Bike Ticketing

Transportation Nation

NYPD Focus Shifts on Bike Ticketing

Sunday, October 07, 2012

(photo by Alex Goldmark)

Listen to the audio versions of this story below.

If the flared tensions around cycling in New York City ease a bit this year, it might have to do with a more targeted approach to policing bike riders, according to NYPD data provided to Transportation Nation.

Tickets to cyclists this year are on pace with 2011, but New York Police Department Deputy Chief Brian McCarthy tells TN that delivery cyclists are getting more police attention than last year, as are locations where bike-related accidents occur. Data show fewer red light tickets have been issued than during the same period last year, while riding on the sidewalk remains the top offense.

Anecdotal reports from cyclists point to a greater understanding of bike traffic laws by riders and police alike. Last year much ruckus was caused when police held a ticket trap for cyclists not riding in the bike lane, which is legal on most streets. Though similar speed-trap like efforts aimed at cyclists continue, more cyclists have told TN they got off with warnings and were handed educational pamphlets in place of tickets than in the past. It's not a vast shift in policy, but it's a slightly kinder and gentler Operation Safe Cycle, or as Chief McCarthy called it, "more focused."

The Backstory

The number of cyclists in NYC has quadrupled in the past decade. The city has laid down more than 250 miles of new bike lanes since 2006. The (delayed) CitiBike bike share program was set to unleash 10,000 rent-by-the-hour bikes on city streets this past summer, along with 600 "docks" on sidewalks, a plan the New York Post framed as an invasion. In a crowded city like New York, every square foot is precious to someone. So the trend toward New Bike City rubbed some the wrong way. Tensions flared. Cyclists were painted by detractors of the trend as effete hipster transplants. The bike-loving New York media corp, (tabloids aside), regularly wrote paeans to the city's mayor and transportation commissioner for pushing forward with a plan to make the city more livable.

By last year, bikes had became a cultural powder keg in NYC, and the elite power brokers had their fight: Brooklyn's 0.9-mile Prospect Park West bike lane, which launched a legal contest that came to symbolize competing visions and styles for running New York. At the same time, police entered the mix with a crackdown on scofflaw cyclists.

By the time Operation Safe Cycle kicked off last January, it met with complaints from both sides.

Cyclists argued it was too sudden, improperly targeted at the wrong offenses, and not focused enough on educating the city's thousands of cyclists who, like pedestrians, are accustomed to flouting traffic signals with impunity. Conversely, many non-cycling New Yorkers felt threatened by dangerous bike riders or inconvenienced by bikes riding in traffic with their cars, and demanded a more immediate end to the bike free-for-all.


The Evolution of Operation Safe Cycle

Twenty-one months after Operation Safe Cycle began, Transportation Nation sat down with the NYPD's Brian McCarthy to get an update and go over some of the statistics of bike traffic enforcement in NYC. "Our goal is to improve the safety not only of the public but of the cyclists," he stressed throughout the conversation.

In 2011, the NYPD issued 48,556 summonses to cyclists. That's about 133 tickets a day.

Police also made more than 12,000 "contacts" about bike safety and traffic rules. A contact is anytime a police officer contacts a person or a group about bike safety. It could be an auxiliary officer handing out a warning and a pamphlet to a single bike rider, or it could be the Central Park Precinct Commanding Officer taking questions during a packed community meeting.

Both the number of tickets and the number of contacts are roughly steady when compared to 2011 -- though the make up is slightly different. Most notably, police issued less tickets for the failure to stop at a signal, which include red light running and can cost $270 per ticket. Bike riders pay the same fines motor vehicle drivers do.

The biggest complaint about cyclists -- and one of the more dangerous practices -- is riding on the sidewalk. "I’m a lifelong city resident and I see that and I’m disturbed by that and that’s why ... in 2012 I think Operation Safe Cycle has been a little more focused. And out of our 35,726 bicycle summonses thus far in 2012, 22,297 have been for bicycles on the sidewalk," McCarthy told Transportation Nation. "The overwhelming majority are for riding on the sidewalk … you have to be able to walk on the sidewalk and not dodge someone. Literally."

(Click to enlarge)


Click to enlarge

The Case of Central Park 

As for the contacts, consider Central Park. Last year police issued tickets to cyclists for running red lights in the park with such fervor that some City Council members pushed for, and won, a reprogramming of the 40 or so of the park's stoplights to make it easier to ride without running a light during the periods when the drive is not open to cars.

By comparison, this summer the NYPD placed auxiliary officers at busy intersections along the Loop as crossing guards in an attempt to force the throngs of all park users -- including pedestrians -- to obey the traffic signals. The officers also handed out an NYPD pamphlet with the rules of the road and tips for safe cycling. This is the education bike activists had cried for last spring.

