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Posts from the "NYPD" Category

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WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it – NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. ”The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

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Run 3 Reds on a Bike, Pay $1,500; Hit 10 People With a Car, It’s All Good

Today “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz and Gerard Soffian, both former officials with NYC DOT, said the city should amend laws that treat cyclists and motorists the same. One of their recommendations is to lower the fine for cyclists who run red lights.

“Right now, penalties against bicyclists who run red lights are up to $270 — identical to car driver fines, even though the consequences, in terms of injuring others, are much fewer,” they wrote on CityLand. Schwartz and Soffian suggest a fine of $50, payable to the city Department of Finance, rather than the Traffic Violations Bureau, a Department of Motor Vehicles division that splits ticket revenues with the state.

four_tickets

The four tickets an officer issued to a cyclist on Ninth Avenue in a single traffic stop.

Here’s an example of how screwy the current penalty structure is. The going rate for killing someone with a car while driving without a license in NYC is $500. And depending on where you commit the crime, the DA might let you off with half that much — even if you have an outstanding charge for unlicensed driving.

Meanwhile, because traffic fines generally don’t distinguish between someone in a multi-ton motorized vehicle and someone riding a bicycle, penalties for relatively innocuous cyclist behavior can reach absurd levels compared to the consequences for deadly driving. A cyclist, whom we’ll call Alex, emailed us about a recent NYPD stop on Ninth Avenue.

I was biking down Ninth Ave (like I do every day) and stopping at every red light and waiting until there were no cars, then going, like every biker does. Apparently a cop saw me run a red light and yelled for me to stop but I had headphones in and didn’t hear him. He tailed me for three lights that I ran through until I turned and he cut me off. I got three tickets for running red lights and one for having headphones in. If I’m right, my ticket costs for my first offense in NY are going to cost me about $1,600, plus fees which I’m sure they will spring on me.

The total fine is so high because red light penalties increase for multiple infractions committed within 18 months. The intent is to discourage motorists from repeating a potentially deadly infraction. Applied to cyclists, it can turn into a grossly disproportionate fine for essentially harmless behavior. Alex has yet to receive the official fine, but he calculates that the first red light will run him $278, the second $463, and the third $1,028.

That’s in line with the fines reported for similar traffic stops in the past. In 2010, Gothamist ran a story about a cyclist who was fined $1,555 for running multiple red lights in a single traffic stop.

“I’m going to take it to court only because I don’t have $1,600 to pay them,” Alex writes. “I’m sure I’m not the first or the last person to have this problem but it irritates me that police are using the ‘broken windows’ policy when there are actual criminals who deserve their attention.”

Now, Alex didn’t deny running the lights. But had he sped through an intersection in a car, jumped a curb, hit 10 people on the sidewalk, and killed a child, he may not have been ticketed at all. This is not a formula for safer streets.

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Scenes of Mindless Bike Enforcement From “Operation Safe Cycle”

NYPD’s bike ticket blitz, a.k.a. Operation Safe Cycle, is halfway through its two-week run. The department has promised to target “hazardous violations that create a danger for pedestrians and cyclists,” but the accounts pouring in from readers suggest that police haven’t raised their game since the last flurry of bike enforcement. While it’s tough to get a comprehensive picture of NYPD bike citations, readers report a lot of fish-in-a-barrel ticketing activity and flat-out bogus summonses. No one has written in to tell us about NYPD nabbing a wrong-way cyclist who just went through a crowded crosswalk.

A reader photo of NYPD issuing tickets on Houston Street today.

NYPD issuing tickets on Houston Street, where cyclists entering the Hudson River Greenway have to choose between biking on the sidewalk and mixing it up with cars and trucks in a dark tunnel.

Upper West Side resident Howard was biking north on Eighth Avenue at about 3:30 p.m. Monday with the green light at 38th Street when officers pulled over him and two other cyclists to issue red light tickets. “The three of us looked at each other, and we had no idea why we were being stopped,” he said. “I am sure this light was not yellow, not red, but green.”

Howard said that since he got a red light ticket over a year ago, he has made sure to stop at all lights, and the officers seemed to know what they were doing was a waste of time. “They were apologetic. They said this was the mayor’s initiative and they are obligated to enforce it,” he said. “There’s enough going on wrong in this city. There are enough bikers going the wrong way and being hazardous. They don’t have to stop innocent people.” (This isn’t the first time cyclists say they’ve gotten tickets for not running a red light.)

