Bill Bratton Has the Perfect Response to a “Bike-Yield” Law for NYC

Yesterday Council Member Antonio Reynoso introduced a resolution calling for state traffic laws that recognize the differences between bikes and cars. The idea is that people on bikes should be able to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, proceeding after they check for crossing pedestrians and motor vehicles and the coast is clear.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr
Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

Well, the Post got the perfect response from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton:

“The city is going to great pains put bicycle lanes in, and to exclude the bicyclists from the traffic rules that everybody else, pedestrians and vehicles are supposed to follow, I would not be supportive of that under any circumstances.”

Impeccable logic here. Can you believe these ingrates, the bicyclists? It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, biking, or driving a 55-foot tractor-trailer — we all have to follow the same rules.

When I know I’m going to be walking, I never forget my front and rear lights before I leave my apartment. Out on the sidewalk, I always come to a full stop at stop signs, and I use hand signals whenever I turn or change lanes. I know not everyone is as scrupulous as I am, but if we excluded pedestrians from the traffic rules that everybody else, bicycles and vehicles are supposed to follow, the social order would collapse and there would be riots in the streets.

  • BBnet3000

    The city is going to great pains put bicycle lanes in

    Which the NYPD almost uniformly does nothing to keep unobstructed, when they’re not actively blocking them themselves.

    Bratton’s statement is typical of a strange fallacy, “appeal to current law to argue against new law”.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Commissioner. The City Council will take your opinion under due consideration. Now go enforce the laws the City of New York has already enacted to protect cyclists.

    Excluding your officers from the traffic rules that everybody else, pedestrians and vehicles are supposed to follow, which your officers are legally obligated to observe themselves, is never acceptable under any circumstances.

  • Motorisims

    Do you wear a seatbelt when you walk, Mr. Fried? Don’t be so smug!

  • Driver

    I drive and I’d like to follow the same laws as the cops. That means I can park my personal car on the sidewalk, leave the car running in a bike lane if I’m running in to get takeout or dropping stuff off at the precinct, make illegal u-turns without any kind of signal, run red lights, and talk on the phone while I drive. Right?

    Bratton openly tolerates all of this behavior from his officers, so I see no reason why I, as a NYC motorist, should be excluded. The city has taken great pains to install all kinds of car infrastructure and if this is the example the NYPD sets, it’s only fair that we all get to do it.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t give Bratton or the City Council any ideas. Next thing you know they’ll require seatbelts on bikes.

  • gneiss

    God forbid that we acknowledge that these two vehicles are not subject to the same laws:

  • Motorisims

    I thought bike seatbelts were already required. I’m surprised it isn’t enforced. Instead, we go after drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians. Does that make drivers safer? No. We really need to step up enforcement to keep the cyclists safe. And there’s no safer place than home.

  • KeNYC2030

    When a driver-friendly Council member proposes making the parking regulations even more lenient, as frequently happens, is Bratton’s response that we’ve done enough for drivers?

  • Right, of course not. This shows the difference between being part of the hegemonic group and being part of a marginal group: legislators aiding drivers’ is just part of the normal way of things; whereas their aiding bicyclists’ interests is scandalous.

  • Alex

    Ben, I like where you’re going with this. It seems like we’re coming to the end of the vehicular cyclist movement. I wonder if anyone, TA maybe, has any ideas on creating a campaign to advocate for differences in cycling as compared to motor vehicles.
    Something like a questionnaire asking do bikes need seatbelts, do bikes have airbags, do bikes have turning signals, etc so a bunch of simple “no” questions lead to a campaign for rights that protect cyclists ON* the road where the questions turn to simple “yes” questions regarding common sense laws like the proposed legislation.

    *as opposed to TO

  • Alexander Vucelic

    I would argue that cyclists in Manhattan at least are most certainly not a marginal group at this time. Approximately 200,000 bike trips per day on this island. This compares with 150,000 Private car commuters in CBD.

    latent demand for cycling is huge. for example; in the UES with Citibikes 3,500 Citibike trips per day in October. 3,500 trips per day in a 20 block area, just Citibikes.

    marginalized – yes but not marginal. 🙂

  • Essential task is to recognize the humanity of those using bicycles for work in Manhattan. There are plenty of people on bicycles who deserve safe working conditions. I am not sure why this is such a big lift for politicians, who are ordinary so clued in to the travails of working people.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    agreed; presenting Essential humanity of working cyclists

    re: Bratton and others of his ilk. His views are that of a grumpy great uncle at a Family gathering in the 1960’s going on about ‘how ‘dem coloreds sure getting mighty uppity’. Bratton is a embarassing dinosaur.

