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.

  • smell bacon?

    Hmmm…could this be connected to the recent bike thefts? http://www.motthavenherald.com/2013/11/07/police-beat-the-week-of-oct-28-in-crime/

    If the dots are connected its an interesting if not entirely novel approach to policing strategy.

  • KeNYC2030

    As things stand now, there are no consequences for an officer or precinct that hands out bogus tickets like this. If there were, commanding officers might think twice before deploying units to harass cyclists.

  • JDC

    Is this real life?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Your punishment for riding illegally is a fine.

    Your punishment for riding legally is a choice of a fine or a day off from work.

    I wonder how many days off and years off from work the average serf on a bicycle has to burn compared with the average member of the NYPD?

    They can punish you for what you didn’t do anytime.

  • It’d be cool if cops someday start carrying around tablets to write up these tickets and the ordinance/code the person violated would be displayed. I mean how could they get away with writing up a violation that doesn’t really exist? This is outrageous because now Rienti is going to have to take time off work or personal time to fight this.

  • chris boiallis

    Go get Em Joe

  • Guest

    Ride on the designated shared-use path, and you’ll get a ticket.
    Drive on the sidewalk and kill somebody… hey, accidents happen, our hands are tied, we have more important things to do.

    It’s a shame that Ray Kelly is only losing his job because of a change in administration. He deserves the public shame of being fired!

    At the end of the day, though, hopefully we actually get somebody who gives a damn about keeping us safe, instead of pretending to be a little military commander.

  • Guest

    Why don’t the Courts put an end to this absolute abuse?

    If they started holding individual NYPD officers in contempt for this blatant, unlawful harassment, you would see an end like real quick!

  • Tom Rorb

    Does the NYPD regularly pull over drivers and give them a summons for something legal? Seriously, how can you write out tickets for something completely legal? Here are some ideas the NYPD can write up for drivers that they’ll then need to spend a day in court getting dismissed.

    Driving while chewing gum = $200
    Parking while angry = $50
    Not turning off blinker quickly enough after switching lanes = $100

  • Guest

    Hell, I’d be ecstatic if I EVER actually saw the NYPD ticketing drivers for the many illegal and dangerous things I see them do every day!

  • Hilda

    I would be ecstatic if I ever saw a driver use a blinker to change lanes!

  • Glenn

    Maybe Jimmy Vacca could tackle this as his swan song on transportation committee? Doubtful

  • KillMoto

    Is this just fantasy?

  • wouldn’t help in this case. according to the article, the tickets were for riding on the sidewalk, which is an actual law, but one which is fairly clearly not applicable in this particular location.

  • Mark Walker

    This display of incompetence can only erode public support (including taxpayer support) for the NYPD. Heads should roll over this…. Ray Kelly in particular should be worried about this. It makes him look like a clueless manager who has no idea what’s going on at a time when he’s looking for a new high-profile job.

  • Daniel

    Is this the type of thing that can be reported here? http://www.nyc.gov/html/ccpc/html/contact/contact.shtml

    A cop repeatedly and brazenly perjuring himself at the same location should be relatively easy to target in a sting. NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau should be able to figure out if this is just a corrupt cop or if there is a corrupt station house that needs to be cleaned up.

  • Guest

    Around 8:20 AM this morning I noticed a black car at the bottom of the hill of the bridge entering 125th Street. As I approached, the officer (last name starts with an M) came out of the car and stopped me. He then proceeded to tell me that bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks. I continued to tell him that he’s ill informed and this is a shared trail (ped/bike). He didn’t seem to like it when I started bantering about the fact that his precinct does nothing about ticketing drivers on 1st and 2nd avenue who idle in the bike lane. I often stop and signal to the officers, then ask them if they are going to do anything. I’ve gotten responses like “we don’t ticket drivers in the bike lane”. I also brought up that police park in the bike lanes, he didn’t like this either. I stopped being sarcastic and told him that he has no reason to stop me and that he’s holding me up, I’m on my way to work and have appointments to get to, I’m a full time student pursuing a business degree and do not have the time or money to pay for a lousy ticket or spend time in court. I showed him my drivers licence, school ID and work ID. I work at an animal shelter, he then proceeded to say that he’ll let me go because he loves animals. I’m planning on going to the precinct and dropping off a map of the bicycle paths in the city. KEEP RIDING and don’t let them tell you what you can or cannot do if you are following the rules and having fun.

  • Sewer_Crawler

    Happened to me man, i was livid.

