NYPD Tickets Cyclists for Not Riding in Bike Lane [UPDATED]

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Victor Velasquez showing his ticket for not riding in the Lafayette St bike lane (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

Victor Velasquez showing his ticket for not riding in the Lafayette St bike lane (Photo: Alex Goldmark)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) I witnessed two cyclists ticketed in succession today on Lafayette Street in Manhattan for not riding in the bike lane. (See below for a close up of one ticket, which reads "not in bike lane" under the description of offense.)

"I was riding my bicycle ... on the wrong side of the street," said Victor Velasquez, "and they gave me a ticket."

Many cyclists understand when it comes to traffic law, they're treated like cars. But there's confusion about whether it's okay to ride outside of a bike lane if one is provided. And the short section of bike lane on Lafayette going north seems to add to riders' confusion (keep reading for photos of the street.)

New York City DOT's website says "you have the right to ride in the center of travel lanes when necessary for your safety." But state  law seems to indicate that if there's a bike lane, you need to use it "Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations" (Full text towards the end of the post.)

Here's what the street looks like for a better visual:

Lafayette is a one-way avenue, northbound at this point, with the bike lane on the left hand side of the street. The lane begins just two blocks south. Cyclists riding north on Centre Street must merge onto Lafayette and end up on the right-hand side of Lafayette. They then have to cross two lanes of traffic to reach the bike lane. Many do not, especially if they plan to make a right turn at Houston St or another nearby street.

"The law is the law and lawbreakers should be ticketed but the unusual focus on cyclist behavior seems out of step with the realities of the road," emailed Transportation Alternatives in a written statement. " Hundreds of New Yorkers are killed or injured by cars every year--we need enforcement that will protect New Yorkers from the real dangers on our streets."

The police were parked in a van on the left side of the street, just north of Prince St. At one point they had pulled over two cyclists at the same time. This comes just a day after the NY Post ran a story about cyclists flouting traffic laws at exactly this intersection, noting that of the 7,182 cyclists they watched ride by, at least 24 percent violated a traffic law. The Post did not count the number of cars or pedestrians that violated laws or obstructed the bike lane.

Here's how Velasquez, who was the second cyclist I saw pulled over, described his interaction with police. "When he pulled me over, I said 'why you pulling me over?' He [the police officer] said, 'I'm pulling you over because you are not riding your bicycle in the line bicycle [points to bike lane], you are on the other side.' I said, 'I never heard of that.' He said, 'we're doing that now.'"

Here's the ticket:

The NYPD has not responded to a request for a clarification on the law. We'll update you when they do. The DOT response is below.

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Here's what we have found on the law so far.

The DOT did not offer a definitive answer, but forwarded relevant sections of DOT's Traffic Rules and State Vehicle and Traffic Law: (Full text here):

(1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:

(i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians,pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.

Vehicle and Traffic Law:
§ 1231. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles or skating or gliding on in-line skates. Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application.

It gets even more confusing, Section 1234 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, which has also been cited as outlawing riding outside an available bike lane. This, however, is superceded by City law, above, and below. One section, sent in by commenter Steve, seems to contradict the ride in the bike lane mandate. We believe it is still a violation to not ride in an available bike lane, but we're trying to confirm that with the DOT and the NYPD. In the meantime, here's the rest of the law.

Section 1234: (Which does not apply in NYC)

"Upon all roadways,  any  bicycle or in-line skate shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand  shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference  with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge."

Here's the law that specifically supersedes the above, 34 RCNY 4-02 (e) as sent in by commenter Steve.

You’re forgetting two important part of the VTL as it applies to bike lanes and roads:

RCNY § 4-12 (p) Bicyclists may ride on either side of one-way roadways that are at least 40 feet wide.

RCNY § 4-12 (p) Bicyclists should ride in usable bike lanes, unless they are blocked or unsafe for any reason.

Lafayette is surely more than 40 feet wide.

Cyclists are SUPPOSED to use bike lanes, but can use their discretion to bike elsewhere in the road for their safety or if the lane is obstructed. If there’s a pothole, a puddle, glass, or something you wouldn’t want to run over or that could cause harm, the rider does not have to use the lane. You could even argue that some bike lanes are so close to the door zone that you saw someone exiting a vehicle and left the bike lane to avoid getting hit.

It’s a fuzzy area of the law – “should” means that officers can also look at a rider and decide that it was perfectly safe.