NYPD’s Fifth Precinct Goes for a Ride With Street Safety Advocates

Traffic safety advocates pose with members of the Fifth Precinct before yesterday's bike ride. Photo: Stephen Miller
Advocates hope open lines of communication with NYPD’s Fifth Precinct will lead to better traffic enforcement priorities. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD’s Fifth Precinct doesn’t have a great reputation for safety-focused traffic enforcement. Known for ticketing cyclists at T-intersections and at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, the precinct has relied on questionable math to back up its disproportionate focus on bike enforcement. Seeking to bridge the divide, a group of about 10 people went for a bike ride with precinct officers yesterday.

“It began with a Twitter spat,” said Doug Gordon, who tweets as @BrooklynSpoke and regularly rides through the Fifth Precinct on his way to and from the Manhattan Bridge.

After a motorist killed a pedestrian nearby, Gordon got the attention of Sergeant Kakit Yip, who monitors the precinct’s Twitter account in addition to being its traffic safety officer.

Gordon and a group including representatives from Transportation Alternatives met with Yip at the precinct late last month for more than an hour. “It was pretty impressive. It was really nice that he gave that much time to us,” Gordon said. “Sergeant Yip was very open, very willing to listen.”

“He gave us a lot of clarifications on things,” said Hilda Cohen, who frequently rides in the precinct. For example, Yip said that red light stings are usually done by the Citywide Traffic Task Force, not the precinct.

“It was really quite positive,” Cohen said. “I came out of the whole meeting feeling like this is what we want to have happen. We really want to have this communication.”

Gordon sees neighborhood advocates’ relationship with the 78th Precinct in Park Slope — which has launched crosswalk stings, adopted a bike lanecleared sidewalks of police vehicles, and installed a bike corral — as a model. “Because of our experience with the 7-8, it did make approaching the precinct with the idea of a meeting seem possible,” Gordon said. “It didn’t seem like there was this big blue wall between us and the police officers.”

On yesterday’s ride, advocates pointed out problems like an NYPD observation tower parked in the Chrystie Street bike lane, while officers told drivers parked in bike lanes to move along. “There’s a big sense of traffic calming when you have a few bicycles with ‘NYPD’ on the back of the t-shirt,” Cohen said. “That would be a great way to ride my commute!”

While advocates were encouraged by the precinct’s willingness to engage with them, its enforcement priorities still leave much to be desired.

Yip said his precinct typically issues three bicycle tickets for every two traffic violations it gives to drivers. The precinct has issued fewer than one speeding ticket per day so far this year through the end of July. The rate of failure-to-yield enforcement is even lower, barely surpassing one ticket every other day [PDF].

The focus on bike enforcement, according to Yip, helps nab people on bikes who snatch phones and other valuables from people on foot. “Of course we have to hit hard on the bicyclists, because we don’t know who are the criminals,” Yip said. “So that adds up to stopping more bicycles.”

Yip also blamed pedestrian deaths in the precinct on jaywalking and said the precinct is focused on pedestrian education. “People, they don’t look at traffic,” he said. “They just cross.”

“You do see how entrenched that windshield mentality is among NYPD officers, and how challenging that can be in changing perspectives,” Gordon said. “You kind of have to chip away at that windshield perspective in every way possible, and this is one step toward doing that.”

“It takes years to change the culture,” Cohen said.

There is some common ground. Advocates are asking DOT to upgrade the Chrystie Street bike lanes into a two-way protected path, a concept that interested Yip. “If there’s a barrier… there of course would be no vehicles parked in the bike lane. So that would require no enforcement and at the same time, bicyclists are safer,” he said.

In the meantime, Yip and the advocates are already talking about following up yesterday’s bike ride with a walk in the next few months.

  • Adrian

    The focus on bike enforcement, according to Yip, helps nab people
    on bikes who snatch phones and other valuables from people on foot. “Of
    course we have to hit hard on the bicyclists, because we don’t know who
    are the criminals,” Yip said. “So that adds up to stopping more
    bicycles.”

    Wow, where to start with that? I mean it’s great that this ride happened, but surely advocacy is powerless in the face of that base level of thinking?

  • KeNYC2030

    I’m not understanding how the widespread ticketing of cyclists for harmless technical violations of the law is supposed to keep criminals on bikes from nabbing pedestrians’ valuables, unless the idea is to discourage the use of bikes altogether. I disagree that it necessarily takes a long time to change culture in a case like this. It could change very quickly if 1) the city followed Paris’s lead and allowed cyclists to abide by somewhat different traffic rules, and 2) word came down from the top in no uncertain terms that dangerous violations by drivers are the priority and any precinct commander whose metrics don’t reflect this will be removed.

  • I was under the impression this would have been against one of those amendment thingys in that constitution? Am I wrong? Something about unreasonable search and seizure. You know, I must be wrong about that given stop and frisk and similar programs.

  • We actually stopped at some of the T intersections on Chyrstie St and discussed why cyclists go through these lights. Sgt. Yip and others with the precinct were very open to the idea that we should get DOT to put up signs allowing cyclists to treat reds here as yields. We’ll push that a bit more with the community board, DOT, and the precinct.

  • ganghiscon

    This sounds like stop and frisk. “Of course we have to hit hard on the young black men, because we don’t know who are the criminals.”

  • Could the DOT even make such a rule? Wouldn’t a policy of allowing bicyclists to treat some red lights as yield signs require a change in the Vehicle and Traffic Law, voted on by the City Council?

  • Stay tuned…

  • BrandonWC

    I think it would be similar to when DOT puts up bike only traffic lights. You’d need a change in law to allow bikes to disregard generally applicable traffic signs/lights but DOT can put up bike specific signage on a per intersection basis.