  • djx

    I urge everyone to write to the mayor and ask him to remove Bratton. I just did. Don’t just complain here. Pressure the mayor.

  • KeNYC2030

    As a properly equipped walker, of course I never leave the house without my claxon, which I only use to signal danger and never, ever out of frustration over crowded sidewalks, long lines, etc. I know that if I did use it simply out of frustration or anger, the NYPD would quickly ticket me, as they do with motorists.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Two responses:

    1) The proposed law would allow bicycles to do now what pedestrians routinely do anyway. Cross side streets at low speeds against the light when no vehicles are in sight, to avoid crossing with the light and getting hit by a turning motor vehicle. Not to give anyone any ideas RE pedestrians.

    Enforcement against bicycles should be proportional to the speed at which they are traveling. If they are barely moving, they should be enforced against on the same basis as pedestrians. If they are moving at motor vehicle speed they should be enforced against like motor vehicles.

    2) The lights are timed for motor vehicle speed. This makes travel by bicycle much slower, because they hit more lights, to make travel by motor vehicle faster. So it isn’t equitable. Cut the light timing to the speed of a bike commuter — say 12-15 mph — and you’ll see fewer lights blown by cyclists — and more road rage by motor vehicles.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    of course lights timed for 12 1/2 MPH are also timed for 25 MPH 🙂

  • Maggie

    I for one am VERY grateful to the NYPD for strictly enforcing the no-honking laws on cyclists and pedestrians. Without the NYPD’s staunch enforcement towards cyclists and pedestrians who might otherwise honk out of impatience, street life could quickly turn cacophonous and downright unpleasant.

  • George Jarema

    As far as New York State and New York City DOT, DMV and Traffic Regulations. All bicyclists are required to stop at a red light. All those electric bicycles that these delivery drivers use are not on illegal in New York City but illegal in New York State. Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton, and NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg are not doing anything to enforce Vision Zero in NYC, they are only cracking down on motorized vehicles and not enforcing the law to all. My mother was hit by a cyclist and need surgery to repair two ripped tendons in her shoulder because the cyclist was reckless and ran a red light while she had the right of way. So who is responsible for her medical bills and loss of income because of this individual. She is responsible because the cyclists has no kind of insurance. There was a NYPD officer there when it happened and the cyclist did not get a single ticket. So if you are injured by a cyclist that is not obeying the law and need medical attention, be prepared to accumulate some hefty bills. The city needs be be a little harsher on cyclists, not make things even easier than what things are for them right now. So sign my petition:

    Thank you!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Are you sure? I’m not sure that works. You’ll hit a red and have to stop at 25 mph.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    we’ll have to have Joe R double check my math

  • Joe R.

    No this wouldn’t work but the reverse works (lights timed for 25 mph are also good for 12.5 mph), but only if the lights are spaced far enough apart. I encounter this riding on the LIE service road. If I average maybe 18 or 19 mph I often seem to be able to go 3 or 4 miles without hitting red lights, at least if I hit the first light in the sequence when it’s green. The lights are spaced roughly 1/2 a mile apart. I’m guess they’re timed for something in the high 30s. They run through an extra cycle while I’m in between major intersections, effectively resulting in timing at half their intended speed. I think any integral divisor would work here, so they might also be good for ~12 mph.

  • walks bikes drives

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother. However, have you not heard about all of the bicycle crack downs? Oh wait, you probably have, but also know that they are not being used effectively. I would suggest you amend your petition, and petition for rational use of police resources to enforce the laws on cyclists. Instead of assigning a handful of officers to target bikes, and having those officers stand in a spot where they can issue a lot of tickets for no real reason, they should use those officers to enforce more dangerous behavior. They tend to do red light tickets, for example, at empty T intersections. Stopping the average red light runner there will do no good, and not stop what happened to your mother from happening again. They need to be in areas where there actually are pedestrians and safety issues, and focus their attention on red light runners who are going through lights in intersections where pedestrians are actually present. Here they could give two infractions, the light AND failure to yield. The latter being the true important one that would have benefited your mother. Failure to yield is the big issue.

