Earth to ‘Cycling’ Commish O’Neill: Here’s How the NYPD Rank-And-File Think About People Who Bike

If NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill truly loves people who get around on bikes, he has a funny way of showing it.

We learned as much on Monday, three days after someone at the 103rd Precinct in Queens offended cyclists with a Vision Zero-themed tweet that featured a crumpled up bicycle and a suggestion that it’s perfectly OK to hate cyclists.

“Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re here,” read the emoji-filled March 29 tweet from the Jamaica precinct (below). “Keep an extra eye Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 4.55.49 PM out for them cyclist emoji (and Motorcyclist) as you drive they are harder to spot.”

This tweet has since been deleted — after it enraged city cyclists.
This tweet has since been deleted — after it enraged city cyclists. Screenshot: Eben Weiss

The tweet outraged many cyclists, with its “Animal Farm”-in-reverse implication that people who get around on two wheels are bad and those who get around on four wheels are good. The other implication, of course, is that it’s all right to harbor anti-cyclist bias in your heart.

“Bikes are ridden by people. People. Who have died because of thoughtless street design and no police enforcement,” tweeted Gail Thomas. “We are People. Who die.

On Monday, while the original tweet was still active, O’Neill was asked by Streetsblog whether the tweet conveyed an anti-cyclist bias within the NYPD, namely that cops agree that it’s perfectly acceptable for drivers to “hate” people who chose to get around by bike.

“Maybe the tone of the message — and the picture — was definitely not appropriate,” said O’Neill, who frequently refers to himself as a cyclist. “‘Love ’em or hate ’em.’ … As everyone knows, I love ’em.”

Then, without pausing, he veered into territory that suggests he shares the view of many drivers that people who bike are acceptable as long as they’re not in the way.

“But bicycles do have to adhere to the rules of the road,” O’Neill said, apropos of nothing, before describing the greatest thing about cyclists … from a driver’s perspective: “The fact is there are less cars in Manhattan because of bicyclists.”

Streetsblog asked if O’Neill was concerned about his officers being “anti-bike.” Again, he downplayed the concern.

“I don’t know about whether all 36,000 cops love bicycles. I know one,” he said, again referring to himself. He did not allow another follow-up, which would have centered on what his reaction would have been if a top police official tweeted, “Love ’em or hate ’em” about a racial or ethnic group.

Still, the tweet must have been something of a black eye for a commissioner who prides himself on his commitment to Vision Zero. Indeed, sometime after the press conference, the tweet from the 103rd Precinct was taken down and replaced with something far more anodyne — yet still with the picture of the crumbled bike, a haunting image for anyone who has been hit or nearly hit by a 3,000-pound machine.

This is the supposedly better tweet.
This is the supposedly better tweet.

A call to the 103rd Precinct was referred to the community affairs office, which did not respond. O’Neill’s spokesman at 1 Police Plaza also did not respond to several follow-up questions.

The tweet will likely be dismissed by some observers as just an awkward attempt at humor — you know, from one put-upon driver to another. But it comes as new research confirmed what cyclists have long known: Drivers see cyclists as less than human.

In the study, Australian researchers asked participants about their attitudes toward cyclists — and 31 percent rated cyclists as less than human. The dehumanization was even worse among non-cyclists: 49 percent viewed people who ride a bike as non-human, according to the study published in the journal Transportation Research,

The study also connected the dehumanization to actual aggressive behavior toward cyclists. The more dehumanization that a person admitted to, the more likely that that person behaved aggressively towards a person on a bike, the study found.

“Respondents who rated cyclists as 89 percent human or less showed 1.87 times more direct aggressive behaviors to cyclists compared to the respondents who rated cyclist as more than 90 percent human,” the research team wrote.

Aggressive behavior toward cyclists is fairly widespread, previous research has shown. About 70 percent of cyclists have experienced some sort of harassment from motorists, some research has shown. One study found 15 percent report having had an object thrown at them.

“Public references to violence against cyclists are not uncommon and rarely given the same condemnation as, for example, violence toward women or bullying,” wrote the lead researcher, Alexa Delbosc.

To put violence towards cyclists in perspective, in the 103rd Precinct last year, there were 3,354 crashes, causing injuries to 43 cyclists and 216 pedestrians.

But, you know, love ’em or hate ’em.