Cops Allowed A Driver To Harass a Cyclist He Doored — Then Wrote the Cyclist a Ticket

The car driven by the officers who responded to Claudia Galicia's request for help. Photo courtesy of Claidia Galicia
The car driven by the officers who responded to Claudia Galicia's request for help. Photo courtesy of Claidia Galicia

A Flatbush resident was left “traumatized and hurt” not only by the Brooklyn motorist who doored her and sent her tumbling to the street — but also by the NYPD officers who were patronizing, obtuse and ignorant after the victim called them to punish the law-breaking driver.

New York’s Finest focused more on interrogating and ticketing Claudia Galicia after she was doored, instead of writing up the driver who opened his door into her path on Flatbush Avenue on Thursday night.

It all started at around 9 p.m. when Galicia was riding back to her apartment on Martense Street in Flatbush, she said. As she biked near Linden Street, she said that a man opened his door without first ensuring that the coast was clear — a violation of state law. The flung-open door hit Galicia on the shoulder, sending her tumbling to the pavement, causing bruises up and down her arm. She admits she wasn’t badly hurt, but in the midst of a deadly year for cyclists, she decided she wanted to document what had happened.

“It’s time for us to start reporting these cases where we’re getting doored, this is the third time it happened to me this year,” Galicia told Streetsblog.

She said the driver wouldn’t give her his ID or insurance information, so she called the police.

That’s where the story gets particularly infuriating.

The responding officers were more interested in writing up Galicia — and in letting the driver off the hook — than they were in taking down her complaint for a police report, is crucial document that crime victims need in order to pursue civil damages if there are injuries.

“The police arrived and asked me what happened, I told them, ‘He opened the door and hit me and he hurt my arm,'” Galicia said. “I said I wanted to press charges, but the officer said, ‘There’s no charge for you to place here.'”

It is common for police officers to misunderstand vehicular rules, especially when it involves right of way or the mistaken belief that cyclists must always wear helmets. Cyclists are constantly posting about uninformed police officers on social media.

But on dooring, the rule is clear and cops should know it: New York State law specifically prohibits a driver from opening his or her car door “until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.” Drivers have doored at least two cyclists this year who were later killed in traffic: Hugo Garcia was killed on Jan. 1 on Third Avenue and 28th Street and Yisroel Schwartz was killed in Borough Park on May 15.

In Galicia’s case, the responding officers also seemed unfamiliar with the fact that cyclists are legally allowed to use roads without bike lanes.

“You’re getting a summons for riding on Flatbush Avenue,” the officer told Galicia, though he later declined to write the ticket.

The larger issue, of course, is that the officers were “extremely dismissive” about summonsing the offender: the man who had doored Galicia, she said.

“The driver kept saying, ‘I didn’t open the door,’ and there were these men sitting on the stoop nearby who said the driver didn’t open the door, so the police just said, ‘Well he has a witness.'”

By this point, of course, the officers were on hand to see Galicia be harassed by the driver and his friends.

“At one point the other two men were yelling at me, ‘Get out of here’ and things like that,” she said. “This is an issue of how people treat women and how cops respond. They saw the harassment I was being subject to, and they just let it happen.”

For attorney Steve Vaccaro of the law firm Vaccaro and White, that was the most egregious behavior by the responding officers.

“The part of the story that blows my mind is that the cops allowed the occupants of the vehicle that injured Claudia to harass and intimidate her,” Vaccaro said. “They did something police officers are trained not to do. They allowed the occupants of the vehicle that doored her to engage her verbally and even get close to her and invade her space.

“If there’s one thing police know, it’s when they report to the scene of a traffic collision, they’re supposed to separate the people involved. they’re supposed to recognize the possibility of physical violence,” Vaccaro added. “These police officers, according to Claudia, just allowed these guys to speak to her in this abusive demeaning way.”

The officers dropped the idea of giving Galicia a ticket for riding on Flatbush Avenue — there’s no law against it — but they still wound up punishing her for calling them to the scene.

“Eventually one of the officers said, ‘Let me check your lights.’ I use my cell phone attached to my bike as a light, which I told him, and he said, ‘That’s not a light, you’re getting a summons for that.'”

The cop also wanted to check Galicia’s back light — which did not work — but refused to believe her when she said it had obviously broken because of the crash with the law-breaking driver. Vaccaro said there is no law specifying the type of lights that are affixed to a bicycle* — a phone in a holder is legal.