    I hear what you are feeling about the push on motor vehicles, but I want to remind you that, had the collision been with a motor vehicle doing the same behavior, which is what they are cracking down on, your mother would be dead instead of just badly injured. So I hope your are not pushing for them to focus on cyclists INSTEAD of motor vehicles.

    And while the cyclist does not carry insurance in the same way a car does, if the cyclist was truly at fault, a personal injury suit could cover most, if not all, of the financial burden.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    50,000 New Yorkers killed or maimed every year by drivers.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    can you do the math, say 10 blocks of 25 MPH lights, spaced 1 block apart (300′?), light green for 45 secs, red for 45 secs ( simplfied the 35 secs green, 5 secs yellow, 50 secs red, and 5 sec Ped lead sequence)

  • Joe R.

    It’s 20 city blocks to a mile, so 264′ between blocks. Using the light timings you gave, there are a few other speeds where the timing works: 3.45 mph, 1.85 mph, 1.26 mph, and 0.96 mph. There are also speeds lower than that but I stopped at ~1 mph since this is about the slowest anyone will walk.

    Note there are really no viable timed speeds for cycling. If hypothetically we have one light every five blocks instead, but with the same timings, we end up with 11.11 mph, 7.15 mph, 5.26 mph, 4.17 mph, 3.44 mph, 2.94 mph, 2.56 mph, 2.27 mph, 2.04 mph, 1.85 mph. In this sequence the fastest two speeds are viable for (somewhat slow) cycling.

    Going to ten blocks between signals but the same timings, the results my spreadsheet gives are 15.38 mph, 11.11 mph, 8.70 mph, 7.14 mph, 6.06 mph, etc. There are of course a bunch of speeds in the walking speed range.

    The bottom line here is if NYC spaced lights 5 to 10 blocks apart, you could probably find a lot of signal timings viable for motor vehicles, fast cyclists, slow cyclists, and even pedestrians. One block spacing kills any possibility of that, other than for pedestrians.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    isn’t 11.11 times two 22 MPH ?

    couldn’t that work ?

  • ahwr

    You’re calculating what speeds you can go without stopping. 264 feet timed for 25 mph means the next light turns green 7.2 seconds after the one before. At 15 mph average you reach that light in 12 seconds. So you fall off the green wave at a rate of 4.8 seconds per light. In Alexander’s model you make it through 9 lights at 15 mph taking 108 seconds, then wait 42 seconds before the next green wave starts. 150 seconds for 9 blocks, so 10.8 mph, right?

  • Joe R.

    It’s not exactly an integral. The equation is speed (in mph) = ( 0.68188 x spacing between signals in feet )/ [ (time to travel between signals at primary timed speed)+ N x (cycle length in seconds)] where N is an integer. The factor 0.68188 is just to convert speed in feet per second to mph. A slightly different equation can also find additional speeds provided the green cycle time is at least half the total cycle time:

    speed (in mph) = ( 0.68188 x spacing between signals in feet )/ [ (time to travel between signals at primary timed speed)+ N x (cycle length in seconds) – green cycle time in seconds]

  • Joe R.

    Yes, correct. In fact, my spreadsheet calculates how many blocks you can travel at any speed before encountering a red light. Your math is close. My spreadsheet gives an average of 11.1 mph, you go 10 blocks between lights before needing to stop, and you do in fact stop for the 42 seconds you calculated. Note that since the green time is 45 seconds, and you fall off at 4.8 seconds per block, it takes you 9.38 blocks to fall off more than 45 seconds (meaning you hit the next light on red). So you actually make the light on the 9th block, barely, by 1.8 seconds. That’s why it’s ten blocks between stops, not nine.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe you should start a petition to ban private automobiles from NYC, or at least Manhattan. That would save more lives than any ill-advised crackdown on cyclists. Also, if there was a cop there when it happened but the cyclist didn’t get a ticket perhaps the cyclist didn’t run a red light as you said. I’m tired of cyclists being used as scapegoats for every perceived problem on the streets in this city. Drivers kill and injure several orders of magnitude more people than cyclists. NYC needs to drastically reduce motor vehicle use if it wants safer streets.

