Op-Ed: I Got ‘Harassment Ticketed’ as ‘Payback’ During the NYPD Blitz

As the blitz goes 'permanent,' watch out for cops who seem to have it out for cyclists.

An officer prepares to issue cyclist Alan Mukamal a ticket while parked in the the bike lane at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street in Brooklyn. Photo: Alan Mukamal
An officer prepares to issue cyclist Alan Mukamal a ticket while parked in the the bike lane at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Furman Street in Brooklyn. Photo: Alan Mukamal

The NYPD’s three-week ticket “blitz” earlier this month — Mayor de Blasio’s frantic response to the jump in road carnage this year — apparently ticked off at least one cop who had to carry it out.

Or so I found out after a cop “harassment ticketed” me during the blitz for imaginary cycling infractions  — after I encouraged him to issue summonses to cars blocking the bike lane on Old Fulton Street in Brooklyn.

It was only the latest of several times in 22 years of biking in the city that I have faced harassment by ticketing, even as there seems to be little enforcement against motorists executing dangerous moving violations that threaten the lives of cyclists and pedestrians.

It makes me think that many NYPD officers have it out for those of us who ride bikes — and give a pass to those who, like them, view life through a windshield. Cops’ car-culture attitude is a serious matter when 17 cyclists have died in vehicle violence so far this year, versus 10 all of last year. Total fatalities on city roads have risen 16 percent this year, too. It was galling to be harassed during the very period cops were supposed to be stepping up enforcement against the drivers threatening me! And didn’t the cops just vow to stop “nuisance” ticketing of cyclists? Hmm.

Author Alan Mukamal.
Author Alan Mukamal.

The mayor just announced that he is making the July 1-21 blitz permanent. So police behavior toward cyclists is more relevant than ever. Watch out for cops who seem to have it out for bikers!

Here’s what happened: I was biking on Old Fulton toward Furman Street on the evening of July 16 — part of my usual commute home — when I saw a cop talking to the driver of a car blocking the bike lane there. Passing them, I shouted angrily, “I hope you are ticketing them for blocking the bike lane!”

A little while later, I was surprised when I heard police sirens summoning me to stop after I made a perfectly legal left turn on a green light into Columbia Street. It turned out it was the same cop at whom I had shouted — he told me so as he ticketed me for two infractions that did not apply to my lawful behavior.

Then it dawned on me: The stop was payback for my shouting at him about the bike-lane blockers. He must have laid in wait looking to ticket me for something.

But I really should not have been surprised. Since 1997, I’ve gotten ticketed six times (including this one) while cycling the 16 miles to and from my home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and my office at 52nd Street in Manhattan. During the same period, by comparison, I’ve incurred one ticket while driving (in an unfamiliar neighborhood in Washington, D.C.).

This truck is blowing through a red light in order to make a left turn from the right lane at Furman Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Cyclist Alan Mukamal made this turn from the right of the signal pole on a green signal. Photo: Alan Mukamal
This truck is blowing through a red light in order to make a left turn from the right lane at Furman Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Cyclist Alan Mukamal made this turn from the right of the signal pole on a green signal and was cited for two infractions. Photo: Alan Mukamal

And I’m no kamikaze! As a cyclist, I try to avoid interactions with police. I obey traffic rules, stop at red lights, ride on the street in the proper direction and always yield to pedestrians. I typically wear a helmet and use a bike bell and lights.

Yet I have been cited for infractions as different as riding on the sidewalk (when there were no pedestrians, in order to avoid a bumpy cobble-stone street) and carrying purchases on my handlebars. I’ve paid tickets three of those times. But nothing I have done as a cyclist has endangered anyone. Only one pedestrian has been killed by a cyclist over the past three years, while motorists killed hundreds of the same period, according to city data.

Moreover, I have seen many police stings targeting bicycle riders, especially along the First Avenue bike lane at 60th Street in Manhattan. Cops wait there during the morning rush, knowing they can show the outraged pedestrians who attend the police-community board meetings that they are cracking down on cycling “scofflaws.” (Meanwhile, cops never conduct a sting to nab drivers who routinely fail to yield to cyclists as they turn left from First Avenue to 61st Street — one of the most common vehicular offenses.)

Indeed, traffic enforcement against cars seems laggard. Not a day goes by on my commute (I’m in traffic 85 minutes a day) that some driver doesn’t do something illegal that endangers my life or the life of a pedestrian or cyclist around me — without penalty. Statistics bear out my impression of haphazard enforcement. This year to date, the NYPD had issued 131,320 summons for moving violations by the end of June — an 8-percent drop from the 142,993 they had issued by the end of June 2018.

Usually, I see multiple incidents, including:

  • failure to yield to through-cyclists when turning and crossing a bike lane,
  • failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk,
  • running a red light,
  • blocking intersection and/or bike lane because they could not make it during the light cycle,
  • stopped or parked in bike lane,
  • speeding,
  • passing too closely,
  • illegal turns,
  • backing up half a block (often at high speed) on a one-way street.

