Cyclists to NYPD: ‘This is Not Justice!’

Earlier this year, cyclists and advocates rallied against the NYPD crackdown on e-bikers at the Midtown North stationhouse. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Earlier this year, cyclists and advocates rallied against the NYPD crackdown on e-bikers at the Midtown North stationhouse. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Scores of cyclists — but only one elected official — took their fight against police abuse against delivery workers to the Midtown North stationhouse on Friday, rallying to cap off a week in which one cyclist was killed by a still-at-large hit-and-run driver, another cyclist was tackled by a police captain and several riders were slapped with tickets for actions that are not even illegal.

Chanting the names of delivery workers and other cyclists who have been killed by drivers, including Chaim Joseph on Monday, protesters not only decried the NYPD for disproportional crackdowns on cyclists, but also a mayor who proclaims New York as “the Fairest City in America” yet directs officers to target immigrant workers who rely on electric bikes to scrape out a living.

JoAnn Yoo
JoAnn Yoo

“We are seeing incredibly oppressive and discriminatory actions [by] the NYPD,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca of Sunset Park, where two of the named workers were killed recently. “The mayor refuses to tell his NYPD to stop focusing on immigrants, the people of color, the people who are delivering our food to our apartments.”

He then began an Operation Wall Street-style mic-check chant, that echoed across W. 54th Street and into the Midtown North building. “Mr. Mayor. NYPD. We are a sanctuary city. Stop criminalizing our immigrants. Our e-bike workers. Our neighbors. … These are our streets and we deserve justice. E-bike workers deserve justice. Now. Now. Now.”

JoAnn Yoo of the Asian American Federation, one of the organizers of the hastily arranged rally, recalled a Streetsblog story from last week which chronicled more than a dozen e-bike food deliveries to 1 Police Plaza on the coldest day of the year.

“How do you spell ‘hypocrisy,” she asked. “N-Y-P-D!”

“If you are going to crack down on delivery workers, at least don’t benefit from their hard work. This is called hypocrisy,” she added.

Immigrant delivery workers — who have had hundreds of bikes confiscated since Mayor de Blasio’s crackdown began last year — were invited to share their stories at the rally, but none appeared because they were too scared of the police, said Do Lee of the Biking Public Project, which organizes a campaign called “Deliver Justice.”

“Two-thirds of the workers who are robbed or assaulted never report it,” he added. “They are too afraid of the police.”

Here is the tackling incident on Thursday that will stoke rage today.
Here is the tackling incident on Thursday that stoked rage today.

One delivery worker, who gave the name Rigo, said the NYPD crackdown against cyclists makes no sense. “You don’t make the streets safer by ticketing the lowest-paid, hardest-working people.”

The NYPD says its enforcement against illegal electric bikes stems is a matter of public safety, but police officials have never offered statistics suggesting that e-bikes are causing crashes in any significant numbers. Of the 201 people who died on the roads of New York City last year, none was killed by a bike rider.

The NYPD declined to answer specific questions about Midtown North’s crackdown this week, but NYPD spokesman Phil Walzak said that the agency’s chief of patrol “is reviewing the incident, and the enforcement protocols leading up to it.”

He also offered a more general statement about the enforcement effort overall:

Council Member Carlos Menchaca.
Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

“Vision Zero priority enforcement focuses on the most dangerous violations: vehicle speeding and failure to yield,” he said. “So far this week, the NYPD has issued tens of thousands of parking summons to motor vehicles, 9,982 moving violations to motor vehicles, and 463 summonses to bikes. More than 99.8% of summonses are issued to vehicles, not bikes.”

Transportation Alternatives spokesman Joe Cutrufo mocked the NYPD statement.

“Statistics don’t change the fact that the NYPD routinely engages in crackdowns on biking in the aftermath of crashes where people on bikes are the victims,” he said. “If we’re going to encourage more people to travel by bike, this isn’t the way to do it. The fairest big city in America shouldn’t tolerate police who act like the linebackers of the bike lanes.”

Streetsblog asked mayoral spokesman Seth Stein two question about the ongoing crackdown and Thursday’s incident:

1. How can we be America’s Fairest City if low-income, mostly minority, delivery people are treated this way?
2. How can we be America’s Fairest City if cops routinely target cyclists after a cyclist is killed by a driver?

We received this response:

Enforcement must be — and is — directed towards speeding cars and anyone who fails to yield to pedestrians. The NYPD is appropriately looking into this incident and ensuring the precinct’s traffic enforcement targets the most dangerous behaviors that put New Yorkers at risk.”

City officials also said that 3,855 moving violations were issued to cars in Midtown North precinct and 315 moving violations were issued to bikes in that same area. They touted the ratio as 93-to-7.

Cycling represents just 1 percent of all trips in the city, statistics show.

Update: An earlier version of this story misidentified cycling victim Chaim Joseph due to an erroneous initial NYPD report.

  • Joe R.

    Cyclists comprise 7.6% of moving violations but just 1% of trips. Seems like gross overenforcement. It’s even more lopsided when you consider the numbers killed by cyclists (a few per decade) versus those killed by motorists (~200 annually). Going by this statistic, it should be more like 3,855 moving violations to cars and about 10 for cyclists.

    The City Council can stop most of this yesterday:

    1) Make it legal for cyclists to yield at red lights and stop signs.
    2) Legalize e-bikes, especially the throttle-controlled ones favored by delivery people.
    3) Make sure the NYPD understands that there is no law which prohibits cyclists from leaving bike lanes at their discretion.
    4) Clarify that there are no helmet laws for adult cyclists. While they’re at it, repeal the helmet laws for child cyclists.

    DOT can also help by installing bike signals at intersections which flash yellow when motorists get a red light. They did this in a few limited locations like the PPW bike lane but this should be general policy at every signalized intersection, unless lines of sight make it impossible to safely pass a red light.

  • William Lawson

    So they’re overreaching their enforcement of cyclists by a whopping 760%. I honestly believe much of this is due to the fact that ticketing a cyclist is considerably quicker and easier than ticketing a driver. We already know that the NYPD is unenthusiastic about policing traffic, so it stands to reason that they’ll always take the path of least resistance in their approach to it. A ticket is a ticket, and they don’t give a flying f*** how effective those tickets are at reducing road deaths. Once you also factor in their clear disdain of cyclists as a demographic, well there’s your 760%.

  • Ian S

    I spoke to a helpful officer today on the community affairs line for the Midtown North Precinct. He claims that enforcement is related to community requests, and unrelated to Joseph Chiam’s death.

    He agreed that vehicles pose the far greater danger on city streets, and said that nearly all traffic incidents they are called for involve a car.

    I mentioned that I had heard that 10% of traffic tickets are given to bicyclists (realize now that the number is 7%), and he expressed surprise, suggesting that number is far too high. Maybe the precinct doesn’t realize the extent of this bias?

    Interestingly, the officer suggested that a significant portion of enforcement requests from the community are directed at bicyclists. According to the precinct’s website “Community Council meetings typically take place on the third Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM in the precinct.”

    I encourage community members to consider attending next Tuesday, the 19th, to share their concerns about enforcement.

  • Ishamgirl

    So let me understand this. If someone is an immigrant and using a bike to make a delivery but breaking the law at the same time, the cops should just ignore them because they’re an immigrant? Getting a little sick and tired of immigrants being coddled.

    Following the effing rules of the road. EVERYONE.