said sidewalk riding works out okay in other places. It can certainly work in most parts of the city other than the densest parts where it should remain banned. These are mostly the kind of streets I might have in mind for sidewalk riding:



    In both cases you have fast, aggressive motor traffic and nearly empty sidewalks.

  • Guest

    I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all. But if it were, the police should be extending the benefit of the doubt instead of writing “gotcha” tickets, especially after confronted with an official map produced by DOT, the agency that installed the signs.

  • Sewer_Crawler

    So funny, the officer trying to ticket me stood right below the sign with his car blocking the path. Cool. I have a bad feeling that this would be occurring again.

  • Sewer_Crawler

    I think some people are trying to turn us away from using the bridge. I’ve been noticing an increase of broken glass, it started about two weeks ago and now it’s really bad. Please be careful if you don’t have fenders, also some of the pieces are large enough to cause a tire blow out. One of the pieces crammed into my tire today and then I caught a flat half way through my commute downtown. Also, Someone emptied a large bucket of pink paint near the ramp up the bridge from the Bronx. WTH.

  • Andrew

    The first image happens to include a bus. What happens when that bus stops and a dozen people suddenly get off? They won’t be watching or stopping for cyclists on the sidewalk. Will the cyclists on the sidewalk be watching and stopping for them?

    The sidewalks in the second image are too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists at the same time. Are cyclists prepared to stop to let pedestrians past, or are the pedestrians going to have to jump into the grass?

  • Joe R.

    In the first instance, there’s plenty of room to move to the right if your hypothetical bus discharging a dozen passengers comes. That sidewalk is 15 feet wide just like most of the sidewalks alongside fast-moving arterials. Point of fact, I rarely see more than half that number exiting at most of the bus stops along this route. Another thing to consider is bus stops typically also have waiting passengers and/or bus shelters. These two things nicely prevent cyclists from riding where they would interfere with passengers leaving a bus.

    In the second instance I’m not seeing the problem. That sidewalk is at least five feet wide, and a bike will barely take up half of it. In fact, if the wheels are a few inches from the grass, the bike will occupy less width than a typical pedestrian walking. My handlebars are 19″ across. Most pedestrians aren’t any wider than 24″, even carrying bags. That leaves 17″ of space on a 5′ sidewalk, assuming the cyclist doesn’t make an effort to move their wheels a few inches from the grass, in which case you probably gain another 7 or 8 inches. I’ve safely passed people while riding on 3 foot wide sidewalks on local streets without forcing them out of my way or scaring them. It’s really easy-just slow to the speed of a fast walk, and move as far to the opposite of the side the person is walking on. In rare instances when I’ve encountered a pedestrian I couldn’t pass (i.e. either pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, etc.) I moved my bike onto the adjacent grass.

    Sharing sidewalk space works fine in practice so long as the cyclist realizes they’re on pedestrian’s turf, and it’s up to them to make way. The oft-used “walk your bike on the sidewalk” if it it’s unsafe to ride in the street makes less sense in practice than just riding it at low speed. A person walking a bike takes up twice as much room, and the pedals of a bike being walked can and do clip pedestrians all the time.

    Incidentally, I picked the two examples I did mostly because they show streets an average cyclist wouldn’t be comfortable riding on. In the first case (Union Turnpike), the space in the parking lane puts you squarely in the door zone. Traffic is generally too fast and heavy to take a traffic lane. I ride on Union Turnpike a lot but generally at night when I can safely take a traffic lane most of the time. Also, when traffic is heavy I draft vehicles to keep up with traffic, often at speeds of 25 to 35 mph. Your average cyclist doesn’t have the strength or balls for this, so they’ll most likely be on the sidewalk. The second case (Cross Bay Boulevard) is practically a highway in that location. The rightmost lane has fast-moving motor traffic. I rode there a few times to access the Belt Parkway Greenway. Here even I didn’t feel comfortable, except on the sidewalk.

  • Andrew

    It doesn’t really make a difference how many people are getting off, as long as the number is greater than zero. There are plenty of stops that have a lot of offs but no ons, especially in the realm of express buses, such as this one, which (with few exceptions) never pick up and drop off at the same stops – and drop-off-only stops won’t have shelters.

    I agree completely with your “pedestrian’s turf” comment – and I’m seriously worried that some cyclists will forget or won’t care in the first place. Perhaps if there were a notion of strict liability for cyclists (and motorists!), I’d be less concerned.

  • qrt145

    Joe’s second picture looks very similar to the Pelham Parkway “sidewalk”, which is officially a greenway and a bike route ( http://goo.gl/AzIgou ). It’s all a matter of convention and signage. I see no reason why cyclists couldn’t ride that sidewalk safely. It clearly has nearly zero pedestrian traffic.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps if there were a notion of strict liability for cyclists (and motorists!), I’d be less concerned.

    And I would favor exactly such a thing for sidewalk cyclists. The whole idea behind allowing cyclists to ride on the sidewalk is to allow safe passage on streets where street riding might be problematic. However, at the same time we reduce the potential for cyclist injuries I don’t want to increase the potential for pedestrian injuries. Strict liability for sidewalk cyclists would ensure that they exercise due care. Remember, I’m a pedestrian, too, and I don’t want to be run down on the sidewalk by reckless cyclists either.

  • Andrew

    Based on the image, it has no more bike traffic than it does pedestrian traffic.

    If I’m not mistaken, your Pelham Parkway example is where the bus stops are. Be careful near bus stops, and don’t expect bus riders to look out for cyclists while stepping off the bus.

  • Andrew

    I think we agree. (Will wonders never cease?)

  • Nathanael

    It’s time to get these “officers'” names and numbers, because they need to be prosectued. Blocking bike paths, giving out phony tickets… these are actually crimes.

  • Jack E. Savage

    @Nathaniel: Getting badge numbers from those cops arresting and ticketing cyclists would be an ideal safety valve if we had a functioning city bureaucracy…but the last time I asked for a badge number I was also charged with ‘resisting arrest’…not as easy as one would think!

  • lop

    >The second case (Cross Bay Boulevard) is practically a highway in that location. The rightmost lane has fast-moving motor traffic. I rode there a few times to access the Belt Parkway Greenway.

    Take pitkin to left the wrong way down Whitelaw, last left before conduit onto arion then ped bridge by the school over conduit, 88 to 155 to 84 to get to the belt parkway 84th st underpass to get to the greenway.

    A lot more relaxing then cross bay usually is.

  • Ronan Dex

    Get their badge numbers to see people they have arrested. Leak their names, addresses, pictures of family, where their kids go to school to all the violent criminals they arrested.

  • Matt

    Was there ever any updates on if the guy was able to get these dismissed?