“What we’ve tried to do is get the summonses that are unique to the conditions," McCarthy said. "In Central Park, for example, people go to the park, I think they let their guard down, and they are at the lights crossing with a little less attention... than they would in a regular city street." So they're more vulnerable to being hit by a bike.

"As a result," he said, "151 of our summons [in Central Park] were issued for failure to stop for pedestrians, 65 summonses to failing to stop at a traffic signal." That's out of 423 total tickets issued to cyclists during roughly the first 10 months of this year. By contrast, in a far shorter period last year, the police had issued 230 tickets in the first three months of 2011.

Delivery Cyclists Getting More Tickets

Ask a typical New Yorker what the worst bike behavior is, and you'll probably get some complaint about bike delivery men or bike messengers running wild. The NYPD appears to be getting the same message. They didn't track commercial bike ticketing as a category in 2011, but so far this year, one in every three tickets to a cyclist has gone to commercial cyclists.

"In 2012, in an effort to have more of an impact on specific areas that are impacting on safety, based on complaints and observation, commercial bike enforcement, delivery enforcement, has been expanded and has been monitored," McCarthy said. "As a result, there have been 8,959 commercial bike summonses issued in 2012." Independently of the NYPD, the city's Department of Transportation is currently engaging in a commercial cyclist education campaign -- an effort that will turn to enforcement next year.


Bike Accidents Are Up

"Traffic accidents are down year-to-date. However, bicycle accidents are up 2.7 percent,” McCarthy said. The worst precinct for accidents involving bikes is the 90th, which covers Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood and saw 113 accidents through September 23. This was also the most deadly precinct for cyclists last year. Central Park comes in second, with 98 accidents so far this year -- 91 of them involving a motor vehicle hitting a bike, and seven where a bike hit a pedestrian.

The NYPD closely tracks traffic crime and crashes through a program called Traffic Stat. Each week three precincts present their latest data to top brass. Bike accidents and crimes involving bikes are also included. Before each meeting, officers will photograph trouble spots where two or more accidents have taken place so the group can review and propose action -- anything from traffic stops at that location to suggesting an infrastructure change.

There have been 2,968 bike-related accidents in New York City this year, most of them car-cyclist collisions. The NYPD only recently began tracking cyclist-pedestrian crashes and could not provide that data.

By comparison, there have been 141,454 traffic crashes in total in the city this year, slightly lower than the same period last year.

If past trends hold, then the number of new cyclists on the streets is up more than 8 percent this year, making the 2.7 percent increase in bike accidents a mixed numbers game. The Department of Transportation would not comment on the figures, but said that as cycling has increased fourfold in the past decade, serious injuries to cyclists have fallen by 70 percent.

Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives, a bike advocacy group, said the apparent shift of the NYPD to include more education for cyclists is a welcome one, but added that "dangerous driving is by far the leading cause of injury and death on New York City streets and we continue to call on the NYPD to make protecting New Yorkers from dangerous drivers a priority."

Police have issued 35,726 tickets to cyclists this year out of 685,616 total motor vehicle summonses. There was no known case of a cyclist hitting and killing a pedestrian last year. In the same time period, nearly 300 cyclists and pedestrians were killed when struck by cars and trucks.


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Transportation Nation

NYPD Issued Almost 50,000 Bicycle Tickets in 2011

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The NYPD doled out 48,556 summonses to bike riders in 2011. That figure was reported by Executive Officer of the Transportation Bureau, John Cassidy at a hearing held by the NY City Council Wednesday on NYPD policies for traffic investigations.

About 250,000 people ride a bike each day in New York city, and  about 500,000 ride at least several times a month, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.

At the start of last year the New York Police Department cracked down on cyclists breaking traffic laws. Bike community protests erupted, compromise was gingerly reached, and outrage faded. The pace of ticketing, however, did not abate.

By the end of 2011, police handed cyclists 13,743 moving violations -- those are for less serious infractions like riding on pedestrian-only paths in parks, or riding on a sidewalk. Most of the summonses last year -- about 35,000 -- were the more serious criminal court summonses for infractions like running red lights.

By comparison, Cassidy said the NYPD's specialized truck enforcement units issued about 25,000 tickets to truck drivers.

Overall, police issued more than 1 million traffic tickets.  Cassidy did not specify an exact number.  More than half the tickets he said were for four categories of infraction: using cell phones while driving, not wearing a seat belt, speeding, and disobeying signs.

After an extensive crowdsouring project to map the scale and scope of the bike crackdown by Transportation Nation, NYPD leaked to the New York Post that they issued 14,000 tickets to cyclists who broke the law between January 1 and May 26, 2011. The Post reported that was more than a 50 percent jump over previous years.

In New York City, bikes count as vehicles and must obey all traffic laws unless posted signs or signals say otherwise.