  • Adam Herstein

    Caught in a landslide…

  • Sewer_Crawler

    Around 8:20 AM this morning I noticed a black car at the bottom of the hill of the bridge entering 125th Street. As I approached, the officer (last name starts with an M) came out of the car and stopped me. He then proceeded to tell me that bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks. I continued to tell him that he’s ill informed and this is a shared trail (ped/bike). He didn’t seem to like it when I started bantering about the fact that his precinct does nothing about ticketing drivers on 1st and 2nd avenue who idle in the bike lane. I often stop and signal to the officers, then ask them if they are going to do anything. I’ve gotten responses like “we don’t ticket drivers in the bike lane”. I also brought up that police park in the bike lanes, he didn’t like this either. I stopped being sarcastic and told him that he has no reason to stop me and that he’s holding me up, I’m on my way to work and have appointments to get to, I’m a full time student pursuing a business degree and do not have the time or money to pay for a lousy ticket or spend time in court. I showed him my drivers licence, school ID and work ID. I work at an animal shelter, he then proceeded to say that he’ll let me go because he loves animals. I’m planning on going to the precinct and dropping off a map of the bicycle paths in the city. KEEP RIDING and don’t let them tell you what you can or cannot do if you are following the rules and having fun. (sorry for the re-post, had to remove my name so they don’t show up where I work)

  • Robert Wright

    I think you mean “this joins the list of things that make Ray Kelly look like a clueless manager,” no?

    The tragedy is they’ve done impressive things on tackling gang violence via intellgence-led policing. Why so much of the rest of the policing has to remain stupidity-led I don’t know.

  • Jesse

    Dear new mayor,

    Please take all of those cops that will no longer be busy harassing black people and put them on bikes in plain clothes.

  • Jesse

    No escape from reality…

  • Larry Littlefield

    Reality — all those cops hired in the early 1990s are retiring — and will be paid as much to stay home as they were on the job after taxes.

    We cannot afford to replace them.

  • Ed Ravin

    Unfortunately, the law that the City Council passed about sidewalk riding is ambiguous – see http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/ADC/19/1/3/19-176 – it says “No person shall ride a bicycle upon any sidewalk unless permitted
    by an official sign.” Once can argue that the NYC bike map is an official sign in the more general sense, but if you read it literally it means there needs to be a sign on a pole nearby.

    So the first thing we should be doing is asking the DoT to put up some signs. There should be trailblazing signs at the bridge entrance in any case to show peds and cyclists where the bridge crossing is. If those are missing, get them replaced. Those of you who commute on this route, please check it out and call 311 if you don’t see any signs.

    The second thing we could be doing is to ask City Council to change the law to expand the definition to also allow riding on sidewalks “designated as bicycle routes by the department of transportation or the deparment of parks and recreation”. INAL, so that language might need to be beefed up a bit, but this would be a good issue to work on for us to see how the new City Council responds to bicyclists’s issues. It wouldn’t be the first time the City Council had to adjust the law to rein in the cops.

  • Joe R.

    The law should be changed to “Bicycle riding upon sidewalks is permitted unless there is an official sign prohibiting it”. There’s no reason sidewalk cycling in general shouldn’t be the rule, especially on the nearly empty sidewalks in much of the outer boroughs. If some sidewalks are too crowded to safely share space, then signs prohibiting riding should be posted. The law as it stands now is a form of entrapment. Unless a cyclist reads the law in question, they really have no way of knowing sidewalk riding is prohibited. It’s akin to expecting drivers to obey a speed limit or parking restrictions without posting signs stating the rules. There should be a sign clearly indicating “no sidewalk cycling” on each and every block where it’s prohibited. If such a sign isn’t present, then the NYPD shouldn’t be allowed to issue tickets.

    While we’re reforming the law, you should be allowed to pay sidewalk cycling tickets by mail if you don’t intend to plead not guilty. It’s ridiculous that you have to show up in court. This is a case where the system is the punishment.

  • Myra Hill

    How do we cross the bridge by bike then?

  • Joe R.

    The brain surgeons at the NYPD would probably say to walk your bike across, but knowing them you would get a ticket for that, too. Hopefully DOT will fix the problem and install signs on the bridge so the police can see it’s officially a shared used path.

  • Guest

    The combination of their dereliction of duty and willful negligence by knowingly allowing hazardous conditions in bike lanes, their own illegal behavior in obstructing bicycle lanes, and their targeting of cyclists engaged in lawful behavior is surely grounds for some disciplinary action, no???

