NYPD’s Annual Springtime Cyclist Harassment Campaign Is Well Underway

Cops are out issuing bogus tickets, discouraging people from riding.

Photo: Peter Burka/Flickr
Photo: Peter Burka/Flickr

It’s springtime in New York, which means NYPD is continuing its annual tradition of punishing people for riding bicycles.

We reported a couple of weeks ago on the NYPD campaign to seize delivery workers’ electric-assist bicycles while calling it “Vision Zero.”

A Facebook post currently making the rounds indicates the department has ordered a bike ticket blitz, and precinct cops are issuing summonses for violations that don’t exist.

Journalist Steven Bodzin posted this account:

Yesterday was the first warm evening of spring. Everyone was out running, biking, looking at the sunset. I took a nice bike ride after work and ended up on West 125th Street in Harlem. I saw a bike-riding pizza delivery guy chatting with the people in a NYPD SUV. I didn’t think much of it but stopped to put my lights on my bike, as night was falling.

As I finished up, the cyclist passed me and looked at me as if he wanted to talk. I asked him what had happened and he showed me a ticket for running a red light. He said the cops had told him he wouldn’t have to pay it, which was confusing — he had a Spanish accent and was clearly an immigrant from Latin America. Unpaid tickets can get you arrested, and you can end up deported, so you need to deal with that, I told him. He said the cops had told him as they left him that they were going to get a couple other cyclists who had just come down the street.

I turned around and saw the SUV had its flashers on. I went over and there were two cyclists there, standing on the sidewalk. I asked what happened and they gestured to their heads. I said, “Helmets?” and they said yes. So I said “Excuse me officers but is there a helmet law in New York City now?” and the officer in the driver’s seat told me there was. “Since forever,” he said. He told me the code section. I was using my phone to google it at the same time, and I quickly saw that there is a helmet law — for kids under 14! By then the tickets were written. I said, “So you’re just giving out tickets to cyclists today?” and the officer in the passenger seat gave a sourpuss face. I asked where the order had come down from, and they said it came from “Borough command,” as it was for all of Manhattan.

The officers were clear that they didn’t want to be ticketing cyclists who weren’t threatening anyone. One said he felt like a “scumbag” doing it. He fully agreed with me that it’s more dangerous for motorists to double-park in the bike lane than it is for a cyclists to ride without a helmet. He told the bikers to just plead not guilty to the tickets and they’ll get off.

And the cyclists? This is where it gets sad. One had never biked in New York before. The two guys are Yemeni-Americans who had just gotten off a 12-hour shift at a bodega in East Harlem. They wanted to go out and watch the sunset on the Hudson, so the newbie borrowed a bike and they rode over. But they didn’t even make it to the Hudson. And what did he say? “They just give me a ticket for no reason. It is going to be the first time and the last time riding a bike.” Even though the officer had told them he was mistaken about the code and that the bikers should plead not guilty, both said they would just pay the fine: they don’t have time during the day to go to court, and “I don’t want any trouble,” one of them said.

So that’s today’s NYPD. Sending officers out to harass cyclists to the point that some swear they’ll never ride again. In the name of safety.

We know cycling is safer when more people ride bikes. By handing out bogus tickets, NYPD is discouraging cycling and making NYC streets more dangerous.