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Transportation Nation

Map: Bike Ticketing In New York, Widespread, On the Rise

Friday, May 27, 2011

Click here for full size map.

(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

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Transportation Nation

"Consensus" Reached to Reduce Central Park Bike Ticketing

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cyclists running a red light in Central Park. (Alex Goldmark)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)

While police continue to step up enforcement of cyclists who violate New York City traffic laws around the five boroughs, Central Park cyclists may see some relief.  (If you've been ticketed, tell us about it here for a crowdsourcing project.) Two city council members, along with cycling advocates, report that a consensus was reached after a meeting with police, multiple community groups and local elected officials.

The meeting late last month was hosted by City Council Members Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick and the Central Park Conservancy. Garodnick says, the "consensus view was that the police would continue to enforce the law, but would focus their ticketing on cyclists who speed through lights when there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk waiting to cross.” Ticketing in Central Park escalated significantly early this year, and made headlines after police made house calls to apologize to a handful or bike riders who erroneously received speeding tickets.

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He said there was "general understanding" that this was the consensus in the room, and the the police were "O.K." with the consensus.

Council Member Brewer stressed the police did not formally endorse any plan. "It's not a new law, but it could be a practice," she said. "The overall concept is: if there's a red light and there's pedestrian, the rules apply, you have to stop on a bicycle. If there's a red light and no pedestrian, you can go on," she said. She explained that all parties at the meeting discussed details like potential sight lines for seeing pedestrians and still agreed this was a workable solution. The informal agreement was arrived at after all parties cited safety as a primary concern. Pedestrians don't want cyclists whizzing past without yielding, and cyclists didn't want to sit at stop lights when nobody was there to cross. So participants at the meeting came to an agreement that it would be safe for cyclists to ride through red lights if there are no pedestrians nearby.

At the meeting were representatives from the Department of Transportation, Parks Department, the Central Park Conservancy, as well as runners groups, cycling clubs and pedestrian advocates.

The DOT has already changed the timing on the traffic signals to make it easier for cyclists to ride around the Central Park loop without encountering a red light. President of the New York Cycle Club, Ellen Jaffe who was at the meeting, says, "anecdotally, there has been a great lessening of tickets" among members of her club, which is mostly includes racing cyclists who train early in the mornings or late at night when the park isn't as crowded, as well as more occasional bike riders.  She added, "I haven't heard of any [tickets] recently and it was a constant drumbeat on our message board" for months.

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Transportation Nation

Crowdsourcing NYC Bike Tickets - Tell Us What You Know!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Show Us Your Ticket!

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) If you haven't filled out our survey about bike tickets in NYC, or sent it to someone else to fill out, here's another chance.

Cycling increased dramatically in the city in recent years, and then this year, suddenly, ticketing of cyclists has spiked to new highs. Have you noticed that? Have you gotten a ticket yourself? Know someone who has?

We’re looking to map where these tickets are happening and for what. Please spread the word to all the cyclists you know. And fill out the form below.

Here's a shortened link to send them:

And the simple form to fill out below.

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Transportation Nation

Been ticketed while riding a bike? Join This Crowdsourcing Project

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Victor Velasquez was ticketed for not riding in an available bike lane.

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) Have you been ticketed while riding your bike? Know someone who has, or even just seen someone getting a ticket on their bike? We want to hear about it.

Cyclists have to obey motor vehicle laws in New York City. There are more cyclists on the streets—just see this chart. Now, we'd like to map how many more violations are being issued.

We've reported on tickets for speeding, running red lights in Central Park, for not riding in the bike lane on Lafayette street, and riding on the sidewalk in Brooklyn, but we know there are other pockets of increased enforcement out there as well.

Mapping the Bike Tickets of 2011

We're looking to map where, and for what the recent increased enforcement of violations by cyclists.  Please spread the word to all the cyclists you know.

Send them this link:

Or have them come to this post and answer the short questions below.

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

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Transportation Nation

NYC DOT Wants Cyclists to Take a "Bike Smart Pledge"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The New York City Department of Transportation wants cyclists to take the "bike smart pledge" to obey all the rules of the road.

This is the latest effort to ease tensions between cycling enthusiasts and bike lane opponents by getting bike riders to behave better, thus eliminating one of the complaints about the increase in city cyclists recently. The number of bike riders has doubled in NYC since 2006.

This comes amidst an NYPD crackdown on rule breaking riders that has drawn regular attention on this website and in the local press, most recently including a video of a pedestrian getting a ticket for "ridiculing" a cyclist in the process of getting a ticket for riding on the sidewalk, Robin Williams who says he was stopped for the same offense, and a prep-school exec who got a ticket for hanging her handbag on her handlebars.

Here's the pledge.

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