“It’s certainly bright enough to meet the legal requirement for a light,” he said, adding that he blames the poor NYPD response mostly on poor training by police department, which often claims it is a “Vision Zero” partner of the Department of Transportation. The NYPD works under the assumption that an officer with a driver’s license knows enough of the state and city traffic laws, Vaccaro said.

But Galicia’s crash, and the dismissive police response, came mere hours after Mayor de Blasio announced an overdue initiative to make cycling safer citywide. It’s a plan that relies more on police enforcement than reducing the amount of cars on the road in the city, which is a problem according to Vaccaro.

“The police don’t really care what de Blasio says,” Vaccaro said. “There’s an inveterate, generations-old [anti-cyclist] attitude in the police force that is going to take something truly extraordinary to root out, because there’s no clear civilian control of the military here in New York City government.”

Galicia said she talked the officers into writing a report eventually, and that she wasn’t going to be deterred from following up on her case, despite her feeling that the police were trying to dissuade her from doing just that.

“These police wanted to make an example out of someone from a community of color, like, ‘Leave us along, we don’t have time for this you crazy bicyclists.’ But guess what? Most of the people who live around here ride bicycles,” she said.

“There’s no way I’m gonna take this anymore,” Galicia added. “It’s not fun getting doored. Seventeen cyclists have already died this year, so something needs to be done. If we don’t do anything, more people will die.”

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

*Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that there was no law that said lights must be affixed to bicycle

  • Joe R.

    And this folks is why I wouldn’t get police involved in a dooring incident. Between their animosity towards cyclists, plus their general lack of knowledge of cycling rules, nothing good is going to come of it.

  • PDiddy

    Tthe NYPD have no place in being employed to the degree that are in NYC. Fire half of the cops employed, you won’t see any difference in your lifestyle in the city.

    Better to have anarchy. At least you’ll save money on not having to pay salary, benefits and pensions for a bunch of moochers who bring no value to society.

    #ACAB

  • PDiddy

    The NYPD have no place in being employed to the degree that are in NYC. Fire half of the cops employed, you won’t see any difference in your lifestyle in the city.

    Better to have anarchy. At least you’ll save money on not having to pay salary, benefits and pensions for a bunch of moochers who bring no value to society.

    #ACAB

  • Emmily_Litella

    The one time I got doored, the guy was super apologetic and admitted his mistake, so I let it go since my injury was very minor.

  • r

    DOT has spent god knows how much of our money on stupid education campaigns aimed at cyclists and pedestrians when what it should have done is educated the cops. What a waste. Vision Zero under Bill de Blasio, Polly Trottenberg and James O’Neill is a disaster.

  • Claudia is a hero for doing this, and extraordinarily brave. I want to thank her for taking the time to do this under extreme duress. i’m pretty sure we are about to see some writing in the press about under-reporting of bike accidents, so i think that what she did, while difficult, is something that we all need to think about.

    as for the dooring–having myself been doored on the old pre-flip 5th avenue in manhattan–i no longer ride in the door zone under any circumstances unless going 5 MPH. it’s not safe, and it’s not worth it.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    thank you Claudia!

  • Isaac B

    This seems to be the 67th Precinct. To get a sense of how the local police feel about anyone not driving, visit (or Street View) the Snyder Avenue block of the station house. Both sidewalks are parked up and it’s not “incidental”. There are literally signs that the sidewalk is closed (these are more recent than the Street View).
    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.6489363,-73.9493913,3a,75y,259.01h,87.51t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1selC5feqjzO3J3it7HH9SMg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  • The appropriate response is not to resign oneself to this improper conduct by the police, but, rather, to publicise it and to demand improvement.

    We cyclists are just as entitled as all other New Yorkers to be protected by the police whose salaries we pay with our taxes.

  • The NYPD Is a gang. I am an orderly tax-paying law-abiding natural-born American citizen, no arrests, no convictions ever, but I fear these people. I’d have to be in some serious dire straits before I’d ever call them for help. If trouble comes to my door… I think there’s a few friends I’d rather call than the NYPD. Why would I ever want to interact with NY’s “finest”? Possibly end up dead.

  • Ms Galicia should consider herself lucky she didn’t end up in an NYPD chokehold IMO.

  • MZ

    NYPD is a symptom of a larger disease that NYC doesn’t give two shits about its citizens unless it can penalize them and generate revenue.
    When the population continues to diminish, it’ll be too late.
    Other cities are welcoming new residents and actually works to keep them.

