NYPD’s Annual Springtime Cyclist Harassment Campaign Is Well Underway

Cops are out issuing bogus tickets, discouraging people from riding.

Photo: Peter Burka/Flickr
Photo: Peter Burka/Flickr

It’s springtime in New York, which means NYPD is continuing its annual tradition of punishing people for riding bicycles.

We reported a couple of weeks ago on the NYPD campaign to seize delivery workers’ electric-assist bicycles while calling it “Vision Zero.”

A Facebook post currently making the rounds indicates the department has ordered a bike ticket blitz, and precinct cops are issuing summonses for violations that don’t exist.

Journalist Steven Bodzin posted this account:

Yesterday was the first warm evening of spring. Everyone was out running, biking, looking at the sunset. I took a nice bike ride after work and ended up on West 125th Street in Harlem. I saw a bike-riding pizza delivery guy chatting with the people in a NYPD SUV. I didn’t think much of it but stopped to put my lights on my bike, as night was falling.

As I finished up, the cyclist passed me and looked at me as if he wanted to talk. I asked him what had happened and he showed me a ticket for running a red light. He said the cops had told him he wouldn’t have to pay it, which was confusing — he had a Spanish accent and was clearly an immigrant from Latin America. Unpaid tickets can get you arrested, and you can end up deported, so you need to deal with that, I told him. He said the cops had told him as they left him that they were going to get a couple other cyclists who had just come down the street.

I turned around and saw the SUV had its flashers on. I went over and there were two cyclists there, standing on the sidewalk. I asked what happened and they gestured to their heads. I said, “Helmets?” and they said yes. So I said “Excuse me officers but is there a helmet law in New York City now?” and the officer in the driver’s seat told me there was. “Since forever,” he said. He told me the code section. I was using my phone to google it at the same time, and I quickly saw that there is a helmet law — for kids under 14! By then the tickets were written. I said, “So you’re just giving out tickets to cyclists today?” and the officer in the passenger seat gave a sourpuss face. I asked where the order had come down from, and they said it came from “Borough command,” as it was for all of Manhattan.

The officers were clear that they didn’t want to be ticketing cyclists who weren’t threatening anyone. One said he felt like a “scumbag” doing it. He fully agreed with me that it’s more dangerous for motorists to double-park in the bike lane than it is for a cyclists to ride without a helmet. He told the bikers to just plead not guilty to the tickets and they’ll get off.

And the cyclists? This is where it gets sad. One had never biked in New York before. The two guys are Yemeni-Americans who had just gotten off a 12-hour shift at a bodega in East Harlem. They wanted to go out and watch the sunset on the Hudson, so the newbie borrowed a bike and they rode over. But they didn’t even make it to the Hudson. And what did he say? “They just give me a ticket for no reason. It is going to be the first time and the last time riding a bike.” Even though the officer had told them he was mistaken about the code and that the bikers should plead not guilty, both said they would just pay the fine: they don’t have time during the day to go to court, and “I don’t want any trouble,” one of them said.

So that’s today’s NYPD. Sending officers out to harass cyclists to the point that some swear they’ll never ride again. In the name of safety.

We know cycling is safer when more people ride bikes. By handing out bogus tickets, NYPD is discouraging cycling and making NYC streets more dangerous.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Basically, you need a small number of specifically trained officers to enforce bicycle safety all year. Rather than ordering a bunch of general officers to go out and give tickets as part of a blitz.

    It’s like having a boat safety squad out of the water, consisting of guys who have never been on a boat, dislike the water and can’t swim.

  • Vincent Howland

    has this idea ever been discussed at the city level? as someone who’s received my share of silly bicycle harassment, I definitely think many of the issues come from cops who a) don’t ride bicycles and b) don’t understand why other adults ride bicycles.

    The specific crackdown periods are, obviously, beyond asinine.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They never really stopped this winter did they? NYC now has year round cycling ticketing blitzes in the name of Vision Zero. Rather than data-based enforcement (like San Francisco’s “Focus On The Five”, which was also sabotaged by police captains) we get platitude-based enforcement (“everyone has to do their part!”).

  • This crackdown strikes me as slightly different from ones in the past. Yes, there are reports about stings at T intersections on Flushing Ave, for example, but this one seems disproportionately targeted at delivery cyclists. (Read: immigrants.)

  • Joe R.

    “They just give me a ticket for no reason. It is going to be the first time and the last time riding a bike.” Well, this about says it all. No better way to make someone just starting out riding give it up for good than to give them an expensive ticket. I remember after I got a sidewalk cycling ticket in 1999 it took me years before I was back to my normal riding regimen. I just lost interest. Looking for police all the time instead of the road didn’t help, either. These police should be ashamed of themselves. “They ordered us to do it” isn’t a valid excuse, either. If enough cops really, genuinely feel this is bogus nonsense then just refuse to do it. Make your reasons why publicly known. The NYPD might fire one rogue cop who disregards orders but if most of them refuse to follow bad orders it’s another story entirely.

