NYPD Bike Crackdown Season Has Nothing to Do With Vision Zero

When the weather warms up you can count on two things: more New Yorkers riding bikes, and NYPD bike ticket blitzes.

Keegan Stephan of Right of Way tweeted that the 19th Precinct was handing out flyers to cyclists this morning and warning of a “crackdown” starting tomorrow.

The flyers feature the city’s Vision Zero graphic along with NYPD, DOT, and TLC logos. They advise cyclists to “be visible” and “use bike lanes.” Pedestrians are directed to “do what you can to be seen.” Drivers are told to “slow down” and “expect people in the crosswalk.”

You might get the impression from the flyer that motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists are equally responsible for carnage on NYC streets. In fact, driver behavior causes most serious crashes.

NYPD bike crackdowns have never been about targeting dangerous behavior. Instead, police stake out locations where infrastructure leads people on bikes to violate the letter of the law, and then the citations pile up.

While the 19th Precinct is gearing up to ticket cyclists, as of April local officers had ticketed just 24 drivers for speeding in 2015.

  • The last one before the two last year was 2009.

  • @FtGreeneCyclist

    You sound a lot like a driver talking about pedestrians and cyclists.

  • walknseason

    Where in BS? Was it the 81st, 79th or 88th?

  • The risk I’m speaking of at Canal/Forsyth is not in turning right with right-turning cars (though you conveniently gloss over the fact that you have to enter the flow of traffic at precisely the moment they’re turning, which isn’t exactly safe)…

    If you enter Canal off the bridge and turn right at Forsyth, you are always to the right of the cars. That’s as safe as you can get on a street without a protected bike lane.

    …but in the several blocks of unnecessary travel you’re saying cyclists are obliged to undertake, for no good reason.

    More hyperbolic langauge. First of all, if the “risk” of going five blocks on a bicycle is too much for someone, then that person won’t be bicycling in the first place. In this particular case, Forsyth is a small street that can be easliy ridden for the two blocks from Canal to East Broadway; and then East Broadway and Pike/Allen have bike lanes — the one on Pike/Allen is a protected centre-running lane! The need to do this (rather than going straight from the right-turn lane on Canal) is a minor inconvenience, nothing more.

    We’ve already established that it’s possible to come off the bridge and to use the bike signal that governs the crossing of Canal in order to position yourself in Canal’s through lane, so as to be ready to go eastward on Canal once the light at Forsyth turns green. If you prefer that, then go for it; that’s equally legal. But there is no good reason to defend going straight from a right-turn-only lane; and it is curious that you defend this manoeuvre which involves the risk of crossing the paths of cars, as oppossed to staying to the right of cars as you (and they) turn right at Forsyth.

    (Of course, the best solution would be a bike-only signal to cross Forsyth, similar to the one that governs crossing Canal, and a painted green lane from the bridge to east-bound Canal.)

    you interpret what’s “legally required” in order to conform with your own balance of personal convenience and safety with the actual letter of the law. But no, I don’t think “as near as practicable” to the left side of the road on First Avenue means that we’re legally permitted to flow down the center of the road in order to adjust to driver behavior, which is what I’m saying I sometimes have to do, in order to protect myself.

    I decide what to do based on the requirements of the law,which already provides for reasons for us to leave the bike lane for the sake of safety.

    DOT Traffic Rules, Section 4-12(p)(1): “Whenever a suitable path or lane for bicycles has been privede, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:

    (ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.”

    So our act of riding to the right of the left-turn lanes on First Avenue at 57th St. (i.e., on the left edge of the third lane from the left) is allowed, on the grounds of “avoid[ing] conditions (…motor vehicles…) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.”

    I think that inconvenience absolutely can be a justifying consideration for breaking the law, provided that the law being broken serves no purpose in the circumstances.

    If you think a law serves no purpose or is counterproductive, then your recourse is to work to change it. The position of equating an imposed inconvenience with moral repugnance, as a grounds to ignore the law, is absurd.

    Have you ever rolled through a red light on a one-way street that won’t turn green because it’ll only be activated by the presence of a car? The only legally-valid alternative in that kind of situation would require dismounting and undertaking a lengthy detour (some or all on foot) that might not even get you to where you’re going.

    I might once have done that. But since I got a dubious ticket for walking my bke through a red light while straddling it, I wouldn’t do that again. I recently found myself at an endless red light somewhere out in Nassau County. I have no idea why it wasn’t changing; but I just got off and walked the bike through the light. So this is what I would do in all recurrences of this event. (It’s hard to understand what kind of “lenghthy detour” you are imagining. There is in fact no detour; you just walk the same direction that you would have ridden.)

