The battle for New York City streets between cyclists and drivers is nothing new — either is the talk from bike riders about aggressive ticketing by cops.
But these issues took a new turn this week when the hit-and-run of a cyclist in Williamsburg — who was struck while in a bike lane — was followed by the ticketing of riders.
Matthew von Ohlen, 35, was riding east in the bike lane along Grand Street between Manhattan and Graham avenues just after 2 a.m. on Saturday, July 2 when he was struck by a black Chevy Camaro sedan with tinted windows, police said. The car then fled the scene.
Authorities have since located the vehicle, but the driver remains at large. According to PIX11, police believe the incident was intentional.
Von Ohlen “co-founded Bikestock, which operates self-serve bike repair kiosks in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Massachusetts,” the New York Daily News reported.
According to the publication, 11 cyclists were killed in New York City this year as of last Thursday, while five were killed during the same time period a year earlier. City officials told the Daily News that the increase could be due to more people commuting by bicycle.
A day after Von Ohlen was struck PIX11 reported that bicyclists in the neighborhood’s 90th Precinct, not drivers, were the target of the NYPD - and were issued tickets for violations such as running red lights.
"When they got to the intersection of Grand and Graham on their way, police officers were there to stop them and hand out pamphlets on cyclist safety," Greg Fertel, who lives in the area told Gothamist. "I found this to be pretty enraging — I don't think that this was an issue of cyclist safety."
These crackdowns in the face of seemingly more driver violations isn’t anything new. A 2014 Gothamist article pointed this out: “Today, the NYPD announced it would begin two weeks of focused enforcement on "hazardous violations" that endanger pedestrians and cyclists. Though it seems clear from numerous studies that the most hazardous violations are perpetrated by drivers …”
The city has as recently as this May made an effort to crack down on drivers who obstruct bike lanes and fail to yield to cyclists, according to CBS3.
“We believe in protecting everyone on our streets,” Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted by CBS3. “This targeted initiative will make sure New Yorkers on bikes have clear bike lanes and safe conditions as more and more people take to the streets.”
According to the station, the initiative directed traffic cops “to focus their attention on enforcement against drivers committing violations putting bikers in danger, like blatantly riding in bike lanes, crossing over them, and squeezing into them to avoid traffic.”
But some drivers and pedestrians still complained in the report about what was being done to keep them safe from “aggressive bikers.”
In a statement following news of the ticketing in the 90th Precinct, advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said they were tired of the “victim-blaming mentality,” and police ignoring certain driver violations.
“This is a particularly egregious example of the NYPD’s skewed priorities when it comes to traffic enforcement, and of the victim-blaming mentality that pervades the Department. Across the city, we see officers pulling over large numbers of cyclists for infractions that almost never lead to death or injury, while largely ignoring the violations that kill and maim the most New Yorkers, which are driver speeding and failure to yield. In this case, police should be using their time and resources to find the driver who killed Matthew von Ohlen, instead of lecturing cyclists on unrelated infractions.
“Police Commissioner Bratton also needs to take immediate steps to improve the NYPD’s dismal record on investigating hit-and-run incidents. Only about 2.5% of all hit-and-run crashes in 2015 resulted in any kind of enforcement action.”