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Precinct Where Drivers Killed Seniors in Crosswalks Ramps Up Bike Tickets

Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie
Handing out traffic tickets that do nothing to improve safety? This will end well. Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie
Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

If you're an NYPD precinct commander interested in issuing lots of tickets to cyclists in a short period of time, the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge bike path is a tempting place to send your officers. While the intersection itself has fewer crashes than other parts of the neighborhood, the regular stream of cyclists funneling to and from the bridge path makes for easy pickings.

The Manhattan Bridge bike path touches down at the intersection of Forsyth and Canal Streets in Chinatown. Sheltered from most of the dangers posed by bridge-bound drivers using the western section of Canal Street, the intersection is usually busy with people walking and people on bikes. The traffic signal there often plays second fiddle to the eyes and ears of pedestrians and cyclists, who cross when there is no oncoming traffic.

Combine this setup with the fact that the Manhattan Bridge is one of the city's most popular bike routes, and you've got a recipe for a ticket bonanza -- not for run-of-the-mill jaywalking, of course, but for cyclists who choose to go against the light. On Sunday, the 5th Precinct parked a cruiser around the corner on Forsyth and stationed an officer there to hand out tickets. When one cyclist didn't stop after the officer shouted, he was pushed to the ground.

"Seeing a guy get tackled off of a bike is not something you see every day," said Elie Z. Perler, who saw the confrontation before posting about it on his neighborhood blog, Bowery Boogie. "It just seemed excessive."

The 5th Precinct has taken a backwards approach to bike enforcement before. At a nearby T-intersection at Chrystie and Rivington Streets, where there is no cross traffic during red lights, officers often hand out red light tickets to cyclists, costing $190 each. After a pedestrian was killed in a Kenmare Street crosswalk in September by a driver who failed to yield, a Streetsblog reader said an officer used the fatality as a rationale to issue red light tickets to cyclists.

Perler published the photo yesterday, and the precinct addressed its approach to bike safety on Twitter today:

The 5th Pct. had a 115% increase in bicycle collisions this year Police Officers will be enforcing violations by bicyclists.#bike safety

— NYPD 5th Precinct (@NYPD5Pct) November 21, 2014

Through the end of October, the 5th Precinct has issued 619 red light tickets, up from 477 at the same point last year. That's far more than the combined number of summonses for speeding (113, up from 81) and failure to yield (211, up from 150).

Because NYPD's public data lumps drivers and cyclists together, it's hard to know exactly how many of those tickets go to cyclists. While the department has not replied to inquiries about cyclist tickets today, history offers a clue: In 2012, the Upper East Side's 19th Precinct bragged that more than half of its red light tickets went to bike riders.

There have been two traffic deaths in the 5th Precinct so far this year, both pedestrians: Sau Ying Lee, 90, and Sui Leung, 82. Both were in crosswalks when motorists ran them down. Handing out tickets to cyclists wouldn't have prevented their deaths, and it won't help achieve Vision Zero.

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