    Drivers will complain about cyclists, no matter how law-abiding we are. They will always find some reason to fight against our interests.

    Certainly there exists a segment of people who would hate bicyclists even if all of us rode legally 100% of the time. Precisely for this reason we should not be giving these crazies free ammunition that they can use against us as they complain to their elected officials who already favour drivers’ interests over ours.

    And we certainly should not be inducing still more people to join our enemies’ camp. For every ideological bike-hater, there are many more people who start out as neutral to bicyclists, with no fundamental objection to the the idea of accommodation of bicycles, but who are turned against us by the highly visible actions of the arrogant scofflaws. If you don’t accept the notion that public law-breaking on the part of cyclists creates new enemies, then you are dreaming.

    Don’t take my word for it. Ask a group of people (any people: people whom you stop on the street, people whom you meet on the subway, whatever) what they think of bicyclists. And then notice how many of them express their dislike of us based solely upon their own experiences of seeing law-breaking behaviour on the part of people who act as though the law doesn’t apply to them. When these observers express outrage at this kind of behaviour, they are not wrong.

    The more unlucky ones will regale you with stories of having been hit by (or having narrowly missed a collision with) a law-breaking bicyclst. While I have already acknowledged that most bicyclist law-breaking has no real safety-related consequences, the fact remains that dangerous law-breaking and benign law-breaking are products of the same mindset: namely, that we don’t have an obligation to follow the law. The only way to work against the dangerous behaviour of some bicyclists is for responsible cyclists to accept our responsibility to obey the law (even when the law is stupid and inconvenient).

    Now, it’s true that these people in your survey will likely not have the same reaction to drivers’ law-breaking, despite the fact that they have undoubtedly seen more of that, and despite the fact that they are in much more danger on account of that. This is down simply to the unfortunate phenomenon of driving’s having become universalised, such that one driver’s bad act is seen only as his/her misdeed, never as a need limit cars in any way.

    Bicycling is a long, long, way from achieving that status; it is a marginal activity. Until bicycling becomes as universalised and normalised as driving, then the law-breakers amongst us will continue to define us (for the worse) to the larger society, and will depress the likelihood and the scale of positive change.

  • I can say only that I cannot comprehend what the problem would be for any number of bicyclists to exit the bridge into the right-turn-only lane of Canal and then to turn right from that lane onto Forsyth. This would lead to a steady stream of bike traffic turning right, just to the right of the cars turning right (exactly as envisioned by the design of the street).

    Regarding the Brooklyn Bridge’s Manhattan landing — to go north on Centre Street, I do the second of the two things you listed. I take it in two steps: 1) cross the car exit ramp with the pedestrian crossing signal; 2) wait for the green light to go north on Centre. It is annoying to have to wait for two lights. But this is safe (enough), legal, and courteous.

  • Daniel S Dunnam

    Was stopped on Willoughby btw Throop and Marcus Garvey. Not sure which one that actually is in. They claim I ran light Tompkins.

  • Simon Phearson

    I can’t decide if you’re aware of your obfuscations and equivocations and expecting me not to notice them, or if that’s just inherent to the way you think.

    You are not, in fact, “in” the right-turn lane when you’re coming off the Manhattan Bridge onto Canal. You’re not “in” it until you’ve fully entered the flow of traffic – a “turn” from an intersecting right of way, by any reasonable account of the maneuver. You’re either doing that between moving cars or squeezing to the right of moving cars. Neither, again, exactly safe. Or legal, for that matter, a point you’re incorrectly treating as having been established. It’s a right turn on red. You’re disregarding a traffic control device. Look it up in the VTL.

    You’re also strangely dismissive of the potential safety risks along your detour. You must know as well as I do that riding safely in this city requires smart routing, based on the traffic and infrastructural risks encountered along the way. Your detour requires riding down Forsyth, which is a narrow, irregular street with plenty of chaos; a left turn from that chaos onto Broadway, which has an unprotected bike lane/double-parking lane; and then a left turn from there to Pike/Allen, where things become more reasonable. Smart routing counsels against introducing unnecessary maneuvers like that. The fact that biking in this city requires accepting some risk does not mean that it’s hyperbolic to seek ways to limit it.