    Also, I thought for sure this shit would have ended when Guiliani’s last term was up. Sadly, Bloomberg, and now deBlasio, are continuing it. Both should grow a pair. I’m especially disappointed in Bloomberg who was otherwise a great cycling advocate. He easily could have appointed a police commissioner who would have told those under him to not ticket cyclists except for the most dangerous, egregious offenses.

    These kind of dragnets actively discourage riding when we want to do the opposite. If the NYPD can’t or won’t stop, then the law needs to be changed to legalize things cyclists normally do, like yield at red lights or stop signs. Any legislators out there with a little backbone to do this?

  • Reggie

    I hate these crackdowns as much as the next rider but anyone who writes, “‘They ordered us to do it’ isn’t a valid excuse, either. If enough cops really, genuinely feel this is bogus nonsense then just refuse to do it,” has never worked for a uniformed service, be it the military or the sanitation department. Ignore command orders and receive command discipline; it’s that simple.

  • Joe R.

    They don’t have to outright say “I refuse to do this.” Just ticket the really dangerous riders. If they come back at the end of the day with one or two tickets, just tell their CO the pickings were slim. When that happens for a few weeks maybe those in charge will focus on other priorities. If their CO explicitly tells them they’re supposed to get x amount of tickets, make sure they’re taping it, release the tapes to the press, and let the sh*t hit the fan. The cop who does that may perhaps get fired, at least in the short term, but using supposedly nonexistent ticket quotas is going to hurt those in charge even more.

    The bottom line is they can’t explicitly order you to give tickets, or at least that’s what the NYPD says publicly. All they can do is order their officers to focus on bike violations. If there are none that day in that area, it’s not the officer’s fault.

    Cyclists can help here by behaving impeccably when they see police. If the pickings really are slim because cyclists are careful not to break the law in front of police, then their COs might catch some flack for misappropriating valuable police resources. That’s really my overall goal here. This is a blatant misuse of police resources on something which is generally harmless, or at worst a minor nuisance.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    You can’t hit quotas just ticketing the dangerous riders. I see a few people blow through lights dangerously on a given day but that’s like 1/50 or 1/100 compared to harmless jaybiking.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I’m not sure if its changed or if Chief Chan just retweeted all the e-bike trophy shots this time. Who is he showing off to?

    Last year I saw them filling the bed of a pickup truck at 8am on 5th Ave with ebikes of guys from Sunset Park going to work in Park Slope. The scale might have changed but the banal cruelty isn’t new.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Agreed on the misplacement of police resources, especially on the issuance of weightless tickets like not wearing a helmet, which except for delivery and workers, is not even illegal! It’s pretty obvious that’s its just easier for the COs to order writing any tickets to make the stats look good, as you don’t really hear how many are evidently thrown out, for the duration of the crackdown. All the while, people have to waste time with an ALJ in court fighting a ticket that never should have been issued.

    As for cyclists behaving impeccably when they see police, sometimes the unmarkeds are pulling over cyclists too. But I see your point, and I remember making this statement in the past, just don’t give the police the reason (i.e: becoming the low-hanging fruit) to issue that red light tix or no lights tix, etc…

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Definitely a rarity where there is a cyclist actually behaving in a criminal manner, which I actually did see in Harlem once, as this guy was being chased by a cruiser and was circling the block trying to evade arrest.

    Usually the quota differs depending on the command and frequency of crimes, or lack thereof. One precinct may mandate arresting two people per cop per month for disorderly while another imposes writing up x number parking violations before the month is up.

  • Joe R.

    Right. That’s exactly why any quotas are ill-advised. Really, they have no place in any type of police work. I’d rather precincts use traffic injuries and deaths as the barometer of their performance, not how many tickets they issued.

  • Joe R.

    My opinion is that it’s a criminal misuse of police resources to use an unmarked vehicle for cycling dragnets. The very purpose of these vehicles is to hide police presence from very dangerous criminals who might flee or take hostages if they know the police are on to them. A cyclist slow-rolling red lights doesn’t fall into that category.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Agreed on the misplacement of police resources.”

    Not an issue. When you have 2.8 times as many officers relative to population as the U.S. average, more than anyplace else except Washington DC, and just hired 2,000 more anyway, the problem is finding things for all of them to do.

  • odaddyo

    Living in Manhattan my entire life I doubt I have ever seen a bicyclist stop for a stop sign. In mid-town few if any bicyclists obey traffic signals. Are they exempt from following traffic rules? I am all for eliminating single occupancy cars from midtown, but anyone that thinks this this will create a bicycle paradise is fooling themselves. I say crackdown on all moving violations cars and bikes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You new here? The traffic signal system and rules were designed for motor vehicles, not for bicycles.

    A separate set of rules could be created for bicycles. Some places have tried to do that. Or enforcement could incorporate common sense.

    The argument for the latter is that a separate set of rules for bikes would make it harder to crack down on dangerous, a-hole cyclists. Kind of like left turning motor vehicles running over pedestrians who claim they “both had the right of way.”

    “I say crackdown on all moving violations cars and bikes.”

    And pedestrians? You have a side street with no cars coming for a long way off. Should a pedestrian be allowed to cross it without getting ticketed? How about a bicycle moving at the speed of a pedestrian right next to one?