Midtown streets do have potential for cyclist/pedestrian conflict, but the same can’t be said of the Hudson River Greenway near West 36th Street, where on Monday a reader spotted officers ticketing cyclists for proceeding against the red light at the NYPD tow pound driveway. At this location, it is drivers, including the NYPD’s own, who are the source of danger to greenway users.

Yesterday, the same reader spotted Manhattan South Task Force officers stopping cyclists on the quiet sidewalk along Houston Street between the greenway and Washington Street. This is a critical greenway access point, especially with nearby Clarkson Street currently torn up. To avoid using the sidewalk, cyclists would have to ride on a road that runs beneath a building, is usually shrouded in darkness, with a bike lane sandwiched between two car lanes and often used by turning trucks. Staking out the sidewalk makes for easy ticketing.

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NYC Traffic Injuries Down 6.6 Percent in First Half of 2014

Traffic injuries in New York City declined nearly 7 percent in the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to NYPD data compiled by Streetsblog. Fatalities have also declined slightly, from 121 to 117.

The most significant drop in traffic deaths was among pedestrians, falling from 72 in the first six months of 2013 to 55 this year. Pedestrian injuries, which are less subject to random variation, declined 6.8 percent, nearly the same rate as overall traffic injuries.

While the decline in injuries suggests a tangible improvement in street safety, the precise causes are unclear. The deployment of speed cameras, increased NYPD enforcement of failure-to-yield violations, DOT street redesigns, and the harsh winter are all plausible factors.

The human toll — 24,383 injuries and 117 deaths — remains staggering and points to how much Mayor de Blasio and his commissioners at NYPD, DOT, and the TLC must change to achieve the administration’s Vision Zero goals.

While fewer lives have been lost on NYC streets in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012, the first six months of 2011 saw fewer fatalities — 102, according to NYC DOT records. (NYPD’s monthly crash reports don’t go back to the beginning of 2011.) With 250 traffic deaths over the course of all 12 months, 2011 was the least deadly year on NYC streets in modern history.

Looking at vulnerable street users, drivers killed 63 pedestrians and cyclists in the first six months of 2014 and injured 7,080, compared to 78 deaths and 7,633 injuries for the same period in 2013. Below are the traffic violence summaries for the month of June, which NYPD recently posted online [PDF].

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The Gulf Between NYPD’s Street Safety Message and Police Behavior

It’s day two of NYPD’s bike enforcement blitz, and for all its professed good intentions, image-wise the department isn’t doing itself any favors.

There is a gulf between NYPD messaging, improved as it is, and how police officers conduct themselves with respect to traffic laws. The above illustration from Andrew Yackira, a parody of the “Operation Safe Cycle” pamphlet, pretty much says it all. At the same time that NYPD says it will help keep bike lanes clear while issuing tickets to people on bikes according to the letter of the law, police themselves are constantly placing obstacles in the way of cyclists — vehicle-sized obstacles with big blue letters that read “NYPD” on them.

We’ve lost count of the number of “cops in bike lanes” photos we’ve seen since yesterday morning, but Gothamist posted a sizable collection, apparently featuring Commissioner Bratton himself, practically standing on top of a thermoplast cyclist as he enters his chauffeur-driven SUV.

Of course, this is symptomatic of a bigger problem: While top police commanders are saying the right things and some precincts are getting serious about traffic safety, it’s still incredibly common to encounter rank-and-file officers who don’t think it’s their job to make streets safer. It will take a lot of effort to change NYPD’s enormous bureaucracy and workforce, and recently, Bratton hasn’t shown the same commitment to the task that he did at the beginning of the year. If NYPD is serious about eliminating traffic deaths, the department’s words and actions need to sync up.

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Will This Year’s “Operation Safe Cycle” Make Anyone Safer?

The Park Row bike lane by City Hall, full of illegally parked vehicles as usual. Photo: Keegan Stephan

Yesterday NYPD showed New York that police do actually enforce the speed limit on local streets. Check out the radar guns on Broadway. Today the department is showing the city that cyclists get tickets too.

NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” is a two-week enforcement campaign targeting “hazardous violations that create a danger for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Usually, when the NYPD embarks on these bike ticket blitzes, you’ll see police focus on the most inane and harmless transgressions, like cycling through red lights at T-intersections with bike lanes, where motor vehicle traffic and bike traffic don’t conflict. Equipped with cheat sheets that included non-existent infractions, cops have been known to hand out tickets that don’t stand a chance in traffic court. It created the impression that traffic enforcement in New York is about the appearance of “evenhandedness” more than the prevention of violent injuries and deaths.

Will this time be any different? As always, devoting limited resources to bike enforcement is bound to yield really poor bang-for-the-buck compared to speed enforcement or failure-to-yield tickets. And the very act of marketing a special operation targeting cycling — as opposed to consistently enforcing laws that keep everyone safe on the streets — doesn’t inspire confidence.

At least NYPD’s communications seem to be improving. The “Operation Safe Cycle” notice says police will be focusing on motorists obstructing bike lanes as well as cyclists for “failure to stop at a red light, disobey a traffic signal or sign, riding the wrong direction against traffic, riding on the sidewalk, and failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.” That’s clearer than a cheat sheet with bogus bike infractions.

But there is simply a huge degree of discretion available to cops when it comes to bike enforcement. Blowing through a red light with lots of pedestrians in the crosswalk is illegal, and so is stopping to check for cross-traffic and pedestrians before proceeding safely through a red. It’s a lot easier to hand out tickets to safe riders who may not be following the letter of the law than to rule-breakers who are actually putting other people at risk.

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Gov Signs 25 MPH Law — Here’s How Albany and NYC Can Make the Most of It

The new 25 mph default speed limit, combined with a significant increase in speed cameras, should lower the risk of injury and death on city streets. There’s still a lot more work to do to address NYC’s speeding problem. Graphs: AAA

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill lowering the default speed limit in New York City from 30 mph to 25 mph, a significant milestone for Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative and a major accomplishment for victims’ families, street safety advocates, and their legislative allies in Albany. Here’s what to keep an eye on as the city tries to save lives by getting motorists to drive at safer speeds.

The new speed limit will take effect 90 days after Cuomo’s signature. After the first week of November, the speed limit on all surface streets in New York City will be 25 mph unless otherwise marked.

As AMNY reported last month, DOT will have its hands full in the near term, putting up 25 mph signs and adjusting traffic signals to synch up with the lower speed limit. The agency will continue to roll out these changes as part of its Arterial Slow Zone program, which will be targeting a batch of new streets this fall.

The 25 mph bill will have some teeth thanks to the increasing prevalence of automated speed enforcement in NYC. Another bill that cleared Albany this session authorized the city to use 140 speed cameras. The previous allotment of 20 cameras were already nabbing more speeders than all of NYPD’s conventional enforcement, so once all 140 cameras are deployed, the overall level of speeding deterrence in the city should increase substantially.

While the 25 mph bill will strengthen the city’s automated speeding enforcement, several weaknesses in Albany’s speed camera legislation remain and will have to be addressed in future sessions. One problem is that 140 cameras are simply not enough to safely monitor the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. NYC needs more cameras to get speeding under control throughout the city.

Another problem is that current state law severely constrains where and when the city can use speed cams. They can only be deployed on streets near a school entrance, and only during school hours, restricting the city’s ability to prevent injuries and deaths using automated speeding enforcement. Albany will have to fix these shortcomings to get the most out of the 25 mph law.

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Manhattan DA Subpoenas Twitter to Solve Vexing @BicycleLobby Case

The Twitterverse had a good laugh on July 22, when the Daily News and the Associated Press reported, in all seriousness, that the @BicycleLobby had claimed responsibility for planting white flags on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. Both outlets reversed course after it was pointed out that @BicycleLobby is a self-identified parody account. But it looks like some people in NYC law enforcement thought they still had a promising lead.

On July 23, the Manhattan DA’s office issued a subpoena to Twitter requesting contact information and IP logs for the @BicycleLobby account and the offending Tweet. @BicycleLobby posted the subpoena online today.

The subpoena includes no details about why the DA’s office is seeking this information, and doesn’t mention the “white flag” incident except to identify the URL of the Tweet.

Here again is the Tweet we’re talking about:

In the past, NYPD has asked the DA’s office to issue subpoenas in cases involving social media accounts, even though the agency has subpoena power itself. The DA’s office declined to comment about this subpoena, and NYPD’s public information desk has not returned Streetsblog’s inquiry.

