De Blasio’s NYPD Sees No Distinction Between Riding a 20-Pound Bike and Driving a Multi-Ton Car

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill

NYPD is on a bike ticket spree, with 23 percent more summonses issued to cyclists through September compared to the same time frame in 2016, according a Metro story published this week.

Speaking to Metro, NYPD Lt. John Grimpel dismissed complaints that police are concentrating enforcement on cyclists when motorists pose a far greater danger.

“When police observe an individual committing an infraction, either on a bicycle or an automobile, they are subject to a summons,” Grimpel said. “Bicyclists and a car operate the same way — if a bicyclist is going through a red light or disobeying traffic, they get a summons just like a car.”

Here we have a high-ranking police officer flattening all distinctions between riding a human-powered bicycle and driving a multi-ton car with hundreds of horsepower. This helps explain why some precincts are so intent on fining cyclists for minor transgressions that barely factor into the carnage on NYC streets, if at all, while letting motor vehicle violations with potentially deadly consequences go unchecked.

A law enforcement regime that doesn’t take into account the relative capacity of bicycling and driving to cause harm is deeply flawed, and leads to scenarios like cops confiscating e-bikes from delivery workers as motorists kill seniors in crosswalks.

When a driver kills a cyclist, NYPD typically responds with bike-ticketing operations near the crash site. Summonsing people on bikes where a cyclist lost his life while following traffic rules isn’t protecting riders from themselves. It’s punishing people for riding bikes. NYPD has produced no proof that this approach reduces traffic injuries and deaths.

In the Metro story, attorney Steve Vaccaro cites another way NYPD singles out bike riders for punitive treatment. “I think following cyclists through four red lights and then ticketing them with fines for each — fines going up to $2,000 — that’s not teaching someone a lesson,” said Vaccaro. “That’s above and beyond, and it’s not something motorists have to deal with.”

Assessing cyclist behavior at traffic lights involves the kind of nuance NYPD has shown zero aptitude for. People on bikes should yield to crossing pedestrians and car traffic at red lights. But if the coast is clear, behaving like a motorist and waiting for a green light can be more dangerous for a cyclist than carefully proceeding. The distinction seems lost on police: Biking through red lights and stop signs are two of the leading violations targeted by NYPD, according to Metro.

While police are making examples of people on bikes, they’re not staying on top of dangerous motor vehicle violations.

For years the 90th Precinct in North Brooklyn let truck route violations slide. After a truck driver severely injured a cyclist at Grand Street and Bushwick Avenue earlier this month, Deputy Inspector William Gardner, the commanding officer, said his officers weren’t properly trained in truck route enforcement, DNAinfo reports. It took a grave injury to make truck safety a higher priority at the precinct.

The 90th Precinct isn’t the only command that didn’t take an interest in safe truck operations until it was too late for a victim. The 78th Precinct threw up its hands when questioned by members of the public after an off-route semi driver killed cyclist James Gregg last year. So far in 2017, the precinct has issued one citation for off-route truck driving.

According to Gardner, an NYPD task force convened to enforce truck rules in Brooklyn was disbanded in 2015, and “there’s been a void ever since.” So while police cracked down on cyclists who roll reds, no one was minding the operators of multi-ton trucks.

Gardner’s remarks are more evidence that NYPD has no overarching Vision Zero strategy. How long will Mayor de Blasio let police enforce traffic laws based on bias, rather than data?

  • Reader

    “I think following cyclists through four red lights and then ticketing them with fines for each — fines going up to $2,000 — that’s not teaching someone a lesson,” said Vaccaro. “That’s above and beyond, and it’s not something motorists have to deal with.”

    This practice reveals that cops don’t actually think going through a red light on a bike is dangerous. If they really thought it was risky behavior, they’d want to stop that person immediately after the first violation, lest the cyclist hurt himself or someone else the second, third, or fourth time. It’s just harassment, plain and simple.

  • Joe R.

    Using unmarked cars for cycling dragnets is another criminal misuse of police resources. Stuff like this is exactly what may get me to leave this city for good one day. I hate to say it, but I’m half hoping for a major uptick in crime. If the police are busy fighting real crime, they won’t have time to harass cyclists.

  • William Lawson

    Good point. Plus I see NYPD cruisers without lights or sirens active blowing red lights all the time. So they clearly see nothing actually wrong or unsafe about going through red lights, other than the fact that it’s against the law and they have the power to ticket others for it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “When police observe an individual committing an infraction, either on a bicycle or an automobile, they are subject to a summons.”

    How many summons for jaywalking? Any?

  • Joe R.

    I recall we briefly tried that when Guiliani was mayor. There was so much public outrage that it didn’t last long. If there were enough people riding bicycles there would be as much outrage over this, and it would have ended a long time ago. Unfortunately, we don’t have the numbers, plus a fair number of people in this city relish the idea of ticketing cyclists despite the fact the fact it does close to nothing for public safety.

  • c2check

    Instead it seems drivers have exhibited enough outrage as to keep NYPD from ticketing them for most infractions.

  • c2check

    Last year I confronted a couple cops in a deli who had just driven through a red light them parked in a bike lane with a full parking lane open right next to them…
    Officer said they had to park that way in case there was an emergency and I’m like “oh is this [deli] emergency why you ran the red light too?”
    No response…

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    It is not at all against the law for police vehicles to drive through red lights when responding to a call of any kind, even without lights or siren. The Vehicle and Traffic Law, however, does not give you the same authorization, and instead prohibits you from doing the same thing. I know you’re jealous, but deal with it.

  • jeremy

    I always yield to pedestrians when going through a red light, even if they are 20 feet away from. I stop and wait, then proceed. Nothing dangerous with that, never even had a close call. My commute is overall safer and smoother that way.