  • chekpeds

    I can see the headlines : “toddler killed by bicyclist on sidewalk.” End of discussion, cars and Nypd win.
    What about a sign saying” no stealing, no breaking, no entering, in hurting and killing etc…. ‘” should the sign be in each aisle of the supermarket ?

    As a pedestrian, I object to your recommendation.
    The problem is that NYPD lives in a car society and engage in profiling: cars drivers are good, trucks drivers work, thus good, bicyclists are evil, ( they dare to take space away from cars) , pedestrians better get out of the way. They are expandable, if you kill them, it’s their fault.

  • Guest

    They even don’t need a sting.
    They have been filing false reports!

  • Guest

    There could be if somebody brought a lawsuit.

    Maybe Steve Vacaro could tackle this one?!

  • Nathanael

    You need to get the names and badge numbers of the officers, because criminal complaints need to be filed against them. Not that they’ll pay any attention, but what you’re doing is building up a record for running the election campaign against the Brooklyn District Attorney…. a record of the DA ignoring criminal complaints against criminal police. That’s the sort of dirt you want to have on the incumbent when you start your election campaign

    The path is explicitly designated as a bicycle path.

  • Nathanael

    The NYPD isn’t going to do a damn thing, because the NYPD is criminally corrupt right up to Ray Kelly, the “font” from which the corruption flows. And the Manhattan and Brooklyn DAs are corrupt too.

    Attorney General Eric Schniderman might do something — or any grand jury in the county has the right to investigate and prosecute, regardless of what the DA wants. Or you can throw the DAs out in an election campaign and start really cleaning things up. Those are your options.

  • Nathanael

    Ray Kelly deserves to be arrested, indicted, convicted, and imprisoned for life without parole for the criminal conspiracy which he led within the NYPD. It seems to be very hard to get dangerous mob types like Ray Kelly put into prison though.

  • Nathanael

    Lawsuits don’t seem to do the trick. These corrupt police need to be *criminally* prosecuted for their *criminal* harassment of citizens.

    This can theoretically be done by any grand jury, but is much easier if you control the DA’s office. DA elections are very important.

  • Joe R.

    What about a sign saying” no stealing, no breaking, no entering, in hurting and killing etc…. ‘” should the sign be in each aisle of the supermarket ?

    Actually, many stores have signs which say “Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”. You need to realize there’s a difference between laws which most people are aware of, like murder or rape or stealing, and other laws like the sidewalk cycling law which many people are unaware of. I received a sidewalk cycling ticket back in 1999. At the time I was riding for over 20 years, and I wasn’t aware that sidewalk cycling was illegal. In fact, researching the law, I think it’s only been illegal since 1995. The curb cuts the city installed seemed to me like a welcome mat for bikes and other wheeled vehicles to use the sidewalks if necessary. That’s why I think we need signs where sidewalk cycling is prohibited. Remember NYC is a city of immigrants. In many other countries, and even in many parts of the US, riding on sidewalks is legal. There’s no way we can expect people here to know it’s illegal without putting up signs to that effect. I feel in the outer boroughs especially, there’s no reason not to allow sidewalk cycling. How exactly are parents supposed to ride with their children? It’s often too dangerous for children to ride in the streets, and yet their parents can’t legally ride with them on the sidewalks. On the other hand, there are certainly places where sidewalks are too crowded to allow bicycles and I have no problem with that provided signs are posted.

  • Guest

    Bernie Kerik did do a stint, though.

    It’s always easier to touch them after they’ve lost their strangle hold on power, I guess. So maybe there’s a little hope…

  • JR

    So I ran past the “scene of the crime” this morning and there is a very clear green sign with an arrow and a bicycle labeled Willis Ave Bridge at the entrance to the bikeway. I took a picture.

  • chekpeds

    Joe R, Children younger than 14 do have the right to cycle on the sidewalk.
    I guess you are making a strong argument that cyclists should take a driving exam so that they learn the law.
    Or 1 ticket in 20 years is a small price to pay to learn the law.

    I am sure you are a very careful cyclist but there are many aggressive entitled ones whom I do not trust to be on the sidewalk. ( as there are many aggressive entitled drivers whom i don’t trust being on the streets )

  • Joe R.

    You’re using flawed reasoning here-if a small percentage of people can’t safely do something, then let’s just make it illegal for everyone. The aggressive sidewalk cyclists are mostly commercial cyclists. There are ways to deal with them, including paying them by the hour instead of by the delivery, so they have less incentive to ride recklessly. The vast majority of cyclists can safely share space with pedestrians on most sidewalks. The problem is that the law is Manhattan-centric. It may be a good law to prohibit cycling on midtown Manhattan sidewalks during business hours. That law shouldn’t apply to outer borough sidewalks which are often nearly empty.