  • petercow

  • SteveVaccaro

    Dave,
    Nice write up of an important story, but I did not say “there is no law requiring lights to be affixed to a bicycle” — in fact, that is exactly what the law requires. What I did say was that a phone holder affixed to the bicycle, which holds a phone that functions as a light, satisfies this requirement. If after getting doored, this cyclist removed the phone from the holder to call for help, that does not mean whe did not meet the light requirement at the time she was doored. But if she had been holding the phone in her hand with the flashlight on while bicycling, it would not have been affixed to the frame and it would have been a technical traffic violation.

    What we see here is what I call the “observed violation rule”–police officers (other than in fatal and near fatal crashes, which are handled differently for unclear reasons) will not write a summons for conduct they did not observe. So there is nothing out of the ordinary for the officer here to refuse to issue a summons on the spot for dooring. It is wrong that the NYPD has a policy of not issuing summonses in such circumstances, but it is standard operating procedure. No one should expect police to issue on-the-spot summonses for moving traffic violations, that were not personally observed by a police officer, until the NYPD operating procedures are changed. To insist upon an officer doing so is to provoke a conflict and probably draw a retaliatory summons, as in this case. It is not fair or right, but it is how the police operate.We should try to change it on the systematic, policy level.

    On the other hand, equipment violations based on what the officer observes at the scene can be issued on the spot. In this case, the summons should not have been issued because the fact that phone may not have been affixed to the frame at the time the officer responded does not mean there was a violation (that the phone was not affixed) while the cyclist was operating her bicycle.

  • Jim Morrison

    The behavior of the police was outrageous, yes, and the motorist was at fault, yes.

    But still, not to blame the victim but to promote defensive cycling, one has to wonder, how can anyone get doored thrice in a year? I’ve been doored once in over twenty years of bike commuting. I like to think that this is largely because I learned something from it and not that I’m orders of magnitude luckier than Ms. Galicia.

  • Risa

    I believe there’s a typo in the third-to-last paragraph. “Leave us along” should be “leave us alone” I believe?

    Thanks for this piece, it’s important to cover these issues.

  • Alan

    How can you get doored 3 times in a year? Poorly-designed bike infrastructure constantly intruded upon by law-breaking drivers that the police refuse to penalize.

    It’s generally possible to avoid dooring by memorizing super-specific routes, keeping your head aggressively on swivel, and taking a lane position that sociopathic drivers will often try to threaten you out of, but hyper-aware hyper-assertive behaviors shouldn’t be required to get around your neighborhood.

  • Vooch

    use blinky lights during the day – prevents many a dooring

  • LD

    This is exactly why I don’t ride a bicycle anywhere in New York City anymore. Rode for several decades until third hit by car. Miss it, but not the fear of behing struck by a car.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, it’s possible to avoid dooring. It’s probably been 35 years since I last got doored. However, there is a learning curve. I must have had well over 10,000 miles under my belt before I had avoiding dooring down to a science. We have no idea of Ms. Galicia’s experience level.

    The larger point is that motorists and their passengers are required to check before opening the door. I wish years ago regulations had been passed to require automakers to use one of the several types of door mechanisms which don’t swing the door out (i.e. canopy doors, scissors doors, sliding doors, dihedral synchro-helix actuation doors):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cars_with_non-standard_door_designs

    Even without cyclists, there are plenty of good safety reasons to require these types of door mechanisms. They also make ingress and egress easier.

  • Andrew

    Where does this “observed violation rule” come from? Do other cities have it? Other countries?

  • Isaac B

    People cycle too close to the car doors because the alternative is to be shouted at, honked at and rushed at by motorists…some of whom claim that that’s where cyclists are legally required to be. And sometimes, people in cars swing their doors out so far and fast that you’re at risk even if you’re the recommended 3+ feet away.

  • Ian Turner

    It’s a policy of the NYPD.

  • walks bikes drives

    And make ’em bright.

  • walks bikes drives

    My understanding is this is standard around the country. However, why can’t the victim sign the ticket as the complainant. It would mean that she would be required to appear in court on the court date to present the evidence that the driver violated the law, and the deck would be stacked against her and she would probably lose, but it’s worth a shot.

  • Mike

    Amen.

  • Assuming vehicle occupants bother to look for your flashing lights.

    How about just ride out of the door zone 100 percent of the time?

  • How does “memorizing super-specific routes” mitigate dooring hazards? People open their doors all the time without warning. Lots of vehicle windows are tinted, occupant’s heads are obstructed by pillars, etc. It’s just not possible for the majority of cyclists, even at slow speeds to look and react to a suddenly appearing fixed object. It’s just impossible.

