BREAKING: NYPD Blitz on Bike Lane Blockers and Reckless Driver Blitz is Going Permanent!

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The blitz is going permanent!

The NYPD has confirmed that it will seriously step up enforcement of reckless drivers as part of Mayor de Blasio’s “bicycle safety” plan that will be announced this week — an announcement that came hours after Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for just that in an article on Streetsblog.

“Yes, confirmed,” NYPD spokesman Phillip Walzak told Streetsblog on Wednesday afternoon after being asked if the mayor would announce that a permanent extension of the NYPD’s three-week enforcement blitz against bike lane blockers and drivers who fail to yield would be part of the mayor’s announcement this week.

Johnson had called on the department to go beyond its current practice of periodic ticket blitzes during high-profile crises.

“We’re not going to solve the crisis of cyclists losing their lives with a brief three-week crackdown — we need to keep enforcing rules keeping cars out of bike lanes,” Johnson had said, highlighting an insufficient NYPD response to a spate of cyclist and pedestrian deaths this year that has undermined the city’s Vision Zero initiative.

Johnson also said the enforcement must come as part of “an interconnected network of protected bike lanes.”

More bike infrastructure will likely be part of any safety announcement, but Johnson and others sought to focus on the NYPD’s effort — or lack thereof — which was ordered up by the mayor on July 1, after three cyclists had been killed in just one week. At the time, the death toll was 15 cyclists. It has now risen to 17 — seven more than all of last year. Total fatalities on city roads are up 16 percent this year, too.

Over those three weeks, the NYPD response was either impressive or completely lame, depending on how you crunch the data. The agency did write nearly double the number of summonses to drivers who blocked in bike lanes during its July 1-21 enforcement effort — 8,648 summonses or 95 percent more than the same period last year.

Also, cops wrote 2,913 summonses to motorists who failed to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist — a 17-percent increase over the same period last year, according to Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, a police spokesperson.

But those numbers mean that cops — in the middle of a high-profile blitz — wrote just five blocked bike lane tickets per day per precinct and two failure-to-yield tickets per day per precinct. Those numbers are obviously a tiny fraction of the number of instances of both violations. Also, the so-called blitz did not include emphasis on other categories of violations that affect street safety, such as speeding, running red lights or distracted driving.

In addition, NYPD statistics published by Patch showed that before the blitz, the police effort on clearing blocked bike lanes was waning. Officers had issued 35,089 summonses to bike lane blockers between Jan. 1 and July 7, 2019 — a 14-percent drop.

That’s one reason why activists wanted the NYPD to at least remain on its blitz footing.

“NYPD’s enforcement blitz must become permanent,” Marco Conner, then-interim co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, had said. “We already know that enforcement has to be widespread and consistent to be effective. In addition NYPD must allow their Traffic Enforcement Agents to do the part of their job they’ve been trained for, namely to ticket drivers for moving violations like failing to yield and blocking the box. These are violations that occur on every New York City street throughout the day, and which Traffic Enforcement Agents are uniquely positioned to observe and enforce.”

The mayor’s announcement this week is clearly eagerly anticipated. It is expected to be multi-faceted, but there’s no substitute for sustained NYPD enforcement, said Jon Orcutt of Bike New York.

“Cars and trucks don’t stay out of bike lanes because it’s a good idea,” said Orcutt, a former Department of Transportation official. “Enforcement needs to create a real disincentive for endangering bike riders, and that will only happen with a sustained, perpetual effort.”

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