  • Jeff

    Think Prospect Park West.

  • c2check

    This is a good step.

    We need more to show the NYPD is making a good-faith effort to address actual safety issues for all street users.

  • c2check

    What, people don’t use CARS for criminal activity?

    Like—say, for example—speeding, running lights, and killing 200+ NYers a year?

    Are criminals the only folks who have completed the mode shift to bikes, then??

  • walks bikes drives

    That argument has to be one of the dumbest I have ever heard. In the movies, people use getaway cars for every type of crime. Why aren’t they then hitting the cars hard? I think the snatch and grab game is actually primarily a getaway on foot, so why not hit the pedestrians hard? Or is that the rationale for everything they do? Wait, it probably is…

  • c2check

    “There’s a big sense of traffic calming when you have a few bicycles
    with ‘NYPD’ on the back of the t-shirt,” Cohen said. “That would be a
    great way to ride my commute!”

    This is scientifically proven. We should all wear shirts that say NYPD while biking. Might even help in more ways than one.
    http://road.cc/content/news/99660-high-vis-clothing-doesnt-make-cars-pass-you-more-safely-says-new-study

  • Joe R.

    Yes, exactly. There would be nothing at all from stopping DOT from adding a few aspects to existing traffic signals. For example, when the light is green there’s also a green symbol for bikes. When it goes red, you could have a flashing yellow light with a bike symbol, meaning bikes are supposed to yield to pedestrians and cross traffic, but may proceed after doing so.

  • ahwr

    If you get DOT to put up bike signals that flash yellow or something when pedestrians might be crossing try to get them to put in a freshly painted stop bar a little further back than the one that’s there now. Better viewing angles will give cyclists a chance to know when there’s someone to yield to. Would hopefully cut down on the number of pissed off pedestrians complaining to the CB, DOT and NYPD about reckless cyclists cutting them off.

  • Joe R.

    Do that, and also prohibit parking adjacent to the crosswalk. It’ll be better for everyone. Pedestrians can’t really see oncoming traffic as things stand now. If cyclists and pedestrians can see each other well in advance, I suspect it will dramatically cut down on all these near misses you hear people complaining about.

  • ahwr

    At a spot like Chrystie and Hester:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7168053,-73.9945406,3a,75y,29.22h,61.55t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sqNFpO1MY875rVxZ_Qos5SQ!2e0!5s20141001T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    I’d be a little more worried about pedestrians heading to the park not being visible than pedestrians coming from the park.

    Broome the near crossing was fenced off years ago. Stanton and Rivington have fire hydrants at or near the crosswalk, so the last five-ten feet of clearance I’m hoping to have on the left you already have on the right.

  • WoodyinNYC

    The Fourth Amendment you recall is a dead letter, done in by Congress and the courts as part of the fake War on Drugs.

  • David

    How about an operation at night on the bridge where bikers are reminded they need lights (and maybe have a stall selling them) and after a few lights the police hang there and ticket everyone without a light?

  • Not a bad idea.

    I am no lover of police. But if we want the police to understand their responsibility to protect our interests against vehicular violence, then we have to be honest about our own responsibilities, and therefore acknowledge the police’s right to protect the general public when we are doing something wrong. And riding a bike at night without lights is not only illegal but extremely dangerous.

    I can remember one time that was so absurd that I almost had to laugh. I was coming home from work on a winter day (so the sun was already down at 5:30pm), and had just crossed the Williamsburg Bridge. Having gone north on Roebling St. to S.1st St., I was now coming south on Marcy St.; and I was wating at the light at Borinquen Place.

    And here comes some douchebag northward through that complicated and crowded intersection, where Marcy crosses both sides of the divided Borinquen Place and also S.3rd St. He’s riding the wrong way; he’s going through a red light; and he has no lights. Now, I typically call out bike scofflaws; but I didn’t know what to say to this turd. I sat there dumbfounded, almost seeing the thought of “this is why I hate bicyclists” entering into the minds of everyone in all the cars at that intersection. That one guy sure created lots of bicyclist-related dinner-table conversation that day. He deserved three tickets for that display of assholery; and he deserved far worse for the impression he created.

    Anyway, if the cops want to ticket cyclists who go about at night with no lights, especially on the bridges, then I have absolutely no complaints about that.

  • Wilfried84

    Now that racial profiling has been called into question, they’ve move on to bike profiling.

  • Wilfried84

    I’ve recently started wondering what things would be like if the NYPD had some cops patrol on bikes, as they do in other cities (Are there any cops on bikes? I haven’t seen any.). Then at least some cops would have a handlebar rather than windshield view of the world, and would see for themselves the hazards and indignities cyclists face day to day. And they might enforce infractions that actually matter (such as salmoning) that they now completely ignore, rather than pointless ones, like running lights at T intersections. And in general, the cops could interact more with the streets and the people on them, than they do when locked away inside a car.

  • Cold Shoaler

    NYPD never tickets people on bikes doing actual dangerous things. That is hard and can’t be done from a car. That jerk you saw will NEVER get a ticket for that behaviour. Find a novice cyclist on a citibike rolling a T intersection red light – a person in the cohort NYC should be encouraging to ride – NYPD will pull them over by the dozens, while turning a blind eye to motorists violating pedestrians’ ROW left and right.

  • neroden

    Cops used to be absolutely required by policy and procedure to patrol ON FOOT. They were called “beat cops”.

    This would make a *huge* difference.

  • vnm

    I’ve seen NYPD officers riding bikes outside Yankee games.

  • Cold Shoaler

    The 5th was back with T intersection bike stings today.

  • Matthias

    I saw a female officer riding a bike during summer streets. I wanted to thank her for riding with us but didn’t get the opportunity.

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