And where are the cops? In cases where I have hailed a cop after witnessing an egregious traffic violation, the story is always the same: “Nothing I can do. I need to see it.” Or they’re just indifferent. In one case, when I pointed to trucks blocking the bike lane in my neighborhood in Red Hook, the officer simply would not bother. “It’s an industrial area,” he shrugged.

Police officers are constantly making decisions about which laws they will enforce and which infractions they will ignore — or even, as I found out on July 16, which infractions they will make up.

I have a court date — next July — for allegedly failing to stop while entering a road and disobeying a traffic device while operating a bicycle.

I intend to fight.

Alan Mukamal lives in Red Hook. He headed Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn committee in the late 1990s.

  • CJ

    A government funded by individual citizens. But whatever helps you sleep at night while you harass private citizens for breaking imaginary laws.

  • Jim King

    I always got people for breaking REAL laws. Not sure where you get your imagination. In NYC why would someone need to make up a law to enforce? There are WAY more violators than paper to write them. You logic or lack of logic makes no sense. As for the “I pay your salary” BS… go cry me a storm. Cops also pay taxes, and fund your welfare and other lib programs. Reality: is WE ALL pay each others salaries. You and I pay for gov’t by taxes. I pay your job by supporting the company you work for with my cash when I buy a product. The difference is I can vote to NOT buy the cool aid your selling(your company selling) if your product sucks, and buy some where else. You can avoid funding the politicians by moving. Plenty other cities/towns/etc exist. Or you can VOTE for politicians that provide the environment you want. But if you don’t win..MOVE. Retired cops leave NY all the time because we don’t like the cool aid. Also at least you live in a country where you can VOTE and be heard. In many countries you don’t get a choice. Stop blaming the employees of the gov’t you voted for and support because you are not important enough to achieve real change or realize that change comes from the top. When Burger King makes bad burgers I don’t blame the burger flippers..I blame a bad product. I go somewhere else. In small towns the cops REALLY work for the tax payers, they even vote the Sheriff in. But interestingly in those kinds of places the police generally do very little because they serve interests of those that have influence and outcasts are ignored.

  • Vooch

    why do NYPD wear black these days , ?

  • Journey

    To me this bike rider had no right to interfere with police business & risk the officer’s safety by distracting him. I think karma gave him a swift kick in the rear end that was well deserved. Believe in cycling, bike lanes, etc. but harassing hard working cops ? Not cool.

  • neroden

    It’s important to arrest police.

    Citizen’s posses need to be formed to round up and arrest these criminal scofflaws with badges. It’s critical that the scofflaw cops be on the *defensive*.

  • neroden

    Yes, but it requires getting arrest warrants out for the criminal cops and then making arrests. It’s quite complicated; you need someone with arrest authority (such as a City Council member) and the support of a judge.

  • neroden

    Incorrect. Violations can be issued on sworn testimony of witnesses. As a retired NYPD officer, I am not remotely surprised that you don’t know the law. Like most in the NYPD, you were ignorant and misinformed.

  • neroden

    I’m not surprised that it’s the captains who are the problem. “A fish rots from the head”, of course.

  • neroden

    NYPD are mostly career criminals and gangsters at this point. I know there are the occasional decent people in the NYPD, but honestly, read the newspapers. It’s been pure crime-gang corruption since before Serpico and it still is — just ask Adrian Schoolcraft.

    Whole damn crime gang belongs in prison.

  • neroden

    You’re defensive. You were in a bad job where corrupt captains were ordering you to commit crimes — such as meeting “arrest quotas” (which is criminal). From what you’ve said, you went ahead and committed the crimes (meeting the quotas). You feel guilty. Don’t try to defend the NYPD, it’s indefensible.

  • neroden

    If NYPD cops actually enforced the law like they’re supposed to, rather than simply aggressively menacing people, we might have more respect for them. All too many NYPD cops wander around *committing* crimes, as is extremely well documented by everyone from Serpico to Schoolcraft.

    I know there are good people who join the NYPD with good intentions, but the whole damn organization is a crime syndicate, and you yourself have admitted as much (discussing the captains and quotas). It’s impossible for one good apple to cure a rotten bunch.

  • Isaac B

    I was thinking civil, rather than criminal.

  • Isaac B

    I was thinking civil rather than criminal.

  • Jim King

    Because you said so? Every rookie has seen what happens when done like you said. Violations can’t be summons based on sworn witnesses. Not in NYC anyway. Perhaps give proof. Exceptions are made for OTHER public servants while on duty though. For example a Fireman can make a sword statement. But it is still discretion up to the officer so a moot point.

  • Jim King

    None of those witnesses said MOST cops are criminals. The truth is the % is less than the civilian population. Statistically likely more corrupt MD’s, teachers, etc.

  • Jim King

    Actually you are a troll. You make accusations without any experience, education or skills to back your claims. I agree with you about the quotas being illegal. I said it before you. However you seem to miss the point that the city/Gov’t gets away with it by calling it performance objectives. The PBA actually took the city to court already on this issue and the courts said the city can have performance objectives. The unions lost. You could look it up if you learned how to use Dr. Google. The same Gov’t that says it is illegal is getting away with it by calling it a different name.

  • Jim King

    A crime syndicate because a few dozen cops do bad things? Your an idiot who is disguised as an idiot lol