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Op/Ed

To NYPD Commissioner Caban and the 24th Precinct CO: Get Your Priorities Straight

The NYPD’s approach to e-bike fatalities and to citizen complaints about e-bikes is to crack down on slow-moving traditional cyclists, presumably because they are easier to catch.

Dear Commissioner Caban and Capt. Lazarus,

Last year was the deadliest year for cyclists in New York City since 1999. And 23 of the 30 people died while riding e-bikes.

Nonetheless, it appears that NYPD’s approach to e-bike fatalities and to citizen complaints about e-bikes is a crackdown on slow-moving traditional cyclists, presumably because they are easier to catch.

I am writing with what I call a tale of two cycles. 

Recently, I was walking home from a Three Parks Democrats meeting on the sidewalk of W. 103rd Street and was confronted by a person riding a powered electric bicycle riding straight at me at high speed — perhaps 15-20 miles per hour. Knowing that I had the right of way, that cyclists over 12 are not allowed on the sidewalk, and that the elderly and vulnerable in our community are terrified of cyclists on sidewalks, I kept walking, assuming that the powered cyclist would slow down or at least go around me.

What happened next in rapid succession was 1) the cyclist grazed me (fortunately I was not knocked over); 2) the powered cyclist, after traveling roughly 30 feet down the sidewalk, doubled back to come after me, presumably for not jumping out of his way; 3) I quickly entered a residential building (the security guard buzzed me in); and 4) the powered cyclist waited outside for a few minutes, but then left.

The other part of the tale also happened recently: My colleague was on her way to our office on a traditional Citi Bike riding north on Central Park West, traveling at most five miles per hour in the protected bike lane. After carefully observing that there were no pedestrians anywhere nearby, she slowly and carefully proceeded through the red light at W. 107th Street. Upon doing this, she was stopped by a 24th Precinct officer and issued a $190 ticket for running the red light.

Having attended hundreds of community meetings (and even having participating in a “ride along” with 24th Precinct cops several years ago), I am aware of the complaints the NYPD receives about bicycles. I know that many in our community are scared of bikes. I recognize how difficult it is to enforce electric and gas-powered cycles when they are traveling rapidly, especially as high-speed chases endanger police officers and innocent bystanders, not to mention those evading the police. And I understand the pressure you are under to show that you are doing something to crack down on bicycles, and to be able to report to the community that you have ticketed a large number of cyclists.

(I won't point out in this letter that 100 of the 102 pedestrians killed last year were struck by drivers of cars or trucks, not bikes or e-bikes. We can discuss the real danger on the streets at a later time.)

But regardless of the police imperative, I believe that targeting a middle-aged woman riding a Citi Bike at the "top of the T" intersection — where no motor vehicles can ever be present — for slowly rolling through a red light after she carefully ensured that no pedestrians were in sight is a cynical effort to be able to report that you are "cracking down" on cyclists, rather than undertaking a thoughtful effort to make our streets and sidewalks safer. 

As a one-time (literally) deliverista, I am well aware that many powered bicycles are used by delivery workers who are effectively forced by companies like DoorDash and Uber to violate traffic laws. I recognize the extremely difficult conditions that delivery workers face, and don’t cherish the idea of punishing these essential workers. (And to be clear, the cyclist riding the powered bike at me was not a deliverista.) However, ticketing people slowly riding non-powered bikes through red lights when they pose absolutely no danger to anyone doesn’t make anyone safer.

If NYPD and the 24th Precinct truly want to respond to community concerns, they should develop creative solutions to focus any enforcement of bicycles on powered bicycles riding on the sidewalk, the wrong way on our streets, and through red lights at high speed (but only when pedestrians are present), rather than ticketing slow, cautious riders who pose no threat to anyone.

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