After Drivers Killed 9 People in 10 Days, NYPD Was Out Ticketing Cyclists

An officer pulling over a cyclist on Grand Street.
The 90th Precinct continues to ticket cyclists on Grand Street in the name of Vision Zero, though drivers have killed two people on the street since July. Photo: Luke Ohlson

Why do NYPD precincts keep targeting cyclists in the name of Vision Zero? After drivers killed nine people in the first 10 days of 2017, reports came in of police taking action — by handing out tickets to people on bikes.

Reader Jackie Weiser wrote in with this dispatch from Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, where ticketing cyclists who go through red lights at T-intersections is a venerable NYPD tradition:

I was riding west on Flushing and coasted through a red light at one of the many T-shaped intersections where there is no cross traffic, somewhere between the Brooklyn Navy Yard parking area and N. Portland, immediately following two car drivers who were running the red light. A police car made a U-turn behind me to pull me and another cyclist over for going through the red light. The first thing the policeman said was “as part of Vision Zero safety initiatives…” I mentioned that there were two car drivers running the light in front of me and the police officer said, “Ever been fishing? Can’t catch ’em all.” My immediate thought is yes, but maybe you can optimize your efforts by going for the gigantic fish that are terrorizing the rest of the fish! I also told him my crime is akin to jaywalking and he said if I had dismounted my bike and walked it through it would have been fine. I said, “but that’s still jaywalking”. No response.

I have seen the police out on Flushing quite a bit in the past 6 months pulling over cyclists for coasting through the T-intersections along Flushing but doing nothing about the many drivers racing through the red lights. This has nothing to do with safety, as this is a fairly safe bicycle route. If it was about safety, they would set up shop at a dangerous intersection that has experienced a lot of bicycle/ped crashes due to running red lights, but then they would have to chase them down, and Flushing is easy pickings. All this does is discourage cyclists from taking Flushing or sadly maybe discourage them from cycling altogether.

Meanwhile, Transportation Alternatives organizer Luke Ohlson reported officers ticketing cyclists on Grand Street Wednesday, two days after a hit-and-run driver killed 85-year-old Rafael Nieves.

Grand Street was the site of one of 2016’s most horrific cyclist fatalities — the intentional hit-and-run murder of Matthew von Ohlen in July. Officers with the 90th Precinct were also observed ticketing cyclists in the days after von Ohlen’s death.

City officials point to big increases in failure-to-yield and speeding tickets issued since Mayor de Blasio took office as evidence of the NYPD’s refined approach to traffic safety in the Vision Zero-era. And those summonses are up substantially, albeit from a low baseline.

But NYPD hasn’t shaken off its old habits either. Officers routinely focus enforcement initiatives on people biking, and these efforts invariably yield the type of summonses issued to Jackie Weiser — fines for low-risk behavior that’s easy for police to ticket.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has said he’s okay with NYPD’s bike ticket blitzes. “The bottom line here, first and foremost, cars, vehicles, are the number one challenge because their size and their speed make them the single greatest danger, but bicyclists have to get the message,” de Blasio said at a press conference in November. “They need to follow traffic laws too, and we have had targeted enforcement of bicyclists and we will continue to deepen that.”

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