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Op-Ed: Ticketing an Unresponsive Cyclist is a New Low for NYPD

Officers approaching an unresponsive, injured cyclist to ticket him after a crash on Monday. Image: Youtube screenshot

An incident this week — in which cops issued a ticket to a cyclist who lay non-responsive on the ground after being doored by a motorist — sadly epitomizes the kind of hostile and indifferent treatment that cyclists have come to expect from the NYPD.

The incident — covered by Gothamist — happened on Monday on W. 21st Street in Chelsea. In a video of the crash, an officer asks a witness cyclist, “Was he getting off right here? Because there's a bike lane here, so technically you're supposed to ride in the bike lane.” Another officer asks the injured cyclist, who does not appear to move, “Sir, were you in the bike lane?”

This behavior on the part of the NYPD should anger all New Yorkers, given the insensitivity and indifference that went into the decision by the officers to issue a summons to a doored cyclist for a crash he had no part in causing.

What kind of training did these police officers have that they deemed it appropriate to question and ticket a crash victim lying prostrate and unresponsive? Would they do the same to an unresponsive motorist?

We need some answers, but we're not getting them from the NYPD or its boss, Mayor de Blasio. Indeed, this week Streetsblog asked de Blasio about the NYPD's lack of training and knowledge of traffic law, but he instead impugned Streetsblog's reputation, saying, "I’m not going to assume that those facts are accurate because I haven’t seen any evidence of that.” He said he couldn't accept Streetsblog's facts or premise because its reporters have "only one worldview." Really?

But what makes the Chelsea episode even sadder and more maddening is that such behavior doesn’t even surprise cyclists anymore. 

From the bogus tickets issued for non-existent infractions, to the persistent NYPD parking in bike lanes, to the widespread refusal to charge motorists involved in crashes, to the relentless blaming of cyclists almost immediately after crashes in which they are injured or killed — even when evidence exists that plainly and unequivocally absolves the cyclist of any wrongdoing — cyclists long ago learned that they can’t assume that the police are allies. 

Occasionally, the NYPD does some action to help cyclists. For example, officers of Manhattan’s 19th Precinct earlier this year put up barricades in order to protect the “protected” Second Avenue bike lane on the Upper East Side when motorists began encroaching on it. But the majority of stories cyclists tell about the NYPD aren’t positive ones.

The NYPD surely will respond to the incident on 21st Street, if it hasn’t already, and I imagine that it will either be a half-hearted apology or an attempt to say that the cyclist, who was clearly not in the wrong, was somehow to blame and that we’re wrong for believing he wasn’t. But that won’t change the fact that police officers decided to plant a summons on a barely conscious cyclist after he was doored and while he was lying on the pavement unresponsive.

This is not keeping New York cyclists safe from danger; this is harassment, plain and simple, and as long as the NYPD continues to do it, it shouldn’t be at all surprised that cyclists do not trust its officers.

Liam Jeffries is a safe-streets activist and freelance writer in Manhattan. Streetsblog reached out to City Hall for comment on Tuesday, but none was provided. We will update this story if one is.

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