    Yes, children under 14 can legally ride on sidewalks but what if their parents want to join them? Right now there are only two legal options. The children ride on the sidewalk while the parents ride on the street, with a row of parked cars separating them. So much for family togetherness. Or both ride in the street, even though many outer borough streets are dangerous even for adults, never mind children.

    The very premise of the ban on sidewalk cycling is that cyclists and pedestrians can’t safely share space, and yet they do in many places, even in NYC on shared used paths. As a pedestrian as well as a cyclist, I fully support initiatives which really make things safer for pedestrians. The sidewalk cycling ban isn’t one of those things. It’s been misused as a tool by the NYPD to harass cyclists even when they presented absolutely no danger to anyone. My ticket was for riding on an empty sidewalk at 10 PM. Who was I hurting? The problem with laws like this is they often punish people who are not harming anyone. That’s counter to the principals of natural law which governed the US for most of its existence. When you punish people when no harm occurred, respect for the law erodes.

    Would you support pedestrians getting tickets for crossing against the light at empty intersections? That’s illegal too unfortunately but at least the NYPD so far has the good sense not to enforce this law. If they used the same discretion with sidewalk cycling, only giving tickets to people riding aggressively on crowded sidewalks, then maybe I wouldn’t object so vehemently to the law.

  • chekpeds

    Ah flawed!. ah so easy to blame the immigrants!
    IN my experience, white young cyclists ( male or female) are the most obnoxious and aggressive on the sidewalks.

  • Joe R.

    Where I live it’s the young kids who are the biggest pains but they have the city’s blessing to ride on the sidewalks. Anyway, aggressive or not, the reason cyclists take to the sidewalks is because they don’t feel safe in the street (or the street is in very poor condition). If you really don’t want cyclists on the sidewalk, then you need to support good bicycle infrastructure, traffic calming, and reasonable enforcement measures (i.e only ticketing for aggressive riding on crowded sidewalks). When we have infrastructure which cyclists from 8 to 80 can feel safe using, then we can legally ban cyclists from using any adjacent sidewalks but not before.

    Incidentally, how many pedestrians have been killed by sidewalk cyclists? The last one was in 2009. When was the last time someone on a sidewalk was killed by a motor vehicle? Most times you can correctly answer within the last week. Let’s not lose sight of the real problem here-motor vehicles. They leave cyclists and pedestrians fighting over the leftover scraps.

  • Kevin Love

    Because immigrants cannot be white?

  • chekpeds

    Touche! I am a white immigrant..
    totally in agreement that what we need is more bike lanes.. and yes the real problem is motor vehicles . I am glad we agree

  • qrt145

    Joe, the cyclist who killed a pedestrian in 2009 wasn’t on the sidewalk, but going the wrong way on a one-way street.

    Actually, I can’t recall ever reading about a cyclist killing a pedestrian on a sidewalk. I’m sure it may have happened, but a deadly risk it definitely ain’t.

  • KillMoto

    Well then. The best way to afford new police to replace the retirees would be for NYPD to lower their other costs. Say, health care and motor vehicle fleet upkeep.

    How ’bout shelving half the fleet of police cars and replace them with bikes? That will address both the above cost cutting measures!

  • Bronxite

    Very frustrating.

    The 25 and 49 should focus on a sting to stop the recent robberies along the Willis Ave Bridge rather than distributing bogus tickets.

    There should be officers riding bicycles along the bridge in plain clothes and available at both sides to intercept the criminals.

    Regular patrols across the bridge by uninformed officers on bicycles would be nice too. I don’t I understand why the NYPD fails to take advantage of utilizing more bicycles and segways to cover more ground, more rapidly. All neighborhoods should contain a mixture of police on foot, bike, segway, and automobile patrols. Especially communities like Mott Haven and East Harlem where violent crime is above average.

    We need a more innovative police commissioner.

  • Guest

    Please distribute far and wide – I hope many cyclists appear in court to not only fight their ticket but make a request to the judge to refer to a grand jury the case of the officer filing a false report.

    If they are going to drag innocent cyclists into court, hopefully the court will actually review the situation. Probably not, but it’s always possible they’ll catch a judge who is tired of the police lying in his/her courtroom.

  • Andrew

    There’s no reason sidewalk cycling in general shouldn’t be the rule

    Of course there is. Pedestrians should be able to walk freely around the sidewalk without having to look over their shoulders for fast moving vehicles.

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