Bike Warz 2011: Now With Cops!

01/19/2011 4:00 AM |

On January 5th, a week after The New York Post‘s Steve Cuozzo baited snow-weary New Yorkers with news that a Midtown bike lane had been plowed before innumerable outer-borough streets even got salted, the NYPD announced it was expanding a Manhattan-born initiative to ticket cyclists disobeying traffic laws to Brooklyn. The goal was to penalize violators of the most basic laws, like running red lights or going down one-way streets in the wrong direction. Neither a temporary push nor a ticket quota-backed effort, the NYPD planned to simply start enforcing laws that had gone unobserved for the decades during which the city left cyclists to fend for themselves. Accustomed to that legal leeway, riders in Brooklyn’s ever-expanding cyclist fleet (citywide ridership rose 13 percent from 2009 to 2010) were understandably apprehensive.

It didn’t take long for the first tales of abuse to hit the blogs. On January 7th a commenter on our post about the new initiative—who wishes to remain anonymous until her case is dismissed—recounted an incident in Williamsburg that took place on the evening of the announcement. Pulled over at Roebling and Grand for riding without a headlight or rear reflector, she received a ticket and then, biking away from the scene thinking the situation was resolved, was cut off and knocked from her bike by the same officers, who then forcibly handcuffed her as she offered them her ID and took her to Brooklyn’s notoriously awful Central Booking for “attempting to flee.” After waiting 24 hours in jail, she was found not guilty, assigned one day of community service and released with a six-month hold on her case.

On January 8th a Manhattan cyclist named Greg had a similar experience, which he related to the urban affairs blog Streetsblog in an email. At around 1pm he turned off Fifth Avenue at a red light into the 90th Street entrance to Central Park. Stopping nearby to prepare for his ride around the loop (car-free at that time of day), he was approached by two officers who asked for his ID and informed him that he was receiving a $210 ticket for the infraction. Greg took the fine and biked off into the park, but after riding about a mile an NYPD SUV started to follow him slowly. After stopping, fretting, and cycling nervously past a group of other cyclists receiving fines on the loop, Greg made it home with only one ticket. Biking loses its appeal quickly, whether for fitness, recreation or transportation, when cyclists have to worry about predatory police tactics.

There’s a silver lining in all this power-tripping, though. Unlike much of the vitriol hurled at cyclists by drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists, and even some concessions made to them by the Department of Transportation in recent years, this (ideally) egalitarian policing at least acknowledges that cycling needs to be treated like any other mode of daily transportation available to Brooklynites, not just a leisure activity reserved for warm month weekends. Policing cyclists as stringently as drivers means acknowledging their equal right to the road and responsibility for what happens on it. We’re clearly not there yet.