CYCLE OF RAGE: On Hearing Day, Fact-Checking the NYPD is Job One

NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster (center)
NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster (center)

When the NYPD testifies, you better have a fact-checker on speed dial.

On Wednesday, Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster was part of a team of NYPD officials who took questions from City Council members, but some of Royster’s answers defied logic and, it turned out, truth.

When Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Southeast Queens) asked Royster about whether the NYPD is maintaining its commitment to clearing bike lanes of illegal parkers, Royster said something that few cyclists have witnessed personally: “So far this year, bike lane enforcement is up 148 percent.”

Really? We reached out to the NYPD to get the raw numbers and learned that bike lane enforcement is not up at all. It’s actually down … significantly.

So far this year, cops have written 24,754 tickets for parking in a bike lane, down from 26,445 during the same period last year. That’s a decrease of 6.4 percent.

It turns out that even though Royster said “bike lane enforcement,” the NYPD later said Royster was only talking about summonses for driving in a bike lane, which are a minuscule part of NYPD enforcement. Indeed, this year, the cops have written 930 such tickets, up from 375 in the same period last year. That is, indeed, up by 148 percent.

Add them together? “Bike lane enforcement” is still down more than 4 percent.

Later, Brooks-Powers asked Royster about illegally parked tractor-trailers left overnight on city streets, which is certainly a quality-of-life problem that the NYPD has said it would address.

Instead of giving numbers for how well the NYPD is towing away these illegally parked vehicles, Royster said this:

“We are doing a lot of summons in some of these areas. So for code 78, which is a commercial truck parked in a location [overnight], that particular fine is $65, but we are looking at tractor trailers. That particular fine is $250 for the first offense and $500 for the second offense, so that’s what the precincts are doing that is that enforcement.”

Notice that Royster didn’t answer the question and instead read the violation code book instead. Brooks-Powers didn’t get to follow up, so we asked the NYPD if, in fact, precincts are doing that enforcement. Turns out, they aren’t.

Here are the year-to-date numbers for code 78 summonses:

  • 2019: 11,075
  • 2020: 7,856
  • 2021: 7,789
  • 2022: 5,886 (down 24 percent from previous year, and down 47 percent from 2019)

So, no, they aren’t. The NYPD said Royster was also talking about code 6 violations, which pertain to illegally parked tractor trailers, but those numbers are down, this year, too:

  • 2021: 532
  • 2022: 395 (down 25 percent)

Royster’s revelations came after she took up most of Brooks-Powers’s five minutes of questioning by speaking in generalities that seemed designed simply to burn up time. The Council member asked, “Bicycle lanes continue to be added each year and now car usage and traffic is increasing. Fatalities for every type of transport has been up in fiscal 2021, from pedestrians to motor vehicles. What new initiatives or programs if any, do we have to deal with this issue? And how are we ensuring we keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe? In terms of like clearing bicycle lanes? Do you issue tickets for blocking bicycle lanes?”

This is Royster’s complete answer which did not address the question in any way, but sounded as if Royster was reading a DOT Vision Zero press release. It clocks in at 4:45 — using all but 15 seconds of Brooks-Power’s question time:

So good morning. Councilwoman. Great to see you, and thank you very much for that question. It is my pleasure to talk about traffic safety is public safety. And one of the ways we coordinate with the Department of Transportation, is that we look at engineering, education and enforcement for our Vision Zero initiative. I am responsible for coordinating the Vision Zero initiative for the NYPD. And every week we have a Traffic Safety Forum. It’s a multifaceted, holistic traffic forum where we meet with our Vision Zero partners. That would be the Department of Transportation, TLC, MTA and other city agencies. But more importantly, is to focus on pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. It’s about driving down fatalities and saving human lives. And how do we do that? It’s a layered effect. Our enforcement is focusing on one, the science the data —where are these fatalities occurring? Where are the collisions occurring? And collisions with injuries? And we focus on that particular data, but also we focus on the fact that where should out enforcement be? Where do we deploy our officers, the officers in the precinct, as well as the officers in the transportation bureau.

And then the last pillar would be culture. How do we change the culture? The driving culture, which we’ve seen since COVID, has been reckless. People getting behind the wheel people speeding, people failing to yield to pedestrians. So with those three pillars doing the Traffic Safety Forum, our core focus is on driving down fatalities. And how do we do that with the Department of Transportation? One of the ways that we do this is that all executives in our 77 precincts attend these forums, and they have to tell us what their plan is in the particular precinct. What are their safety plans? What are they addressing, and the Department of Transportation sits side by side to determine what engineering issues need to be corrected in those various precincts?

The other thing is that we look at outreach: how do we outreach to the community. And we double down on outreach this year, because we wanted to make sure that not only motorists but pedestrians know about traffic safety. And the outreach is also done by our social media, and also going to different hearings and talking about what we’re seeing in the community and what we should be looking at as far as safe.

Now when I mentioned enforcement, we’ve seen that a lot of fatalities — I want to say over 50 percent of the fatalities that involve pedestrians — are done at intersections, and so our enforcement is focused at intersections. And I just wanted to say that the enforcement this year, year to date, is increased at intersections. [Note: This is not really true.]

We also look at speed, speed during the hours of darkness and also speed on our highways. And we have actually deployed highway units throughout the city in various locations where we’ve seen that motorists are speeding. What has been driving our fatalities this year is on the highways. We had 17 people lose their lives on the highways because of speed. And this is passengers as well as operators.

I just want to say that when you start to look at the layers of enforcement, we need to do this in all of our precincts. Everyone is involved. It is equitable enforcement. We look at hazardous violations. That means red light violations, people not failing to yield to pedestrians, people that are speeding on our streets, people that are not using seatbelts. These are all the hazardous violations that we look at and we conduct equitable enforcement. I just want to say that last year, we had to visit because we realized that we wanted everyone involved in traffic safety, not just for 28 days, not just during the day but every single day. So last year, we instituted a way that we could tell whether or not officers were actually engaging with the public. And this particular process has yielded over 88,000 engagements with the public as it relates to outreach on public safety.

I reached out to Council Member Brooks-Powers and will update this story if she responds.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog. His Cycle of Rage columns are archived here.