Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Tale of Intimidation From the NYPD Bike Crackdown

Lately the NYPD in New York City has been more aware of how bikers in the City disobey the laws of traffic and is determined to change that. 

Oftentimes there is a reason behind the way cyclists ride in the City. Not stopping at a red light (but simply slowing down and treating it as a Stop sign - which has been a proposal to make it a law for cyclists for years anyway) can be explained by the fact that this way the rider gets to ride an Avenue without car traffic at least for a little while. This happens frequently on the bigger north-south bound Avenues that don't yet have physically separated bikelanes installed. Also, studies in the Netherlands have shown that cyclists safe up to 25% of their energy if they only have to slow down for a stop sign or traffic light instead of coming to a full stop. Oftentimes this is all that is necessary in city traffic. Also, mostly there is a reason for cyclists to ride in the middle of the (far left or far right) lane of traffic instead of in what is called the 'door-zone' to make room for cars. This means that it forces cars to change lanes to pass (which in the city isn't always easy) but also has to do with the danger of being doored by a parked car rather that getting a feeling of being faster because of faster moving traffic around the rider - as it is often suggested. 
All this is in no way meant to be a justification for cyclists to break the law and endanger other traffic members, but sometimes the reasoning behind a cyclists' behavior on City streets has more behind it than just wanting to get from A to B faster. Hence, if this kind of law enforcement ends in absolutely unjustified tickets of horrendous amounts this campaign does not target cyclists', pedestrians' or motorists' safety in the least. 
Check out this story from


A week after NYPD announced that the agency will be stepping up its enforcement of cyclists, stories are starting to trickle in to our inbox and the comments section about encounters with cops on bike detail.
Reader Greg, who asked to go by his first name only, wrote in to share his experience in Central Park this Saturday. It’s a pretty clear-cut case of enforcement that’s not going to discourage risky and inconsiderate riding, but will discourage the act of riding a bike.
At about 1 p.m., nowhere close to any window of time when cars are allowed to enter the loop drive, Greg turned right on red into the park from Fifth Avenue at the 90th Street entrance…
I rolled in to the Central Park entrance and stopped to adjust my computer. Two uniformed police were standing outside their vehicle. One approached me and asked for ID. I gave it to him and he sat in his car without saying anything. After about 10 minutes I asked the other cop what was going on and he said he was giving me a ticket for turning in to the park when the light on Fifth Avenue was red. After he gave me the ticket I rode north in Central Park.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of my encounter with NYPD. After riding about a mile in Central Park a police SUV parked at an on-ramp on the UWS started to follow me. It was obvious I was being stalked. Worried they were searching for any infraction I stopped riding and got off my bike. The police car turned on its lights and parked about 50 yards behind me waiting for me to resume riding. It was freezing cold so I had to get back on and try to make it home. The car continued to follow me.
As I continued down the road I saw a police minivan with about three police and six cyclists arguing (one of the cyclists was disabled and was using a hand bike). Seemed like they had stopped in the middle of the road for some reason.
When I got to the boathouse the SUV finally sped past me. Made it back to the entrance at 90th, completing one lap, and the two policemen had left.
Probably not the type of enforcement that’s a useful allocation of NYPD’s resources while people are gettinghospitalized or killed in traffic on a daily basis. (If you’d like NYPD to pay more attention to the behavior that’s actually putting lives at risk, it bears repeating that a good place to speak up is your local precinct community council meeting.)
Aside from the intimidation going on here, sticking someone with a fine for turning right on red into Central Park is a good example of why applying the same traffic rules to cyclists that you’d apply to drivers makes little sense. There are plenty of cases where we’ve established rules that already make a distinction between cars and bikes. One of the most obvious is that bikes are allowed into Central Park during car-free hours. If the crosswalk was clear, Greg was not in conflict with any motor vehicle traffic or pedestrians when he received his ticket with fines totaling $210.

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