A Tale of Intimidation From the NYPD Bike Crackdown

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The Central Park entrance where NYPD hit a cyclist with a $210 ticket Saturday for turning right on red. Image: Google Street View

A week after NYPD announced that the agency will be stepping up its enforcement of cyclists, stories are starting to trickle in to our inbox and the comments section about encounters with cops on bike detail.

Reader Greg, who asked to go by his first name only, wrote in to share his experience in Central Park this Saturday. It’s a pretty clear-cut case of enforcement that’s not going to discourage risky and inconsiderate riding, but will discourage the act of riding a bike.

At about 1 p.m., nowhere close to any window of time when cars are allowed to enter the loop drive, Greg turned right on red into the park from Fifth Avenue at the 90th Street entrance…

I rolled in to the Central Park entrance and stopped to adjust my computer. Two uniformed police were standing outside their vehicle. One approached me and asked for ID. I gave it to him and he sat in his car without saying anything. After about 10 minutes I asked the other cop what was going on and he said he was giving me a ticket for turning in to the park when the light on Fifth Avenue was red. After he gave me the ticket I rode north in Central Park.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of my encounter with NYPD. After riding about a mile in Central Park a police SUV parked at an on-ramp on the UWS started to follow me. It was obvious I was being stalked. Worried they were searching for any infraction I stopped riding and got off my bike. The police car turned on its lights and parked about 50 yards behind me waiting for me to resume riding. It was freezing cold so I had to get back on and try to make it home. The car continued to follow me.

As I continued down the road I saw a police minivan with about three police and six cyclists arguing (one of the cyclists was disabled and was using a hand bike). Seemed like they had stopped in the middle of the road for some reason.

When I got to the boathouse the SUV finally sped past me. Made it back to the entrance at 90th, completing one lap, and the two policemen had left.

Probably not the type of enforcement that’s a useful allocation of NYPD’s resources while people are getting hospitalized or killed in traffic on a daily basis. (If you’d like NYPD to pay more attention to the behavior that’s actually putting lives at risk, it bears repeating that a good place to speak up is your local precinct community council meeting.)

Aside from the intimidation going on here, sticking someone with a fine for turning right on red into Central Park is a good example of why applying the same traffic rules to cyclists that you’d apply to drivers makes little sense. There are plenty of cases where we’ve established rules that already make a distinction between cars and bikes. One of the most obvious is that bikes are allowed into Central Park during car-free hours. If the crosswalk was clear, Greg was not in conflict with any motor vehicle traffic or pedestrians when he received his ticket with fines totaling $210.

Anyone have stories to share of cops on bike detail?  Email tips@streetsblog.org. Tales of good or bad judgment both welcome.