No word yet on whether police and prosecutors are investigating @BicycleLobby’s threats against the editor of the New Yorker:

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A Year Later, Cyclist Nearly Hit by NYPD Gives Up on CCRB Complaint

St. Nicholas Avenue at 145th Street, where a cyclist says she was nearly struck, and then harassed, by two NYPD officers in a marked patrol car. Image: Google Maps

St. Nicholas Avenue at 145th Street, where a cyclist says she was nearly struck, and was harassed, by two NYPD officers in a marked patrol car. Image: Google Maps

A resident of Upper Manhattan who said she was almost hit, and was then harassed, by NYPD officers as she rode her bike has given up on her complaint to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which made no progress on the case for close to a year after the incident.

En route to Central Park, Joan (not her real name) was headed south on St. Nicholas Avenue, through the 30th Precinct, at 6:30 a.m. on July 31, 2013. As she crossed 145th Street, she told Streetsblog last year, “a cop car double-parked on the right made a U-turn in front of me — apparently without looking or he would’ve seen my bright orange jersey in his mirror.”

“Thankfully I just barely missed a collision,” Joan said. “After passing I heard the cop yelling so I stopped and turned around. The cop in the passenger seat called me a ‘Jackass’ three times, gave me the finger, and the driver took off.”

She saw the car number — 2516 — but did not see if the marked cruiser was assigned to the 30th Precinct.

Joan filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that, according to its web site, is “empowered to receive, investigate, mediate, hear, make findings, and recommend action on complaints against New York City police officers alleging the use of excessive or unnecessary force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or the use of offensive language.” She sat for an in-person interview in August, which the CCRB audio taped. When she hadn’t heard anything by early November, she emailed the assigned CCRB investigator.

The investigator responded by email the next day. She told Joan she had some follow-up questions — which according to Joan turned out to be questions she addressed during her interview. Still, she answered them again, this time in writing.

“Why did you believe that both of the officers inside of the police vehicle were uniformed?” the investigator asked. (Joan replied that she saw both of them from the chest up.) “Were there any witnesses that you can identify and/or provide their names and contact information, of this incident?” (There weren’t.)

In addition, emails show the investigator informed Joan that her complaint about almost being hit by the officers’ patrol car was outside the CCRB’s jurisdiction, and would be taken up by a different agency, which would be in touch.

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DOT Announces New Arterial Slow Zones Across the Boroughs

On Friday, DOT announced the second round of Arterial Slow Zones, which will expand the program by 14 streets before the end of the year.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council reps Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal inaugurated the Broadway Arterial Slow Zone today. DOT announced on Friday that 14 additional arterials will get the slow zone treatment before the year is out. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/EspaillatNY/status/496363520024670208##@EspaillatNY##

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council reps Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal inaugurated the Broadway Arterial Slow Zone today. DOT announced on Friday that 14 additional arterials will get the slow zone treatment before the year is out. Photo: @EspaillatNY

The first of those streets to get the slow zone treatment is Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, where as of today the speed limit is 5 miles per hour lower along a five-mile segment, from E. 161st Street to Bainbridge Avenue, according to a DOT press release.

Arterials comprise 15 percent of total NYC street mileage, but account for some 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities. With high-visibility signage, changes in signal timing, and — ostensibly — increased law enforcement, the Arterial Slow Zone program brings a focus to streets that are especially dangerous.

“In total, dangerous speeding will be reduced on more than 65 miles of major corridors that have seen 83 fatalities,” the DOT press release says.

The citywide default 25 mph speed limit is expected to be implemented by October.

Here are the other phase two streets, with the expected slow zone completion month and their respective number of pedestrian fatalities from 2008 to 2012:

  • Manhattan: Seventh Avenue from Central Park South to 11th Street, August, four fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Coney Island Avenue from Park Circle to the Boardwalk, September, six fatalities
  • Queens: Roosevelt Avenue from Queens Boulevard to 154th Street, September, five fatalities
  • Staten Island: Victory Boulevard from Bay Street to Wild Avenue, September, five fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Utica Avenue from Malcom X Boulevard to Flatbush Avenue, October, 12 fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Flatbush Avenue/Flatbush Avenue Extension from Concord Street to Hendrickson Place, October, 11 fatalities

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