  • Most car-bike crashes can be prevented once you know how they’re caused.

  • Yes people do fear harassment, or in the case of NYC which have probably the worst and strictest discriminatory mandatory use bike lane laws in the US you’ll get ticketed. Getting yelled at or ticketed (your local bicycle advocacy org should have a list of bike friendly attorneys who can help you fight tickets) is far better than getting injured or killed.

    3 feet away from the door is barely enough. That’s enough to keep you from striking the door directly but not enough to keep your handlebar from catching on the edge of the door. If this happens, you get flung out into the adjacent traffic lane.
    Even 4’ feet is questionable. Bicyclists have been startled by opening car doors and inadvertently moves out into the traffic lane without looking. IIRC, that was the cause of one of the dooring fatalities earlier this year in NYC.

  • You should involve the police no matter what. Best case they respond to the scene and actually do their job – which is write up a report. In most states unfortunately, doorings don’t “Count” in crash databases but many local police departments track them. Getting police to come to the scene also will help you if you are injured or later discover (after the adrenaline wears off) that you are. You need that crash report!

    If the police do something wrong, which appears to be the standard operating procedure of the NYPD, FILE A COMPLAINT against the officer and contact your local bicycle advocacy org to help you fight the ticket.

  • New York-based Bicycle Advocacy groups:

    Have any of you tried to repeal your state’s atrocious mandatory bike lane and far-to-the-right laws yet? Have you taken a stand against the hazardous door zone bike lanes allowed by the “professional” engineers who wrote the AASHTO guide and the NACTO “guide?”

    If you want to make your state (and NYC) a safer place to ride and give untrained or biased cops less ammunition to harass you then please work to change these horrible laws and standards!

  • Andrew

    It’s too bad there’s no elected official to whom the NYPD reports.

  • Andrew

    Does it exist in any domain outside of driving violations? For instance, do any police departments automatically decline to investigate an attempted car theft (for example) if no police officer personally witnessed the alleged act?

    When I was nearly struck while crossing the street by a motorist making a very quick turn without yielding, the police officer explained that she couldn’t issue a summons because she hadn’t personally witnessed the alleged violation (she insisted that her precinct issued many tickets for failure to yield – I looked it up later and they had issued a whopping three in the prior month). But after having a private chat with the driver, she looked over his car closely for scratches, and she was quite prepared to assume that I had caused any damage to the car that she might have found (she didn’t find any), despite her not having personally witnessed that alleged violation, either.

  • MatthewEH

    Don’t forget 2-door sedans with extra long doors, though you don’t see too many of those around any more.

  • qrt145

    I think it is understandable to apply different standards for violations than for crimes. Stealing a car is a felony, so it is reasonable to spend more effort investigating it than a non-observed traffic violation.

    There are certainly non-driving violations where I would expect you’d be laughed out of the room too if you tried to get it enforced after the fact. For example, imagine complaining that someone smoked in a non-smoking area to an official who can’t observe the violation anymore.

    That said, I think it would make sense to allow citizens to report violations as long as they provide solid evidence (e.g., photo or video clearly showing the violation and the party responsible). The TLC allows you to do that for complaints against taxi drivers, but unfortunately other drivers are off the hook.

  • Alan

    Super-specific routes enable you to get to your destination while spending very little time in the door zone without facing too much bullying from drivers trying to force you to the side.

  • walks bikes drives

    It applies to violations rather than misdemeanors or felonies.

  • Joe R.

    Keep in mind it’s not always possible to get the police involved. I don’t own a cell phone, and I don’t think any driver who doored me will lend me theirs so I can call the police. If there are no bystanders around who can loan me their phone I would have to use a pay phone. By the time I find one, the driver will be long gone.

    And then sometimes the cyclist just needs to leave because they can’t be late for work, or an appointment.

    I think a better answer is for the city to allow video evidence. If you have a camera on your bike, you send in the footage of the incident, complete with the license plate number, file a complaint, and the city takes action. No need to get the police involved. At the very least maybe you can put in a claim for bike damages through the driver’s insurance. If they get enough dooring claims, their insurance will go up. That will give them an incentive to look before opening their door.

  • Vooch

    Agreed – better to own the lane if reasonable

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This was the scene at Seaman Avenue and 207th Street in Inwood at around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday. It appeared that the cyclist — a white male in his 40s or 50s — was doored by the driver of the Toyota 4Runner. The cyclist was elevating his hand, which was bleeding pretty heavily, before medics arrived. […]