NYPD’s Embarrassing “Safety Tips” for Cycling

Jen Chung filed a Gothamist story this week on the latest meeting of the Central Park Precinct community council, where commanding officer Captain Jessica Corey explained the precinct’s zero tolerance approach to cyclist traffic infractions. Chung also posted a copy of the department’s “Bicycle Safety Tips” brochure, a deflating compendium of misleading information and copied-and-pasted traffic rules. While any type of police outreach to cyclists could be interpreted as progress in NYC at this point, NYPD is far behind police departments in peer cities when it comes to bike-related traffic education.

“As more and more people in the City cycle, accidents and injuries have increased,” the flier says. This is not true if you look at the prevailing long-term trend. In fact, as the number of city cyclists has grown in the last dozen years, injuries and fatalities have decreased. The brochure features two graphs that show a jump in cyclist injuries and deaths from 2009 to 2010, numbers that are accurate, but completely out of context.

The tip sheet includes nothing about how to safely respond to common situations in traffic. The flier would be useful if it cited, for example, the top contributing factors that result in serious injuries to cyclists. Is it turning motorists who fail to yield to cyclists going straight? Dooring? NYPD could have used that information to tell people how to avoid right hooks while riding, or where to bike to avoid the door zone. Instead, the department presents a rote list that reads mainly like advice on how to avoid a ticket. There’s not even a sentence about yielding to pedestrians.

The brochure devotes five sentences to motorist behavior. Interestingly, while cyclists are told they “must” adhere to the rules of the road, traffic laws for drivers are presented as suggestions. Motorists “should” not open a vehicle door in a cyclists’ path, and “should” drive with due care to avoid hitting cyclists in the roadway. NYPD advises drivers to “give warning” to cyclists by laying on the horn “when necessary.”

This ham-fisted attempt at cyclist education is all the more embarrassing when compared to cities like Chicago, where police produced a thorough instructional video aimed at cyclists and law enforcement alike. Far from a guide to safe cycling in a bustling city, NYPD’s effort is like a tract from Anytown, USA. Circa 1989.