How Many Cops Does It Take to Ticket a Cyclist?

A few readers have written to Streetsblog with anecdotal evidence that NYPD is ramping up its crack bicycle ticketing operation this January. (It seems to be triggered by the calendar; last year’s NYPD bike crackdown also got going in January.)

Police are certainly reviving their tough-on-cyclists PR campaign, bragging to the Post earlier this week about the 19th Precinct’s bike enforcement prowess on the Upper East Side. Meanwhile, the message to motorists remains the same: If you’re sober and stay at the scene, you can do just about anything, like run over and kill a 12-year-old girl who stopped in a crosswalk to retrieve her backpack, and not face repercussions.

By leaking their cyclist summonsing stats to the Post, the police at least made it a little easier to highlight their skewed priorities. As reader Chris O’Leary pointed out this morning, the 19th Precinct issued 2,436 tickets for failing to stop at traffic signals in 2011 [PDF]. Apparently, nearly half of those tickets — 1,101, according to the Post — were handed out to cyclists.

Police are devoting all these resources to cyclist enforcement on streets where disproportionate numbers of New Yorkers get maimed by motor vehicles. Community District 8, which roughly overlaps the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, has the third-highest rate of injury-causing traffic crashes in the city.

Here’s what the precinct’s enforcement priorities look like out on the street, according to an account from reader Albert Ahronheim:

At about 1:50 on the afternoon of January 7, as I was walking on First Avenue by 81st Street, I noticed four police “three-wheeled scooters” and four police motorcycles completely straddling the bicycle lane, and eight police milling around, a couple of them writing, most just gabbing and laughing, while there were plenty of empty parking spaces they could have easily moved into. At least one cyclist I saw had to veer out into car traffic to get around what seemed to be a completely unnecessary blockage of basically a whole block. But a run-of-the-mill police blockage of the bike lane isn’t why I’m writing.

I was standing around trying to get up the nerve to ask eight cops to vacate the bike lane as long as whatever threat was over, when an elderly man with a walker, who’d been watching also, started talking to me. He told me that all these police were “just to give a ticket to a bicyclist.”  I asked him if he knew what the cyclist had been ticketed for, and he said he didn’t know — he just saw him ride away afterwards. The man with the walker told me, “I don’t care what he was doing, it takes so many cops just to give a cyclist a ticket?” When he mentioned all the real mayhem on the streets, I told him how NYPD routinely lets motorists kill without filing charges, and he wholeheartedly agreed that they’re failing to protect people.

So then I went up to one of the cops and politely asked what all the excitement was about. He paused, like he was trying to figure out how to tell me just enough to satisfy me, and said, “Uh, we just had somebody stopped — that’s about it.” Then I said, “It would be great if they’d not be blocking the bike lane if nothing is going on,” to which he politely replied, “We’ll be done in a few minutes and be out of your way.”  Only later did I realize that, since I wasn’t on a bicycle at the time and had just gone around a car and walked up to him from the curb, he must have thought I was a driver who needed to get through the bike lane and out of a parking space. After a couple more minutes they all drove away.