    That being said, some lights are pointless to go through.

  • Joe R.

    The “emergency” was low blood sugar. They had to load up on donuts in a big hurry.

  • JarekFA

    Even better than cruisers are the unmarked ones. I saw the cop through the window, which is the only reason I was stopped myself. Once he ran it, I figured I was in the clear.

  • JarekFA

    Is it against the law for police to speed with their lights off, kill a Japanese student and then lie about it and say their lights were on?

  • Setty/Steven

    I got a $190 red light ticket yesterday at the plaza by Roosevelt, Woodside and 58th St in Queens. I had slowed or stopped (honestly don’t remember) and proceeded, as always, only after there was no cross traffic. The cops told me that they were ticketing bikes because of “fatalities.” When I pointed out that the only fatalities in their precincts had been caused by drunk drivers, not by the cyclists, they changed the reason, saying it was because the city had “spent so much on bike lanes, I guess they want to get their money back.”

    I told them that I didn’t resent them for ticketing me, but that I didn’t see many tickets being written for much more dangerous motorist behavior on that very block, including speeding. They laughed at the idea that speeding isn’t being ticketed. I went home and looked up the numbers. Turns out that in their precinct, in August (latest numbers), cops gave out 47 speeding tickets. In the entire precinct. So far this year, they have given out zero U-turn violation tickets, even though U-turns are one of the behaviors that is most threatening to bikes and most disruptive to traffic. They have also given zero tickets for trucks driving off route, though the neighborhood is full of illegal 53-foot trucks, including some parked in bike lanes or driving on streets where trucks are generally forbidden.

  • Joe R.

    Did you see the cop before you went through the light? As a matter of policy, I always wait the full cycle whenever I see police around. As far as I know, police aren’t going after cyclists here in eastern Queens, but I’d rather not find out the hard way.

  • strangemonkey

    Especially when they’re hungry for donuts … I see so much violation of this it’s not even funny, sirens to go through the light, then business as usual.

  • walks bikes drives

    Police (and other emergency responders) have three different levels of response. Code 1 – drive as standard, like any other car. Code 2 – enhanced travel, no lights or siren, but go through lights, etc. (Often used for ‘stealth’) and Code 3 – lights and siren.

    However, my favorite was watching a police car with lights and siren speeding through lights southbound on Amsterdam Ave, then swing a quick U Turn and stop in front of the Cathedral of St. John where they were promptly met by the officer stationed in front who very quickly received his coffee and brown paper bag (donut?) and then they had a very cordial chat for a while.

  • paulb

    In Brooklyn, downtown Jay Street where there’s the courts, NYCT, NYU, and the hotel: can’t count the number of U-turns (illegal, I’m pretty sure) I’ve seen there. Always police around, never seen any driver get a ticket.

  • Jason

    And of course, when you DO see a cyclist legitimately being an asshole, it tends to be delivery cyclists.

  • Jason

    Is it legal for police vehicles to toggle their lights/sirens on to run a red light, and then immediately turn their lights/sirens back off?

  • Miles Bader

    What about lights but no siren? I”ve seen this and I guess maybe it’s for cases where they don’t want to alert the criminal or something.

    But lights-only seems more likely to surprise other road users, so I’m guessing they need to drive a bit more carefully than when actually using the siren…

  • Guest

    I don’t know where this “Code 2” nonsense came from, but it is explicitly illegal under NYS law.

    Emergency vehicles can only legally proceed against a light if their lights are activated.

  • Reggie

    You can’t count the number of cyclists who weave through the pedestrians crossing with the light, either. I am all in favor of ‘the Idaho Stop’ at many intersections but rush hour on Jay Street isn’t the time or place for it.

  • walks bikes drives

    Don’t know where this “explicitly illegal under state law” nonsense comes from, but state law explicitly exempts police vehicles from the requirement to use lights and sirens to pass through red lights.

    VAT § 1104
    (c)?Except for an authorized emergency vehicle operated as a police vehicle or bicycle, the exemptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle shall apply only when audible signals are sounded from any said vehicle while in motion by bell, horn, siren, electronic device or exhaust whistle as may be reasonably necessary, and when the vehicle is equipped with at least one lighted lamp so that from any direction, under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet from such vehicle, at least one red light will be displayed and visible.

  • walks bikes drives

    Police are exempt from lights and/or siren requirements. Sirens should be used when crossing intersections when appropriate in their police work, meaning any time that they aren’t inappropriate, as they should be the default when crossing into an intersection against the light.

  • AMH

    Or greased lightning in Spandex.

  • Solo500

    Truth. It’s challenging since Jay St overall is a shitshow but here and Christie are two places where it’s important to give even insane pedestrians some room.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    It is not only legal, but prudent, as it is likely to avoid an accident. What in the world can you possibly have against it? Is it that you don’t think police should hurry to an emergency? Or is it just that you are so limited in imagination that you can’t conceive of a reason (for example, an attempt to catch a burglar who is still on the scene) why police would want to arrive quickly but as quietly as possible?

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    Because you know for a fact that jobs are *never* called off while the cops are en route, right?


    Spare us the fantasy scenarios. The reality is that people are lucky if the police arrive to take a statement on the same day of the burglary.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    Do you really not understand the difference between the response that should be given to a crime in progress with the criminal on the scene, and a crime that took place at some unknown time in the past, with the criminals nowhere around?


When It Comes to Bike Enforcement, NYPD Can Do Better Than This

Warm weather means more bicyclists on city streets. It also means more ham-handed attempts by NYPD to improve bike safety, and officers are out in force this week ticketing people on bikes. Instead of ticketing wrong-way cyclists buzzing pedestrians in crosswalks, the police typically camp out and rack up tickets where cyclists break the letter of the law without jeopardizing anyone. […]