Alex Goldmark is a senior producer in the newsroom for New Tech City and Transportation Nation.
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(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The crackdown on cyclists who break NYC traffic law is widespread around the city, but concentrated most heavily on Manhattan's West Side, Downtown, near the East River bridges, and in Downtown Brooklyn according to Transportation Nation's crowdsourcing project and other reporting. That's also where past monitoring has shown the heaviest bike riding in New York City.The most common violation was running red lights, which brings a fine of up to a $270, just as it would in a car if issued by a police officer. (Drivers caught by a red light camera pay a $50 fine.) Riding on the sidewalk was also frequently cited, earning cyclists in our survey $25 and $50 fees, sometimes more depending on the danger it caused.
Mapping the Tickets
WNYC has requested data from the NYPD on the number and locations of cycle summonses several times, starting in March. With no response from NYPD, we asked our readers and listeners to help us map the scope of the crackdown, as laid out in the map above.
This week, the NY Post cited an unnamed police source saying there have been almost 14,000 tickets issued to city cyclists so far this year--a jump of almost 50 percent over the same period last year--and that the tickets are scattered widely around the city but with far fewer in Staten Island and the Bronx. Neither the NYPD nor the Bloomberg administration would confirm to WNYC that those numbers are accurate, but the figure seems probable given our past reporting and other efforts to quantify the crack down. The geography is also consistent with our crowdsourced findings.
Red light running was the most common offense, though riding
on the sidewalk was close behind, especially in the outer boroughs, where cyclists cited poor road conditions or safety as an excuse for riding on the sidewalk. If you click through the pins on the map above to read the "stories" of the tickets, many describe the circumstances and conversations they had with police.
According to this sample, it is fairly common for ticketed cyclists to beat the ticket in court, though many did not win their cases.
Who Is Getting Tickets
Richard Vaudrey, an Australian student who was ticketed for riding on the sidewalk felt it was unfair because he was going “slower than a walking pace” and he says it wasn’t unsafe. He writes, “I used to be impressed that in NY there is a cop on every corner -- now I have a different opinion!”
Numerous cyclists admit they regularly run red lights, and several made the case it was a reasonable thing to do. Gal Potashnick was ticketed for running a red light on Bedford Ave in Brooklyn. Like several others, he thinks that’s OK sometimes. “In the case of red lights and stop signs, I feel that if the intersection is not full of foot traffic or heavy car traffic, and it's not peak travel time, yielding should be OK. It doesn't make sense to sit and wait at a light when there is no one else on the road, and stopping at every red light and stop sign is extremely inefficient.”
Some other cyclists also lobbied for what they call the Idaho Stop: treating red lights as a stop sign that you can go through if there are no pedestrian in the crosswalk.
That kind of reasoning about the letter of the law is exactly what drove pedestrians to write us to laud the NYPD for ticketing cyclists more this year. Stephen Loges was “mowed down” by a bike in Central Park and wants cyclists to behave better. He writes, “walk just a block or two down any street or avenue and you'll see at least a half dozen violations by people on bikes: running red lights, riding the wrong way, riding on the sidewalk.”
By contrast, food deliverymen don't seem to see a rise in ticketing. We spoke with several of them in some of the highest-ticketed areas. None had received a ticket while working, nor knew of any other delivery person who has been ticketed. Though several did say they are aware of the crackdown and now stop at lights when police are present.
A Quick History of the 2011 NYC Bike Ticketing Crackdown
Cycling has more than doubled in NYC since 2006. As more and more cyclists roll onto city streets--carrying with them the age old New York habit of running red lights and riding the wrong way down streets--complaints to city agencies jumped. Then, in mid-January, as we've been reporting, the NYPD initiated Operation Safe Cycle, a citywide step-up in enforcement of cyclists who violate the traffic law.
There have long been tensions between New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, which bubbled into the press during the snow storms, when Sadik-Khan seemed to blame Kelly publicly for the Bloomberg administration's inept handling of snow removal during the blizzard of 2010.
Shortly after the city launched Operation Safe Cycle a memo on what and how to ticket cyclists was distributed within the NYPD. The initial mid-winter ticket blitz immediately attracted the ire of hard core cyclists who felt the brunt of it. Central and Prospect Parks became the flash points for the police policy after hundreds of tickets were given out to cyclists during car free hours when cyclists claim it is safe to ignore signals if no pedestrians are present. The memo also appeared to carry instructions that were contrary to the law, in some cases.
Over time, and after multiple meetings between NYPD, elected officials, cyclists, anti-bike lane advocates, and other community leaders, a consensus was reached that the best policy for ticketing cyclists in Central Park was to focus on safety for pedestrians, which means allowing red light running in some cases.
Ticketing remains widespread and common throughout the city.
The Law, and What's Next
A bike counts as a vehicle in New York. As such, it must obey the Vehicle Traffic Law code. Fines for bike offenses are just like fines for driving offenses, they can vary depending on circumstance and level of infraction.
Building on the Central Park consensus to focus on dangerous cycling, there is talk of a general "truce" between cyclists and police. Paul Steely White, the head of Transportation Alternatives met with the NYPD Chief of the Transportation Bureau, James Tuller, earlier this month.
"We brought with us a number of recommendations," Steely White told Transportation Nation. "Those included more police officers on bicycles," which would send a law and order signal that cycling is a legitimate mode of transportation, and cyclists need to abide by the law. He also asked for enforcement guidelines that focus on the most dangerous infractions, such as riding against the flow of traffic, riding on the sidewalk, and for officers to exercise some discretion to target cases where there are pedestrians present and cyclists not yielding.
Steely White said he also asked for and "alternative sanction program," like that of Portland, where police issue warnings, cyclists can go through a punitive class and pay a nominal fee for some infractions. "They seemed very open. We were taken aback at how open they were," Steely White said. Since the meeting, Steely White says he's heard fewer complaints from cyclists of tickets for non-dangerous behavior.
When asked to confirm that a citywide consensus might be in the works to change police ticketing policy, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Paul Browne replied, "no."
Ticketing is here to stay, just as bikes are. But what earns you a ticket, may be slowly evolving.
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