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NYPD Shifts Sidewalk Bicycling Tickets Out of Criminal Court

NYPD is issuing substantially fewer criminal summonses for sidewalk bicycling, opting to enforce the violation with traffic tickets instead. While the shift is a good step toward decriminalizing the behavior, as a result there's also less information available about how police are applying the law against sidewalk biking.

Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr
A better ticketing policy from NYPD, but one that's also harder to track. Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr
Photo: Seth Werkheiser/Flickr

Last year, police issued 6,069 bicycle-related criminal summonses, down from 25,082 in 2013, according to a report NYPD issued last week on broken windows policing [PDF]. Why the big drop? A footnote explains: Last year, NYPD "began issuing violators of riding a bike on a sidewalk moving violations rather than criminal court summons."

A traffic ticket, which can be handled online or via mail, is less serious than a criminal summons, which requires a court appearance and can carry the threat of jail. In practice, both summonses and traffic tickets for sidewalk riding typically result in a $50 fine, according to attorney Steve Vaccaro.

Fewer criminal summonses should lessen the burden on black and Latino communities that receive a disproportionate share of sidewalk bicycling enforcement from the police. But because of limitations in how NYPD releases data, sidewalk riding tickets are harder to track than sidewalk riding summonses.

Each year, the Criminal Court of the City of New York issues a report on the city's most frequently-charged criminal summonses. Sidewalk bicycling always comes in near the top: In 2013, it ranked fourth, with 18,700 summonses, and in 2012, it ranked third with about 25,000 summonses. (Last year's annual report is not yet available.)

Now that NYPD is issuing traffic tickets instead, sidewalk riding should show up in NYPD's monthly tallies of moving violations by precinct. Problem is, there's no category for sidewalk bicycling. In fact, there's no category at all for violations issued to cyclists.

In annual summaries of NYPD moving violations, the "other" category included 60,274 violations in 2012 and 69,088 in 2013. Last year, when thousands of sidewalk bicycling violations were supposedly added to the mix, it only jumped slightly, to 69,979 violations.

NYPD has not replied to an inquiry about the number of sidewalk bicycling violations it issued last year.

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