    You don’t need to cite the VTL to me. I know it as well as you do. What you’ve done is reframed the maneuver I’ve described on First Avenue as something other than what it is. I am not simply moving around cars trying to turn at 57th by moving into the next lane over. I am anticipating the crush of traffic that happens there, avoiding a tricky lane change after I’ve dropped speed, and moving to the next lane, often a block ahead of the turn, depending on traffic.

    I am not equating inconvenience with “moral repugnance.” I reject, rather, your assertion that “moral repugnance” is the only case in which we may permissibly violate the law. I am saying that our moral obligation to follow the law varies with the purpose of the law, the costs and risks associated with compliance, and the circumstances. Following a law that exists to facilitate efficient traffic flow, even when doing so endangers your life and breaking it would actually conform to what real traffic expects you to do, is irrational. Standing for an interminable red light at an intersection with zero cross traffic, when there isn’t even anyone to tut-tut your decision to cross, is irrational. Observance of the law is not its own good, something that can outweigh our rational self-preservation (or even convenience). A law’s moral repugnance is not the only exception from our moral obligation to follow the law.

    That you won’t ride against an unchanging red light is, again, a perfect insight into your thinking on this. You’ve constructed this elaborate “ethical” argument that violating the law while cycling gives drivers and pedestrians “free ammunition” to oppose efforts to improve cycling infrastructure. But in an example where there is literally no one to watch you violate the “law” – no driver to activate the light and (since it’s rare to encounter these kinds of lights, without car traffic, without also no pedestrian traffic) no pedestrians – and where virtually every reasonable driver and pedestrian would agree with riding under the light, you would *still* insist on an obligation to “follow” the law (by jaywalking, apparently).

    The truth is that you’re just extraordinarily risk-averse, when it comes to getting ticketed, and so you’ve constructed this elaborate self-justification for always following the law, no matter how inconvenient or life-threatening, that just-so-happens to put you at odds with common sense.

    The funny thing about your hypothetical survey is that one could easily imagine conducting it while stopped at a redlight, with people waiting to cross while standing in the street. No clearer case can be made that such voiced complaints ought to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t doubt that a lot of non-cyclists would cite unruly bike behavior, if you asked them what they thought of cyclists. But it’s a mistake to take an oft-repeated talking point as a serious assessment of cyclist behavior, and a ridiculous error to incorporate it as a reason for action in any given circumstance. You might as easily ask a three-year-old what they want for dinner and shop accordingly.

    I know you don’t like hearing this, but the final irony about this whole, self-serving ethical imbroglio of yours is that it’s so, so futile. Convincing other cyclists to adopt unyielding compliance in great enough numbers for the underlying rationale (i.e., avoid giving anti-cyclists free ammunition) to even work is just not going to happen, when the infrastructure is as haphazard and poor as it is. Anyone even earnest about being a good “bike diplomat” – as I was, and still sort of am – will quickly find that doing so makes very little sense. Sure, I could stand in line and wait out a couple of lights as the cars ahead of me on a cross-street inch their way through turns onto an avenue (when they’re not busy checking their texts). Sure, I could strictly observe a “Don’t Walk” signal that ensures I hit four red lights instead of just one or two along a street in my neighborhood. Sure, I could avoid riding like a messenger on First Avenue by taking Sutton Place for a few blocks. So that’s what I face – I can double the time it takes for me to commute home in the evenings, each and every time, in order to be a good “bike diplomat” – why? For an uncertain benefit that my “good” behavior is unlikely to bring about anyway? No rational actor will make that choice – certainly not enough of them for your “strategy” to work.

  • walks bikes drives

    I average about 20mph on the greenway and I have never once had an issue stopping in time at a crosswalk. It is all about the attention given and a riders willingness to obey law.

  • Yeah, I guess you’re right. I was on there today, and I was able to do about 15 miles per hour and still stop for crossing pedestrians at crosswalks. As you say, it’s down to paying attention, and to a willingness to do what’s required under the law.

    It was embarrassing as a bicyclist to see how many other bicyclists took no heed of the crosswalks, and so caused crossing pedestrians to wait, despite the fact that those pedestrians had the right of way.

    Note that this was not at the Manhattan landings of the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, where design optimised for cars leaves us bicyclists without a good option. This was on our City’s flagship bike boulevard. So there are no excuses possible about our law-breaking being a result of bad design. When 9 out of 10 of us simply refuse to stop where it is clearly marked, and where we thereby act as the bullies towards more vulnerable road users, then there is a problem with us.

