How NYPD Bike Enforcement Is Making Streets Less Safe

Considering what happened to longtime street safety advocate Hilda Cohen last Friday afternoon, you have to wonder how many “scofflaw cyclists” are in actuality the victims of police harassment. The incident is also another example of wasted NYPD resources that could be used to make streets safer.

Officers from the 6th Precinct putting cyclist lives at risk, and ticketing them for the privilege. Photo: Hilda Cohen

Cohen says she rode through a yellow light on Bleecker at Charles Street, and was about to ride around a car parked in the bike lane ahead when she was stopped by NYPD. The car was an unmarked police car.

Here’s what Cohen says happened next, as excerpted from her Facebook page:

I get stopped by the guy standing next to the car, NYPD in uniform.

“You just ran a red light.”

“The light was yellow when I went through the intersection.”

“No, it was red”, he said. “I saw it.”

“I am actually 100% positive that it was yellow. I looked for it, I saw it, and I don’t run red lights,” I said. “Why do you say it was red?”

“We saw the pedestrian crossing sign change from a flashing hand to a solid hand when you entered the intersection.” These police officers could not even see the light that they were referring to, they were about 30 feet past the intersection on a one way street. “That means that it was a red light.”

“Actually that proves that it was yellow. That is when the light changes from green to yellow.”

“Well you can’t go through yellow lights.”

To this I did say, “you’re not serious.”

“A yellow light means put on your brakes,” he continued, “and you can’t go through a yellow light. You must have been going too fast to stop in time. I’ll give you a ticket for running a yellow and speeding. The speed limit is 25 mph, you were going faster than that.”

[I]n as even a tone as I could muster [I] said, “you can enter the intersection when the light is yellow.”

“Then I’ll give you a ticket for being outside of the bike lane, and for speeding.”

I responded, “I could not stay in the bike lane as you are parked in the bike lane, and the speed limit is 30, and there is no way I was going 30 mph.”

“Lady, you just don’t shut up do you!”

Cohen was cited for reckless operation of a bicycle and obstructing vehicle traffic. The latter is a disorderly conduct charge. Reckless operation of a bicycle is the third most common criminal summons issued by NYPD.

“These are criminal offenses, and I have to show up to court whether I plead guilty or not,” writes Cohen. “I was stopped for running a yellow light, and then given two tickets for knowing my rights, and the law.”

For perspective’s sake: At least two pedestrians were killed by motorists in the 6th Precinct within the last 14 months. One was killed by a trucker in an oversized rig, and one was struck by a cab driver who was reportedly speeding.

At last year’s City Council hearing on traffic safety and NYPD crash investigations, department brass said that in 2011, police issued roughly the same number of moving violations, and three times as many criminal court summonses, to cyclists as to truck drivers.

As of June, the 6th Precinct had written 30 speeding tickets this year, and precinct officers ticketed 21 motorists for speeding in 2012.

Entrapment and harassment aside, parking in a bike lane is illegal, and it’s illegal because it forces cyclists to veer into traffic. The 6th Precinct is not only ignoring motorist behavior that puts lives at risk, they’re engaging in it.

To tell Deputy Inspector Elisa Cokkinos, the commanding officer, what you think of the 6th Precinct’s approach to traffic enforcement, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 6th Precinct council meets at 7:30 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the month at 25 Carmine Street. Information on the council’s summer schedule was not immediately available, but reader KeNYC2030 says the next meeting isn’t until September. Call 212-741-4826 for information.