  • Bernard Finucane

    What the city needs is separate signals for cars, pedestrians, public transportation and bikes, as seen here in Aachen.!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/zva_quer_540/image.jpg

    Bringing America’s infrastructure up to modern standards will cost trillions.

    Note: The red/yellow signal means the light is about to turn green. So bikes and pedestrians are getting a head start. The triangle is for buses. The yellow diamond only applies when the light fails for some reason.

  • bolwerk

    Bratton is against anything that takes away police opportunity to hit people. This man’s no-accountability-for-police policies have resulted in hardship for probably thousands upon thousands of families in NYC alone. Bill de Blasio should not be forgiven for inflicting him on the people he is supposed to serve.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I am not sure why this is such a big lift for politicians, who are ordinary so clued in to the travails of working people.”


  • George

    I’m sorry. When do pedestrians have to come to a full stop at stop signs? What did I miss?

    Look, cyclists aren’t asking to for the right to ignore traffic laws, they’re asking for better laws that take the specific needs and safety concerns of bicyclists into account.

    Of course there should be laws for everyone; they just shouldn’t be exactly the SAME laws. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle operators all present different variables and laws should be tailored to best address the basic needs of each in order to keep everyone safe and our multi-use roads functional. Cyclists don’t need the same rules as car and truck drivers. For bicyclists, yielding, when possible, at certain kinds of intersections, and under very specific conditions, will make them safer. I have no empirical evidence for that claim, but I’ve been riding in this city for over 20 years (safely, and intelligently, too. Not like the bike messengers with their ‘this city is mine’ BS) and I have years of personal, if anecdotal, evidence to back up such a claim. I have a tendency to simply yield at a number of intersections, but not at busy, two-way streets or thru heavily-used cross-walks; and certainly not when pedestrians are present.

    Beyond that, there are many laws of the road that serve cyclists very well. I adhere to them all. So, y’know, I don’t get the tone of this article.

    Of course, that also means the laws need to be enforced. ALL the laws, for drivers and pedestrians as well as for cyclists who for some reason are especially vilified. But they are not – at least on balance. So there’s that.

  • bolwerk

    When do pedestrians have to come to a full stop at stop signs?

    Legally? Never, unless you count “no walk” signals as stop signs.

    Practically speaking, we have to stop any time our rights are ignored by a driver not heeding our right of way. This is something the windshield perspective crowd doesn’t understand.

  • neroden

    Bratton should have been arrested and put in federal prison long ago for depriving numerous New Yorkers of their civil rights. He seems to believe that police are above the law, which is a 14th amendment violation.

    Why is he still police commissioner? Since I’m opposed to excessive incarceration, I’m willing to forego the criminal charges as long as he signs an agreement to never take employment in a police department ever again for the rest of his life.

  • neroden

    I think Jonathan R was engaging in sarcasm, Larry.

  • neroden

    In fact, the 14th amendment means that Bratton’s *disparate enforcement* of the law — enforced only against non-cops, never enforced against cops — is a federal civil rights violation.

    Bratton belongs in federal prison. Unfortunately there’s no set term of imprisonment for this form of Constitutional violation; I would settle for his permanent removal from policing.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    ^^ But to be fair, it was the bike lane’s fault.

  • Notice that that room isn’t wearing a helmet.

  • Bratton’s entire career is based on violating the 14th Amendment.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    is average NYPD compensation really $212k ?

  • bolwerk

    Short answer? Because Bill de Blasio is every bit the classist jackass that Giuliani and Mike were.

    Long answer? I want to say BdB’s ignorant of Bill Bratton’s chauvinism and lawlessness, but I’m not sure I can believe that’s the whole truth. As I recall, he was shrewd enough to wait until he was safely elected before announcing, “Tehehehe, i forgot to mention, I’m inflicting Rudy Giuliani’s police commissioner on you fuckers again!”

    What I think he did do is calculate that Bratton would placate his authoritarian political opponents in the RWA tabloids, which clearly failed. He could have resurrected and nominated a Gestapo Kommissar and it still wouldn’t be “tough” enough on crime for them.


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