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

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.

  • Joe R.

    Those are my thoughts as well. If NYC rolls back bike infrastructure it will be seen as backwards compared to other cities. We’re on a roll (pun intended) nationally and internationally. This is bigger than NYC politics. Sure, a few miscreants may delay progress slightly, but not stop it.

  • Joe R.

    While I think you’re wrong about our bike infrastructure being erased, I’m seeing a bit of irony here in your philosophical opposition to some of the much more permanent (and hence harder to erase) types of bike infrastructure I’ve espoused. Whether you like the idea or not, once things are cast in stone (literally), it becomes an exercise in political risk to get rid of them. I suppose to some extent that’s why it’s so hard to scale down a lot of our car infrastructure. The argument is that for better or worse it’s there, we spent a lot of money building it, and so it makes no sense tearing it down. Anyway, I won’t belabor the point but if you and other cycling advocates really fear losing what we have, perhaps you should have tried to have more really permanent infrastructure built when it might have been possible.

    On another note, if cycling advocates can convince Bloomberg to do so, he can undoubtably single-handedly fund much of what I envisioned. Faced with the possibility of a great bike system at no cost to taxpayers, any politician would be insane to refuse it.

  • Joe R.

    It’s also notable how we’ve become more enlightened on what the laws should be for bikes, as opposed to what they actually are. 5 or 6 years ago a thread like this would have been filled mostly with “Obey the law and stay off the sidewalk if you don’t want a ticket”, even here on Streetsblog. Same thing if the topic were red lights. Now a good number of responses are questioning the law itself. We may not yet have the political capital for more sensible cycling laws but we will as more of the general public gets used to typical cyclist interactions with other street users.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Legally mandated helmets… Go.

  • ahwr

    How much of that is just a demographic shift on streetsblog? You sure the site doesn’t just have more cyclists than it used to?

  • Matt

    Might as well shoot them in the face, because punishment is punishment and don’t ride on the damn sidewalk. RIGHT?

  • Matt

    Reason is not appreciated when it is not congruent with the law.

  • Cynara2

    Banning cyclists from the sidewalk would hopefully result in reducing sidewalk cycling to near zero. This is obviously the only choice society has.

  • Cynara2

    Well good. Motorists no longer have to worry about passing you too fast or too close.

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