  • Greg


    As Larry mentions in his response to you, I get your point that many if not most bicyclists regularly break traffic laws. But this is equally true for pedestrians. So the issue is really about safety, not how many people traveling by mode X break traffic law Y.

    If we want to consider crackdowns we need to think about their safety impact. What would be the safety consequence of a crackdown on bicycles vs. pedestrian jaywalking, vs. auto enforcement.

    Whatever your answer is, this is the question that needs to be asked. Not basic observance of traffic law or not, which we all understand is regularly violated by everyone no matter how they move around the city.


  • Lorinda

    Three times this week alone I have had to jump out of the way to avoid bikes on the sidewalk coming at speed either around corners or weaving through crowds. I’m as bike friendly as they come, ride myself, but I’m sick of cyclists not making the decision if they are traffic or pedestrian and careening through as lights change and ignoring directions.

  • Then what is your point? That police should harass cyclists? Or that this is a bad idea and that you think better infrastructure is the way to make cycling safer for everyone? Because your comment makes it very hard to tell. It sounds quite a bit like you’re supporting this kind of harassment?

  • Scott Dion

    You are having trouble with the concept that individuals should be held accountable for their actions, not groups of people. This may be because you are part of a group that has been granted nonaccountability status. In spite of this you should hold yourself accountable and then hold other individuals accountable.

  • Lorinda

    I hardly think pointing out that cyclists sometimes make it difficult for pedestrians equates to support of harassment. Just adding a comment that not all cyclists are above making wrong decisions and should be accountable which would not be harassment.

  • qrt145

    Maybe you are unusually jumpy? In all my years of living in NYC, I can’t recall ever having to jump out of the way of a bike on the sidewalk. Yes, I’ve seen cyclists on the sidewalk, and I don’t excuse them, but also never felt threatened by them.

  • David Merino

    Its for our own good

  • David Merino

    Great reply

  • TOM

    Sounds like the NYPD has nothing better to do than to harass bikers for no reason. Bikers are not cars. I ride on sidewalks all the time, go though red lights safely and go any direction I feel like on my bike. Last time I got harassed I outrode the police.

  • Rex Rocket

    The only “group that has been granted nonaccountability status” is motorists who hit pedestrians, as long as they stay at the scene.

  • Joe R.

    I’ve never had to jump out of the way of sidewalk cyclists, either. I have been thanked by some when I voluntarily give them a little room to pass me but I’ve never seen any bear down on me with the clear intention of forcing me to jump out of the way.

  • david

    It will be over in week so just pay attention.

  • Suzn

    Thanks for the heads up. We know every spring a lot of people get tickets since a lot more people get on bikes.
    Now let me get a bit technical and off topic. You wrote “…he had a Spanish accent and was clearly an immigrant from Latin America. Unpaid tickets can get you arrested, and you can end up deported, so you need to deal with that, I told him.”
    Spanish accent would be from Spain. Yet you then say he was from Latin America.
    More over, did you ask him about his immigration status? There are a lot of people who are in fact immigrants with thick/heavy/ unmistakable accents that are full-fledged american citizens. Think along the lines of Sofia Vergara, Melania Trump, and plenty of cleaning ladies and other service oriented positions. I’m sure you mean well by advising to pay the fine. But the assertion is not always correct: immigrant/accent/likelihood of deportation. People go through lengthy immigration processes yet the accent often remains.
    (please read this post with a distinguishable accent..as I myself have one.)
    Enjoy your rides!!!

  • TOM

    You mean the police will just move to a new location to harass people for nonsense tickets. About 85% of NYPD arrest/summons is for nonsense. Only 15% is for real crime.

  • BortLicensePlatez

    nah, you’re just concern trolling. carry on.

  • Bogdan
  • Rex Rocket

    Basically you don’t need anyone to enforce bike safety. They are totally unable to enforce motor vehicle safety. What happens in bike-friendly cities in Europe? Is there any kind of devoted “bicycle safety enforcement”?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    They’re not writing tickets for dangerous behavior like you have described.

  • Ken Dodd

    I rarely see cyclists on the sidewalk in New York, and when I do it’s usually someone rolling along at walking speed in order to get to a destination on the block without having to ride the wrong way up an avenue etc. Never see anyone full-on cycling on the sidewalk though.

  • Tyson White

    To be perfectly fair, NYC law does require helmets for working cyclists (messengers, delivery guys). But yes, enforcing that law is least effective way to prevent serious crashes…

  • Bogus

    So many lawless cyclists more than lawless drivers in the city – both are the plague.

  • veffari

    Not to mention the endless jay-walkers that walk into the bike path or the street without even looking.

  • veffari

    The largest non accountability status group are jay-walkers, to which I am sure you belong. 🙂

  • veffari

    I agree with you Lorinda, Cyclists should stay off sidewalks. I see them all the time in crowded areas and some go fast. However… it does depend on where the sidewalk is and why they are on it. I go on the sidewalk on cobblestoned streets because it hurts my testicles to ride on cobblestones.


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