Op-Ed: NYPD Ignores Driver Recklessness Toward Cyclists
In pain on the pavement, I wanted the cops to come and investigate. Did they? Nah.
Many people expressed shock at the recent West Side road-rage incident, when the NYPD initially did nothing to an off-duty firefighter who pushed a cyclist with his muscle car.
Sadly, I was not surprised.
A reckless driver also victimized me recently, and the NYPD, saying its hands were tied, did nothing to help — a situation that needs to change now.
I was riding a Citi Bike uptown in the First Avenue bike lane on May 9 when a driver cut me off, refusing to yield as he turned left onto 61st Street through the bike lane. I only avoided him by slamming on my brakes, which caused me to tumble over the handlebars and hit the ground hard enough to dislocate my shoulder.
The driver who cut me off, apparently unaware of the fact that I was lying on the pavement, drove off before I could get a license-plate number. Lying on the pavement in extreme pain as cars, trucks, and bikes whizzed past, I had hoped that the NYPD might get a plate number from a bystander. But the cops didn’t even show up. The police did not dispatch officers to the scene when I called 911 to request police and an ambulance. An ambulance crew brought me to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where I was treated and released.
Later, the NYPD said it could do nothing because I didn’t even have a license-plate number. But, officers said, even if I had noted a plate number, no crime had occurred because I wasn’t hit by the car! The NYPD pronounced the incident neither a hit-and-run nor reckless driving. In the official view, I had merely fallen off a bike because I had never come into contact with a car.
A detective from the precinct’s community-affairs office — who gave me the name Lombardi — further explained that it was unrealistic for me to expect a driver who was about to turn across the lane to be able to see a bike traveling quickly.
So, it was my fault that a driver ignored the rules of the road?
Many cyclists have asked the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side for better enforcement in order to protect law-abiding cyclists from law-breaking drivers, including enforcement at the very intersection where I was injured. Cars traversing our district cut across bike lanes all time without looking or yielding.
Yet each time I have asked the 19th Precinct to enforce traffic laws in order to protect cyclists, officials told me that it was unrealistic to expect them to do more — although they added that I should not worry because drivers would face consequences if they injured cyclists. When the reckless driver injured me, the NYPD changed its tune; assurances that drivers would face consequences gave way to inaction and indifference.
The law treats bikes more or less like cars when it comes to yielding. The intersection where I suffered my injury even has a traffic light specifically for bikes, which I was following. A car that cuts off another vehicle does not face any legal responsibility if the vehicles don’t touch. But a car cutting off a bike poses a far greater danger to the cyclist than does a bicyclist cutting off a car to the car’s occupants. My injuries resulted directly from the driver’s actions, but the law doesn’t acknowledge that reality.
The law and NYPD policy must change, in order to hold drivers accountable for their actions, even if there is no direct contact between their car and their victim. Drivers must know that they face consequences for causing injuries!
More vehicles than ever on our roads are SUVs, which seat drivers at a vantage point that makes it harder to see cyclists and pedestrians. Many vehicles have soundproof cabins, which means that drivers cannot hear a cyclist’s bell or voice approaching.
If we’re going to allow such vehicles on the road, drivers must act responsibly and compensate for those design features, rather than using them as excuses to absolve them of responsibility for being aware of their surroundings.
It’s too late to catch the driver who injured me. We must act in time to protect the next victim.
Jeremy Posner lives on the Upper East Side. He is getting around by subway and bus until his orthopedist clears him to get on a bike again.