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Robbery in Progress? NYPD Swipes Bikes Off Queens Street in Possibly Illegal Move

Cops taking away bikes. Photo: NYPD

Cops from the 107th Precinct in Queens boasted that they removed bikes that had been "illegally" chained to city property — but advocates likened the move to theft, and a noted lawyer said the police action was flat-out illegal.

The controversy began just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, when the 107th Precinct tweeted (update: then later deleted!) about a police raid on locked bikes in Kew Gardens Hills.

Screenshotted ... for your reading pleasure.
Screenshotted ... for your reading pleasure.
Screenshotted ... for your reading pleasure.

"NCO Officers along with Steady Sectors Officers of sector D removed multiple bicycles chained illegally to NYC DOT sign posts in and around 141 st and 78 rd," the tweet read. "Securing your bike to these signs is illegal and can be hazardous to pedestrians."

Hazardous is a judgment call, but locking a bike to a DOT sign post is not clearly illegal, said lawyer Gideon Oliver, who posted the relevant legal case, Bray v. the City of New York, under the NYPD's tweet.

In that 2005 case, several bicyclists sued after the NYPD removed bikes that had been chained temporarily to city fixtures. The city claimed that Administrative Code § 16-122(b) makes it illegal to leave bicycles "unattended on a public street, whether or not they are chained to traffic signs or parking meters."

That said, District Judge William Pauley, writing for the court, ruled that the NYPD cannot wily-nilly confiscate bikes that have been chained to city property without "adequate notice." (Which makes those bikes different, for example, from abandoned bikes that are routinely removed by the Sanitation Department in an elaborate and lengthy process.)

It is not clear that the 107th Precinct provided any notice, let alone adequate notice. (The NYPD did not respond to our request for comment nor did it answer our questions. The DOT did not immediately respond, either.)

Most people who responded to the precinct's tweet did so venomously.

"Hello, I'd like to report a robbery," quipped Doug Gordon.

Meanwhile, lawyer Peter Beadle questioned the legality of the seizure and also pointed out that photos of the sidewalk in question show it to be wide enough to avoid the supposed hazard to pedestrians.

"Perhaps instead of stealing people's bikes, proper bike racks should be installed," he posted. "Going forward, if there is an issue with bikes locked to sign posts get DOT to install racks so people lock there instead."

Another Twitter commenter pointed out the obvious irony of the action by the 107th:

Jon Orcutt of Bike New York has in the past said he is aware of Section 16-122(b), but like the lawyers in the case Oliver cited, has pointed out that the city rarely enforces it, rendering it legally neutered.

"Bikes locked to city sign posts are not a problem, and city Departments of Transportation and Sanitation have long been clear about that," Orcutt said. "What is a problem — often creating unsafe streets — is rampant illegal car and truck parking in bike lanes, travel lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and more all across town. When’s the last time any NYPD unit did a thing about that?”

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