NYPD: We Will No Longer Target Grieving Cyclists after Crashes

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.
NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

It’s official! The NYPD says it will no longer crack down on cyclists after a cyclist has been killed by a driver.

At a forum on Thursday hosted by WNYC and Gothamist’s “We the Commuters” project, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan announced that the department would no longer write summonses to cyclists in the wake of a driver killing a cyclist — a practice that has long been decried by the victims, especially in a year when 15 cyclists have been killed by drivers so far.

(The entire show is worth watching, but it’s not embeddable, so click this link. The segment with Monahan, lawyer Adam White and Oonee CEO Shabazz Stuart, hosted by Gothamist reporter Christopher Robbins, starts at 25:18.)

The new policy statement came after White asked about the 72-hour post-crash crackdowns against cyclists, which should really be “a ticket blitz against drivers,” or, as Robbins added, “a lobbying blitz on City Hall or the Department of Transportation to say that this road appears unsafe.”

“You’re right,” said Monahan. “It is absolutely insensitive of us to go back to a scene where a bicyclist has been killed and summons bicyclists. … I completely agree. So moving forward, the enforcement is not going to be on bicyclists. We may do education of cyclists if we see someone doing something dangerous, but the enforcement for 72 hours after [a crash] will be strictly on the vehicles.”

The policy statement follows a hint that Monahan gave last month, when he said at an unrelated press conference that the department would “look at this strategy.”

“It’s something we’re looking to adjust,” he added at that June 27 presser. The comment came after Streetsblog reported that 40 percent of tickets were written to cyclists on the day after Robyn Hightman was killed by a driver on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.


So, there’s a new policy. But what will it mean? Monahan earned kudos from White and Robbins for appearing on the pro-bike panel, but he clearly shares the windshield perspective of his rank-and-file officers. Under repeated questioning, Monahan refused to back down from the NYPD’s typical equivalence argument, namely that cyclists and drivers both violate the so-called “rules of the road,” and therefore NYPD enforcement against both modes of transportation should be the same.

Monahan admitted that cars represent a greater threat to safety, but then veered off again to equivalency, explaining why the NYPD does what it does.

“Obviously, a bike is not going to cause a death of someone operating a vehicle, but a vehicle can cause a death of someone on a bicycle, so there is a real responsibility for someone driving a car to make sure he’s operating it safely,” Monahan said. “But the same thing goes for bicyclists. Bicyclists need to operate by the rules for their own safety. You can’t just feel because I’m on a bicycle, I can go through a red light or I can go the wrong way down a street. … You can stand on any corner and you’ll see a ton of cars doing things wrong, but you’ll see just as many bicyclists doing things dangerously.”

“Boooo,” the audience screamed.

Shabazz Stuart, CEO of Oonee, the bike parking company.
Shabazz Stuart, CEO of Oonee, the bike parking company.

That’s when Stuart set the chief straight.

“Look, no. The answer is no, because bikes are not the same as cars,” he said. “My bike weighs 18 pounds and my friend’s car weighs three tons. … We have to get away from the idea that cars and bikes are treated the same under law.”

He also pointed out that when teen cyclists or delivery workers — mostly people of color — break the so-called rules, their bikes are impounded or they go to jail. “Drivers’ cars are never impounded. They get a ticket. They don’t go to jail,” Stuart said, earning applause.

In other news from the forum:

  • Monahan admitted that the NYPD doesn’t take a leadership role in street redesigns. “We look at areas where there are a lot of collisions and make recommendations, but it’s ultimately up to the DOT to come up with those safety designs.”
  • Monahan claimed, without evidence, that the NYPD is getting serious about cops in bike lanes: “First off, cops are humans and they do things they’re not supposed to do. They shouldn’t be in bike lanes. Absolutely, it causes a danger and it’s something we address. A cop is still going to do it. It’s going to happen on occasion and I guarantee if you go out right now, you’re going to find a cop parked in a bike lane somewhere. It could be if it’s an emergency and you have to get out of the car quick. But in a lot of times, no. They’re parking somewhere maybe they’re getting a cup of coffee. But it shouldn’t happen. It’s something that we’re talking to our commanders to be on the lookout and move the cars and get the word out.”
  • Monahan claimed that cops don’t have a cultural bias against cyclists, even though it is clear that they do. The answer came after Robbins asked if cops feel that cyclists are part of the “disorder” of New York and if cops think cyclists “fit into the fabric of New York City”: “No. No,” Monahan said. “It’s not a cultural issue. We do respond. If you look at 311 calls, there’s a lot of complaints about cyclists on the roads, driving the wrong way, running through lights. We get as many complaints about cars as we do people complaining about cyclists. Our job is to address that.” [Editor’s note: This is not true. 311 records show far more complaints about reckless driving than reckless cycling. And, of course, the NYPD doesn’t always respond at all.]

Despite his positive answer about the end of the post-death crackdown on cyclists, it remains clear that Monahan does not fully get it. At one point in a discussion with White, Monahan used the term “accident” instead of the term “crash” or “collision.” Cyclists are adamant in avoiding the term “accident” because the word itself suggests that crashes are unavoidable and just “happen” without anyone doing anything wrong. The fact, of course, is that all crashes could be prevented if drivers exercised more care.

So when Monahan used the term “accident,” someone in the audience yelled, “Crash not accident.” Monahan tried to laugh it off.

“Accident. Sorry. Got it. Got it,” he said. “We use that all the time. Don’t worry about it. Collision.”

And when he was asked what single change he would make to improve safety on the streets of New York, whether through design or changes in law, Monahan made the worst possible joke.

“I’d get rid of all the cars so I could drive around,” he said.

Yes, everyone laughed. It’s a funny line. But when the laughter fades, the NYPD’s windshield perspective lingers.


NYPD Data Show Cracking Down on Cyclists Isn’t Preventing Cyclist Deaths

Eight months into Vision Zero, and after weeks of targeted enforcement during “Operation Safe Cycle,” department data show NYPD isn’t moving the needle much on cyclist injuries and deaths. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced Wednesday that drivers have killed 17 city cyclists so far this year. That’s a 142 percent increase from the first nine […]