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Bike Lane Enforcement

Prophet Motive: Restler Bill Would Restore 25% Bounty for Blocked Bike and Bus Lane Tickets

"If the kickback gets more people reporting, we’re all for it," said one high-profile advocate.

12:01 AM EST on February 8, 2024

Cash could flow down to suffering bike or bus lane users who report drivers who block their path under a bill by Council Member Lincoln Restler (inset).

Clean — and green.

Council Member Lincoln Restler will re-introduce his bill to allow people to directly report drivers who block bike or bus lanes and restore the bounty that had been removed when the original bill went through the legislative process last year.

The "clean" bill, which will be introduced on Thursday, is even cleaner, actually. Instead of the original bill new penalty for blocking a bike or bus lane, sidewalk, crosswalk or fire hydrant within a 1,320-foot radius from a school entrance, the new bill would allow residents to submit such tickets "within a radial distance of 2,640 feet" — effectively making the entire city a playing field for citizen reporters who want to hold drivers accountable and get 25 percent of the resulting tickets as a potentially very lucrative bounty.

"We believe this is the right approach to most successfully disincentivizing New Yorkers from blocking bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus lanes," Restler said. "This bill would make a tremendous difference in making our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians."

Restler's original bill generated significant support in the prior Council, with 29 total sponsors, a majority in the 51-seat body. But two of those members are no longer in the Council.

All bills that were submitted prior to an election and did not pass need to be re-submitted. But it's not typical for a Council member to re-submit a bill that had already been altered dramatically.

In the case of Restler's Intro 501, last year Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers pushed for, and won, changes to Restler's proposal that not only stripped away the 25-percent bounty for complainants — a proposal that was modeled on an existing program that gives idling-busters a 25-percent cut — but also phased in the plan over three years.

The amended bill also added in a new section that was seen as a way to reduce the number of complaints, requiring would-be complainants to first take a DOT “digital training course ... before they are eligible to file such a complaint.” And those people were required to have “a New York State driver’s license, a New York State non-driver identification card, or a New York City identity card.”

All of the compromises have now been stripped away. Neither Council Speaker Adrienne Adams nor Brooks-Powers responded to a request for comment.

But Restler is confident.

"I'm committed to push hard to get this legislation passed into law so we can increase safety for everyone: parents pushing strollers, wheelchair users, cyclists and all New Yorkers," he said.

Activists weren't sure. Jon Orcutt, a former city DOT official who now advocates for Bike New York, initially cheered last year's compromise because he felt it would move the bill towards passage. That hope was dashed.

Now Orcutt said, “It’s great to see the stronger version back in play. But the real question isn’t in the details, it’s whether committee Chair Brooks-Powers or Speaker Adams will allow the bill to move in any form.”

Indeed, after Restler pushed for many street-safety and driver accountability bills as a member of Brooks-Powers's committee in the previous session, he was ousted from the committee this year by Adams.

If the bounty is again stripped from the bill by the Transportation Committee on which Restler no longer sits, one activist said that the bill will lose some of its effectiveness.

"Your average busy New Yorker might not take the time to report a blocked bike lane out of the goodness of their heart, so the financial incentive is pretty crucial," said Sara Lind, co-executive director of Open Plans, the livable streets advocacy group that (full disclosurE) shares a parent company with Streetsblog. "More reporting, more enforcement, will lead to fewer violations in the long run. That’s how we change behavior. So if the kickback gets more people reporting, we’re all for it."

Without the bounty, many New Yorkers will continue to leave the task of enforcing the sanctity of bike and bus lanes to the NYPD, which has shown both a declining urgency in writing tickets and a propensity for being the agency most likely to block a bike or a bus lane.

In addition, cops often fabricate records of their responses to 311 complaints about driver misconduct such as illegal parking, Streetsblog reported in an award-winning story. Other times, cops harass people who make 311 complaints.

Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon pointed out the problem to Mayor Adams at a hearing earlier this week:

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