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NYPD’s Bike Ticket Blitzes After a Driver Kills a Cyclist Are as Data-Driven as Bloodletting

12:52 PM EDT on July 25, 2017

No matter the circumstances of a cyclist fatality, this is how the local precinct responds. Photo: Rob Foran

Over the weekend, officers with the 94th Precinct in Greenpoint responded to the hit-and-run killing of cyclist Neftaly Ramirez by ticketing people riding bikes on Franklin Street, where Ramirez was struck. That's standard operating procedure for NYPD, which returned to crash scenes to go on bike ticket sprees following the deaths of Dan Hanegby, Kelly Hurley, Lauren Davis, and Matthew von Ohlen, to cite a few recent cases.

That two of those victims were killed by hit-and-run drivers and the other three were struck while following traffic rules didn’t enter into NYPD's calculus, because in the aftermath of fatal collisions, precinct cops are directed to issue tickets indiscriminately.

On its face, ticketing bike riders when a motorist kills a cyclist, regardless of the circumstances of the crash, is preposterous and won't make anyone safer. NYPD can provide no evidence that suggests the practice reduces the prevalence of fatal or injurious crashes. And yet it persists years after Mayor de Blasio supposedly ushered in a more data-driven approach to traffic enforcement under the banner of Vision Zero.

When von Ohlen was killed in 2016 by a hit-and-run motorist who was eventually charged with manslaughter, Transportation Alternatives asked NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan why the department reacted by ramping up bike tickets in the area. Chan said that as a matter of policy, NYPD tickets all street users following a fatality, TransAlt Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro told Streetsblog.

Since it’s harder to pull over reckless drivers than to double-park in cyclists' path and ticket people who ride by, this unfocused approach plays out in a predictable way. In practice, the NYPD answer to cyclist fatalities caused by motorists is to punish people for riding bikes.

Last year, TransAlt asked NYPD for data on the number of post-crash summonses issued to cyclists versus drivers, and for evidence that the department’s policy helps prevent crashes. NYPD provided nothing.

Streetsblog put in a request to City Hall yesterday for evidence that NYPD's bike ticket blitzes after a driver kills a cyclist improve safety, and has yet to hear back.

“In the Vision Zero era, it’s such a misguided policy,” says Samponaro. “City Hall should be embarrassed. It’s not the right message to send.”

Samponaro says NYPD should publish data showing its approach works. “Otherwise,” she says, “it’s just a ‘blame the cyclist’ exercise, which is very painful for families.”

TransAlt has posted a petition from Staten Island resident Rob Foran that calls on City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Vanessa Gibson, who chair the council’s transportation and public safety committees, to pressure NYPD to change its enforcement protocol following cyclist fatalities.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” Foran told Streetsblog. “‘Somebody’s dead, let’s go out and ticket somebody.’ Seventy percent of cyclist deaths are due to driver error. You need to get out there and ticket drivers, because they’re killing people.”

Foran hopes the petition will prompt the City Council to provide oversight.

Samponaro said there's a precedent for such action. “We have seen the council put forward police reform bills on other issues and it would be within their powers to do something here.”

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