NYPD Opposes Watered-Down Citizen Enforcement Bill, But DOT is Now ‘Open’ to It
The NYPD has serious “concerns” about a long-stalled and watered-down bill to create a citizen enforcement program that would allow people to report drivers for blocking bike and bus lanes, claiming that the bill would lead to assaults and harassment — even as the Department of Transportation, which initially opposed the bill, now says it’s “open to exploring new models to enhance safety and help our street designs function effectively.”
NYPD Director of Legislative Affairs Michael Clarke told the City Council Transportation Committee that the police department opposes the bill because of physical threats and beatings that traffic enforcement agents have endured after issuing a ticket.
“Someone pointed a gun at our agent, and these are agents who have protection of an NYPD uniform and a state law that makes their assault a class D violent felony,” Clarke said during the hearing on Council Member Lincoln Restler’s bill, Intro. 501. “[They] are getting assaulted dozens of times a year, so we are certainly concerned with the potential for violence of everyday citizens using this program.”
Last month, Restler’s legislation was dramatically neutered to eliminate one of its central features — a “bounty” that would have given 25 percent of the resulting $175 ticket to the person who reported the offense. It was also revised to require that the car be “unoccupied” when a complaint is filed — an attempt to address earlier DOT resistance to the bill and also reduce interactions that could lead to altercations.
But the legislation was also expanded to include a greater swath of the city — once fully phased in, the law would allow people to report illegal parking anywhere within 2,640 feet of a school, up from the originally proposed 1,320 feet.
Some advocates were not discouraged by the changes, while others were outraged. But Restler said it’s unlikely the bill would have moved forward without the revisions, adding that the point of the bill isn’t to win cash, but to make streets safer.
“The sausage-making process of [passing] legislation isn’t always pretty. We definitely made some compromises to move it forward,” said Restler at a rally outside of City Hall ahead earlier on Monday. “But I think the compromises that we made make it a stronger bill and at the end of the day, for me, I’m not wanting to see real accountability because of the bounty, I’m doing it to make our streets safe.”
Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Queens), who chairs the transportation committee and is not a co-sponsor of the bill, said that she has “serious concerns” about the bill resulting in “conflict in public spaces between New Yorkers,” but the legislation is currently co-sponsored by a majority of the Council.
The NYPD’s opposition to the bill is reminiscent of DOT’s reservations back in 2021, when then-DOT Commissioner Margaret Forgione said the agency had “significant concerns” that it “could lead to many verbal and physical confrontations, pitting neighbors against neighbors, causing personal conflicts and safety risks.”
But on Monday, DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said his agency is now “more than happy to continue conversations.”
Advocates say the status quo is not working. The NYPD is not only apathetic towards street safety issues, but is also one of the biggest perpetrators of illegal parking and placard abuse.
“Drivers will park almost anywhere because they know there’s almost zero chance they’ll get a ticket. It remains clear that NYPD is either unwilling or unable to enforce parking laws,” said Sara Lind, the co-executive director at Open Plans (the parent company of Streetsblog). “This is all the more true since NYPD vehicles are often the biggest offenders. Without enforcement we know for sure that this chaos on our streets will continue indefinitely.”
Clarke said that NYPD traffic agents wrote 8.8 million parking summons last year, including 300,000 summonses to drivers parked in bus lanes and 66,000 for those parked in bike lanes.
But according to a new analysis reported in Streetsblog, those citations are just a small fraction of the number of complaints. Cops wrote tickets to just 1.9 percent of the more than 76,000 complaints about illegal parking in bike lanes made via the city’s 311 system since October 2016, compared to 16 percent of all other complaints over the same period — an abysmal record that contributes to dangerous streets, according to Restler.
“Our streets are unsafe because of the rare enforcement we see from NYPD in this area,” he said. “Every single day cars are illegally parked in bike lanes impeding the safety of cyclists impeding the safety of pedestrians. People are dying on our streets. This will save lives.”
And Restler questioned whether the NYPD is aware of similar assaults against those who participate in the city’s existing program to combat idling, for which people must take a video for three minutes.
“I know you all expressed some concerns around potential conflicts between New Yorkers who might be issuing tickets. To the best of your knowledge have there been issues of conflict taking three minutes of video of trucks idling illegally?” said Restler.
NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Kim Royster said she’s “not aware” of that happening.
And Clarke said it’s “easier” to do enforcement against commercial trucks rather than personal vehicles.
“That’s a different nature,” he said.