  • Joe R.

    Like riding everywhere else is the city, it’s simply a matter of common sense and sight lines. I’ve never ridden there but from what I’ve seen on foot the Hudson River greenway seems to have great lines of sight. Most of the time, outside of maybe in places like near the Intrepid, there aren’t a lot of pedestrians. As I’ve done on the Belt Parkway greenway, I would just scan what’s up ahead a few blocks and ride accordingly. If I see a potential obstacle, I start coasting until I’m maybe half a block away, then decide if I need to slow down more, or can just coast by, then get back up to speed. I actually only need to do that a few times for the entire 8 mile run. Typically I’ve never needed to slow under 10 mph to get safely past anything. Where there were good sight lines with nothing in my field of view I had zero issues going past 25 mph. As with driving a motor vehicle, the key is always to know the capabilities of you and your machine. My brakes are typically always maintained, and I’m thoroughly versed in how to stop a bike as quickly as it can be stopped. As such, everything I do is safe for me or those around me.

    There is still some bad design on the Hudson River greenway. Most of those traffic signals should either go, or be converted to on-demand only. It makes no sense for a traffic signal to regularly cycle to red in places where motor vehicles aren’t crossing 99% of the time. Yield to peds is sufficient at most crossings which are pedestrian only, except maybe the few really busy ones which might merit a bike overpass. And yes, I’d like to see some enforcement of these yield to ped crossings rather than meaningless enforcement at red lights with no cross traffic. If there’s one interaction which gives a bad name to cyclists, it’s when they cut off pedestrians with the right-of-way mid stride.

  • Joe R.

    It’s worth noting I fall into the same camp as you. The first few years I started riding, I was pretty adamant about stopping and waiting at every red light. This was the early 1980s. I did on the thought that is was the law, and therefore most likely the safer thing to do. A few years of this convinced me otherwise. My rides suddenly became a lot less stressful when I decided sometimes passing red lights made sense on many levels. So did occasionally doing other things which strictly speaking are against the law. I think every cyclist out there makes this calculus.

    Fast forward to today. There has been so much traffic signal proliferation in my area it wouldn’t even be remotely practical to stop at every red light, never mind that it would also be far less safe. I recall rarely being able to average over 10 or 11 mph back in those early days even with maybe 25% of the traffic signals which exist today. A few times just for my own edification I humored Ferdinand and tried stopping at every red light for a portion of my ride. That portion ended up with average speeds well into the single digits virtually everywhere I tried it. The only exceptions were places like the LIE service road where the lights were spaced something like half a mile apart. Of course, while do these experiments I also was back to dealing with being in a pack of accelerating cars jockeying around when the light changed. No thanks, I like my way better, even if some notional observer might be bothered by it.

    In the end you’re right. The entire issue with Ferdinand’s line of thinking is that it’s futile. The potential returns of the perfect behavior are nebulous at best. It’s not like NYC signed a contract with me saying Joe, if you don’t go through red lights or stop signs for the next two years we’re going to build you those bike highways you always talk about. No, chances are good whatever will or won’t be built will be due to funding, what NYC sees other cities doing, and how much demand there is in general for more bike infrastructure. The behavior of cyclists may come up at some of these discussions, but I’ve never yet heard of us being denied bike infrastructure which otherwise was going to be built solely due to cyclists slow rolling through red lights. Usually the reason ends up being potential loss of parking.

    Anyway, given the nebulous return here you need to weigh in the very real immediate downsides of trying to adhere to this pact of being a good bike diplomat.

  • neroden

    Worth checking: is the 19th one of the precincts whose “officers” routinely break traffic laws? http://copsinbikelanes.tumblr.com/

  • lop

    If you’re riding a motorcycle and you come to a red line with a metal loop sensor it doesn’t always pick you up. If you wait ten minutes for a green at 3am and still don’t get one and haven’t seen a single car go by you might be tempted to just go through the empty intersection. You can get a ticket for that. So a couple states have made it legal to treat lights as stops signs in that situation. The unreasonable inconvenience loophole you want does not exist, or at best is solely up to the mood of the cop who sees you and the judge you face.

  • ummm…

    how so? Not a challenge, but I’d like to know if I fall into the same logic traps.

  • 5th_gen_NYer


  • ralph

    @disqus_YSP1H9FX06:disqus Just curious, where is the tickets to cyclists data published. I do not see that in the statistics at http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/traffic_reports/traffic_summons_reports.shtml