Are New York City cyclists unfairly targeted by cops?
It’s a question that resurfaces constantly, with cyclists warning each other about “ticket blitzes” and lamenting their citations while, they say, drivers aren’t given their share.
Cyclists who feel that they’re being ticketed more lately are not completely wrong. As of Oct. 1, the NYPD issued 23,452 bicycle summons so far in 2017, according to the department. That’s up from 18,991 summons issued over the same time period in 2016.
The most common summons are for running a red light, disobeying a “traffic control device” such as a stop sign, going the wrong way down a one-way street and failing to give the right of way to pedestrians, according to the NYPD.
Bike messenger Corey Hilliard said there have been “the sweeps every change of season by the NYPD for the last decade I have lived and worked as a messenger in Manhattan,” but an increase in novice riders may be making things worse.
“The influx of electric-assist bikes and indifferent yuppies and tourists on Citi Bikes have unleashed a new havoc in the melting pot of 9 million bodies trying to get from point A to point B,” he said. “The new influx of riders who ride recklessly, unable to notice pedestrians or safely navigate the streets legally in the presence of the police, causes a spike in complaints about cyclists.”
Hilliard also said the fees for violations are “out of proportion” to cyclists. That’s something Steve Vaccaro, a bike attorney with the office Vaccaro and White and an advocacy coordinator with the Five Borough Bicycle Club, has heard from riders, as well.
Vaccaro said there’s not an unprecedented crackdown occurring, but he has heard complaints lately from riders who say they’ve been followed by police and charged with going through several red lights in a row, rather than being stopped after the first violation.
“I think following cyclists through four red lights and then ticketing them with fines for each – fines going up to $2,000 – that’s not teaching someone a lesson,” he said. “That’s above and beyond, and it’s not something motorists have to deal with.”
In response, NYPD Lt. John Grimpel said that, “When police observe an individual committing an infraction, either on a bicycle or an automobile, they are subject to a summons.”
Police officers do have some discretion, Grimpel added, and can warn someone instead of issuing a summons. But ultimately, “Bicyclists and a car operate the same way – if a bicyclist is going through a red light or disobeying traffic, they get a summons just like a car,” he said.
To cyclists, it’s not the same.
“Cyclists are so accustomed to terrible drivers, complaints are rarely filed,” Hilliard said. “Lack of complaints causes lack of enforcement.”
Cyclists are also more vulnerable to getting hurt than those in a car, riders say, so the stakes don’t feel equal.
“There’s added emotion and passion to cyclist outrage over ‘gotcha ticketing’ for technical violations,” Vaccaro said, “because they so fervently wish the police were focusing on the dangerous violations [by vehicles] that put them at risk.”
Correction: This article had an error concerning Steve Vaccaro’s name and has been updated.