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NYPD Challenges Cyclists to Go 31 MPH

January 5, 2011

The NYPD is set to do another crackdown against scofflaw cyclists, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

The NYPD has been ordered to begin a borough-wide crackdown that will hit renegade riders for often-overlooked “vehicular offenses” like failing to obey traffic signals and signs, breaking the speed limit, tailgating, and even failure to signal before turning.

The crackdown is set to “begin in a matter of weeks,” which means the NYPD will be out ticketing cyclists in January and/or February, months when cycling rates are at their lowest.  That’s a big investment of manpower for what’s likely to be a small return.  This reminds me of the joke about the bald man who goes to the barber for a haircut.  He’s charged twice as much as a customer with a full head of hair.  When he asks the barber why, the barber replies, “It’s five dollars for the cut and five dollars for the searching.”  Glad to know the NYPD will be using our tax dollars for the searching.

Also, we should all be on the lookout for cyclists going more than the city-wide speed limit of 30 miles per hour.  Anyone who does that doesn’t belong in jail, they belong in the Tour de France!

Of course, there’s this chestnut from the Brooklyn Paper:

It also comes as some Park Slopers are lashing out against the city’s bicycle lane program, most recently with protests on Prospect Park West, where the bike lane remains a lightning rod, with opponents complaining that it has made the boulevard less safe for pedestrians.

Um, no.

I should make it clear that I fully support calls for cyclists to obey the law and ride safely.  As a pedestrian, I was hit by a cyclist who ran a red light and it was very scary, especially since I was carrying my then eight-month-old daughter at the time.  (We were all fine.)  As a cyclist, I’m constantly pushed into traffic by salmoning cyclists and lately have had some close calls with red-light-running bikers at red lights.  As a driver, I’ve narrowly avoided hitting cyclists as they ran lights at intersections through which I had the right of way.  Overall, I think cyclists need to stop posting justifications for why they break the law.  “Cars do it, too” is not a good excuse, and running red lights may create as many safety issues as cyclists purport such a riding strategy solves.  We do not have to be ambassadors for cycling every time we get on our bikes, or even at all, but we should realize that our behavior is magnified beyond proportion.

Proportion is the operative word here, and I do think it is fair for cyclists to complain about the balance of enforcement.  The new year is barely five days old and we already have tragic news of a three-year-old on death’s door after being hit by a van driver on Tuesday and young mother and her twins injured when a livery cab crashed into their parked car on Monday.  If a bike had caused even one accident like these this early into 2011, every media outlet and City Council member would be standing on the steps of City Hall calling for Mayor Bloomberg to rip up every last inch of bike lane in all five boroughs.

Cyclists break the law, but they typically do so in a handful of definable ways: running red lights, going the wrong way, riding on sidewalks, and not having lights at night.  (Failing to signal has to be balanced with the expectation that cyclists should keep both hands on their handlebars at all times.)  Car drivers break the law, but do so hundreds of seen and unseen ways: speeding, making illegal U-Turns or turns from the wrong lane, driving with the wrong type of license or even unlicensed, operating cars with broken headlights, operating under the influence or while texting, failing to signal…the list could go on forever.  Even honking except for danger is supposed to be illegal.  And, as far as I have experienced, no one has ever been kept up all night by a bike alarm going off for hours.

What the quiet majority of law-abiding cyclists want is not a free pass for riders who flout the law, but a sense of proportion on the part of the NYPD and drivers.  Please don’t tell us to keep our house in order when your entire neighborhood is a mess.

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