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?

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