Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Bicycling

NYC Bike-on-Sidewalk Tickets Most Common in Black and Latino Communities

Chart by Harry Levine and Loren Siegel. Full data, including summonses as a share of population, available on their website.
pfb logo 100x22
false

Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Of all the possible ways to break the law on a bicycle, pedaling on the sidewalk ought to be one of the most sympathetic.

Yes, sidewalk biking is unpleasant and potentially dangerous to everyone involved. But people wouldn't bike on sidewalks if they weren't in search of something they want: physical protection from auto traffic.

A person biking on a sidewalk is just trying to use the protected bike lane that isn't there. That's why sidewalk biking falls dramatically the moment a protected lane is installed. When a bike rider fails to follow this law, it's not good. But it's usually because the street has already failed to help the rider.

All of which makes it especially disturbing that bans on sidewalk biking seem to be enforced disproportionately on black and Latino riders.

That's the implication of a recent study from New York City. City University of New York sociologist Harry Levine and civil rights attorney Loren Siegel coded the neighborhoods with the most and fewest bike-on-sidewalk court summonses by whether or not most residents are black or Latino.

Of the 15 neighborhoods with the most such summonses, he found, 12 were mostly black or Latino. Of the 15 neighborhoods with the fewest summonses, 14 did not have a black or Latino majority.

One of the reasons for this gap may be that streets in these neighborhoods are more likely to be built like highways. Another: biking might be more common overall in these places. And local cultures might have different attitudes toward biking. But certainly, some of the reason is that police officers and court officials tend to treat people of different races differently.

Whatever the cause, this is what institutional racism looks like. Here's what the New York Times editorial board has to say about the situation:

Summons court -- which handles offenses like public drinking, riding bicycles on the sidewalk or talking back to the cops, otherwise known as disorderly conduct -- is anything but petty. It is a place where low-level offenses can lead to permanent criminal histories and lifelong encumbrances.

Reducing sidewalk biking by building the streets people actually want, with physical separation between bikes, cars, and sidewalks, obviously won't fix institutional racism. But it's maddening when missing infrastructure contributes to the machinery of inequality. That's what's happening here, and it's just another price American cities pay when they relegate biking to the margins of our society and the gutters of our streets.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

New York City Roadway at Risk of Dramatic Decline As Deadline Looms

Fewer than two dozen restaurants are in the pipeline for roadside seating, according to public records.

July 12, 2024

Opinion: Congestion Pricing Is A Compromise

Alternatives paths to cut congestion and pollution and fund the MTA make congestion tolls look like a cheap parlor trick.

July 12, 2024

Friday’s Headlines: Department of Victim Blaming Edition

Traffic deaths in the city are on pace to reach their highest number since at least 2013 — and DOT is reportedly blaming "jaywalking." Plus more news.

July 12, 2024

‘Suburban’ Queens Stalwarts Take Hard Line Against Housing — To Rest of City’s Detriment

“That's what they bought in the suburbs for, that's why they raised their family in the suburbs," said Council Member Joann Ariola, whose district contains 14 subway stations.

July 11, 2024

DOT Seeks New Camera Enforcement Contract to Better Catch Obscured License Plates

The city's current contractor has let hundreds of thousands of reckless drivers off the hook.

July 11, 2024
See all posts