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Local Speeding Tickets (Barely) Outnumber Sidewalk Biking Summonses

We've got a new installment in Streetsblog's hotly-anticipated Sidewalk Biking Ticket Index, which compares the number of sidewalk biking summonses issued by NYPD to the number of speeding tickets issued by local precincts. In a reversal from 2012, NYPD last year issued more tickets for speeding on local streets than criminal charges for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk -- but just barely. The ratio is still far out of proportion to the damage caused by each offense.

Still one of NYPD's top criminal priorities. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr
Last year, NYPD issued 18,700 summonses for biking on the sidewalk and about 24,200 tickets for speeding on local streets, but only speeding was a cause of death. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr
Still one of NYPD's top criminal priorities. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr

NYPD issued 18,700 sidewalk riding summonses in 2013, according to the Criminal Court of the City of New York Annual Report [PDF 1, 2]. Sidewalk riding is the city's fourth most frequently charged criminal summons -- a category of infraction below a misdemeanor. (Violating the city's open container law is far and away the most common summons.)

Meanwhile, precinct officers gave out 24,259 speeding tickets last year. (The NYPD highway patrol issued another 56,000 tickets, but it mainly covers highways, not local streets.) That's an increase of more than 25 percent from 2012.

While speeding enforcement moved in the right direction in 2013, leadfooted motorists should be getting many more tickets. Speeding is consistently among the top causes of traffic deaths in the city, while no one has been killed by a cyclist in New York since 2009. 

Sidewalk riding summonses appear to be especially common in denser neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, where it's a nuisance to pedestrians. Since on most avenues cyclists have to choose between risking a fine and risking their life on wide, dangerous streets, enforcement seems to be a less effective fix than engineering safe bikeways. In farther out neighborhoods like Brownsville, sidewalk riding tickets are reportedly used to harass young men of color.

Within the criminal courts, there are still far more charges for sidewalk riding than for dangerous car-related infractions like operating a motor vehicle in violation of safety rules (10,503), reckless driving (9,564), and unlicensed operation of a vehicle (3,904). Traffic violations like speeding and failure to yield are a separate type of infraction and get handled by traffic courts.

Although law enforcement still needs to step up its game against dangerous driving, the increase in speeding enforcement shows the numbers last year began to move in the right direction. The introduction this year of speed cameras and the Vision Zero agenda should accelerate the trend.

This post has been updated with additional statistics from the Criminal Court of the City of New York.

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