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The NYPD and DMV Are Punishing Cyclists For Legally Crossing With The Pedestrian Signal

A leading pedestrian interval in Astoria, where one Queens man says he was given a ticket even though he correctly followed the city’s traffic laws. Photo: Dave Colon

Police officers and judges with the Department of Motor Vehicles are rolling back street safety in the city by insisting that the law the City Council passed in 2019 allowing cyclists to cross with the pedestrian walk signal doesn't actually exist.

Cyclist Darren Goldner told Streetsblog that he was stopped by the NYPD on Fourth Avenue between 34th and 35th streets in Sunset Park last week. Goldner said he was following a green pedestrian signal during a red light, a signal setup known as a leading pedestrian interval. The cop gave him a $190 red light ticket anyway.

"I did try to explain I thought I was going with the pedestrian walk signs, the leading pedestrian intervals. I asked him if he was familiar with them and he did not respond before getting back in his car," Goldner said. "When he returned to hand me the ticket, he told me, 'You've already made it clear that you disagree with why it's being issued so follow the directions on the back, plead not guilty, and when you come to court it will be explained again.'"

The purpose of an LPI is to give pedestrians and cyclists a head start through an intersection before drivers get a green light and begin to make turns through the intersection. The city introduced the setup in 2017 for pedestrians and extended the safety benefit to cyclists in 2019 with a law carried by then-City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, to much celebration from street safety legislators and advocates.

And it's not just the NYPD that is ignoring the law.

A Queens resident who tweets under the alias Chad Formaggio got a red light ticket for crossing with the LPI in 2021, as Streetsblog reported.

Formaggio said that a judge with the DMV's Traffic Adjudication Bureau found him guilty after he was ticketed when crossing an intersection using an LPI in Astoria.

Formaggio said that when he challenged his ticket, he sent a statement to the DMV explaining that he was crossing using an LPI, and cited the specific city law that had in fact been updated to allow him to do so.

Despite this, Formaggio simply received a letter in the mail notifying him that the ticket had been upheld and he owes a $190 fine to the city.

What's going on with the law? It's hard to say. The city Department of Transportation referred questions on how the law is being communicated to police and judges to the NYPD and DMV, but neither organization acknowledged a request for comment.

"We make jokes — 'Didn't you get the memo?' — but there are 40,000 police officers, hundreds and hundreds of DMV administrative law judges," said attorney Steve Vaccaro. "The law changes, now all of a sudden bicyclists don't have to follow red lights anymore. That's kind of weird sounding to them. They should have sent a memo about it. But I don't know if anyone did."

Vaccaro said that his office doesn't typically represent people who get simple traffic tickets on their bike, but he has yet to hear of anyone actually getting a judge to enforce the law correctly, even though New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1642 allows New York City to create its own laws regarding how pedestrians and vehicles use the right of way.

Vaccaro told Streetsblog that he has counseled people who get tickets for crossing on an LPI to challenge them, because that's the only way to force the issue.

"The one sentence punch line is, in order to effectuate the Menchaca law allowing cyclists use the pedestrian signal, there's going to have to be some appellate challenges to administrative law judge decisions in traffic court refusing to measure cyclists conduct by the pedestrian rather than the vehicular signal," Vaccaro said.

Goldner said he's unsure if he'll challenge his own ticket, given that it would be his word against the police officer's.

"I've seen how other bike riders have been denied recently and fighting might just take more time and cost me even more money," Goldner said. "I'm very angry and frustrated. I was pulled over on a stretch of Fourth Avenue where there are constant dangers for bike riders and pedestrians. There are cars parked in the bike lane, medians, and daylighting zones, drivers using cell phones, running red lights and speeding. Instead of protecting the most vulnerable road users, cops target us for harassment."

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