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Does The NYPD Think Bikes Are More Dangerous Than Cars?

No pedestrians were killed by bikes in 2012, but for some reason, citing cyclists on sidewalks remains one of the city’s favorite pastimes—and local precincts are doing it at a far higher rate than ticketing speeding cars.

If you’ve been caught by a cop while riding your bike on a city sidewalk, you’re not alone. For the second year in a row, bikes on sidewalks ranked as the third most common summons offense with roughly 25,000 citations issued in 2012, according to the Criminal Court of the City of New York’s annual report. Speeding, meanwhile, which was the number one cause of traffic mortalities last year, only received 19,119 tickets from local NYPD precincts, as highlighted by transportation watchdogs Tens of thousands more city speeding tickets were issued overall, but they came from highway patrol, rather than neighborhood precincts. In 2012, no pedestrians were killed in collisions with cyclists.

"I would say I get an average of 70 phone calls a week," Daniel Flanzig, a New York City cyclist advocate and crash lawyer told me over the phone. "I have no idea why the police have chosen to enforce this section so aggressively, other than it might be easy. It’s a lot easier and safer to write a cyclist a ticket than to pull a vehicle over with tinted windows and an unknown operator," he said.

The NYPD did not respond for comment.

Flanzig also points out that getting a summons for riding your bike on the sidewalk means you can’t just plead out and send in a fine, unlike riding your bike through a red light. Instead, sidewalk biking is governed by another part of the administrative code, which sends cyclists to criminal court.

Still, showing up and duking it out with a district attorney or assistant district attorney means you have a better chance of getting your citation dismissed or reduced. "It’s the only place you have the opportunity to have a plea bargain," Flanzig said.

As the New York Post pointed out earlier this month, a majority of those summons are ditched simply because the officer wrote up the wrong administrative code. When a ticket with bad labeling comes through, it gets sent to a review board. An unnamed source told the Post that some "Ninety percent of the bike summonses that come through the review board are thrown out."

So while sidewalk biking remains a popular summons, the city’s method of dealing with sidewalk cyclists is convoluted at best. "You have much better chances of pleading out if you get [a sidewalk] summons, but you have to show up in court," Flanzig said. "This one really wrecks your day."

Not as often as drinking in public, however. Consuming alcohol on the street ranked as the number one most common summons last year, with an astronomical 120,000 citations issued by the police.

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  • Migs

    No pedestrians killed by bike in 2012. Police aggressively giving tickets for riding on sidewalks where the majority of pedestrians are. Sounds like ticketing cyclists riding on sidewalks is very effective. It would be nice to see data on bicycle-pedestrian accidents that do not result in death though. And of course to really say anything worth anything you would probably need to compare bicycle-pedestrian fatalities in cities that do not issue tickets for cycling on sidewalks. Until then I agree with Chris, cyclists need to stay on the road where we belong.

  • Guest

    You know what gets cyclists off the sidewalks much, much more effectively than tickets?

    Proper bike lanes.

    In Vancouver, BC, the introduction of a segregated bike lane on Hornby Street resulted in 80% fewer cyclists on the sidewalk.

    Pedestrians of North America: demand proper bike lanes so cyclists will get off the sidewalks!

  • Chris

    It's about time cyclists had the rules enforced on them. As a cyclist, I wish the police would cite other cyclists more often because the bad eggs are making motorists resent the whole lot of us and keeping us from getting any respect as a commuter type. Maybe cyclists will take notice in New York and stay on the road where they belong.

  • cfo

    The citations are not about fatalities or injuries. It's about keeping order and structure to the flow of traffic, sidewalks, etc. One of the best factors in accident avoidance is predictability.  Predictability is, in large part, a function of courtesy and responsibility of those with whom we share the roads. Bicyclists are without question the most self-absorbed, rude and dis-courteous 'drivers' on the road.

    Keep those tickets coming!  One day they will learn.

  • Matt

    Bummer. Your whole comment was well reasoned and logical...except for your opinionated insult of the entire cycling community. Reversed logic: Passenger vehicle drivers are without question the most dangerous, un-predictable, polluting, property damaging 'drivers' on the road. 

    But where does this get us? This article is not about hating on bikers. It's not about hating on cars. (In car language) It's about whether you would be annoyed if you and all your friends suddenly got tickets for "speeding" 31mph in a 30mph zone. If you would feel unfairly targeted. Technically 'illegal' but discretion is exercised in enforcement and some grace is given for a couple mph +/-.

    As a cyclist I'm with you, people need to learn how to ride their bikes and need to obey traffic signals, signs, lanes and stop riding on the sidewalk. It makes everyones safer. For some reason there is agression and competition between cyclists and motorists. It's ridiculous, after all, driving is a team sport. If you get where your need to go smoothly, safely, and legally everyone else will too.