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The NYPD Should Target the City’s Most Dangerous Road Users

Discussing the NYPD crackdown on cyclists

The executive director of Transportation Alternatives urges the city to pay more attention to cars.


With bicycling at an all-time high on New York City streets, it’s welcome news that the NYPD sees that bicycling, like any serious form of transportation, needs enforcement. Bicyclists don’t want or need special treatment when it comes to traffic laws. Bikes, like pedestrians and car drivers, have to behave.  At Transportation Alternatives, we advocate that every street user adhere to the rules of the road.

Even before the NYPD decided to T.A. has been at work teaching bicyclists to police themselves.  Bicyclists are a force for changing the Me First! attitude on New York City streets. Our Biking Rules safety education campaign calls upon bicyclists to lead by example, following the rules of the road and always yielding to pedestrians. Starting in 2011, Biking Rules Ambassadors will be stationed along popular bike routes in Brooklyn, and throughout the five boroughs. They’ll herald a call to bicyclists: lead the charge to a calmer and friendly street culture.

Until recently, traffic enforcement has not been particularly high on the NYPD’s list of priorities. Now, bicyclists who ride the wrong way, run red lights or ride on the sidewalks will receive summons for their dangerous behavior, and T.A. encourages this extra attention.  But NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly should extend his zero tolerance standard across the board, targeting the most dangerous road users. 

In 2009, 268 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on New York City streets. Nearly two-thirds were pedestrians and bicyclists.  Another 13,000 pedestrians and bicyclists were seriously injured by motor vehicles during the same year.  As the number one cause of injury-related death for seniors and children, traffic crashes caused by motor vehicle violations are a serious public health crisis.  Aggressive, targeted enforcement of motor vehicles, the most dangerous actors on city streets, needs to be Commissioner Kelly’s next priority. 

With 6,000 miles of streets to patrol, the NYPD cannot alone make the city’s streets safe.  Automated enforcement can be a key police force multiplier.  New York City’s 100 automated red-light enforcement cameras are responsible for 96 percent of summons issued for running red lights.  Studies have proven that these practical, cost-effective tools save lives. At New York City intersections where red light cameras have been installed, fatal crashes have fallen by 35 percent. Transportation Alternatives is calling on the New York State Legislature to add more red-light cameras on the road authorize the use of speed-enforcement cameras to aid the NYPD.

The continued improvement of New York City’s street design, and the completion of the planned bike network, can complement the NYPDs traffic enforcement efforts. Before bike lanes came to Park Slope’s Prospect Park West, three out of four cars ignored the 30 mph speed limit. Today, with the bike lanes installed, fewer than one in four cars break the speed limit. The Prospect Park West traffic calming re-design grew out of community concern about speeding, and the bike lane is proving to be the speed deterrent that it was intended to be.

With Commissioner Kelly’s new attention to traffic safety, New York City streets are on a trajectory towards safety.  Automated enforcement technology and innovative street designs are key assists.  But we will only have truly safe streets if the NYPD directs its enforcement to where the potential harm is greatest.   All New York City transportation needs enforcement, but first things first. The NYPD needs to make the most dangerous behave. 

Paul Steely White is executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

Francis Facciolo January 15, 2011 at 01:50 PM
As a driver and walker, the increased numbers of bicyclists and how they behave are terrifying. All of this increased traffic is due, in part, to New York City's policy of favoring bicyclists and trying to discourage autos. If bicyclists want to make it more difficult to drive and walk in NYC by their sheer numbers, then they need to obey the existing laws and further laws need to be enacted. There are numerous situations in which drivers, for example, need constantly to worry about essentially invisible bicyclists. All of these problems arise from the fact that bicyclists believe it is alright to okay to ride in a space right next to an auto. It is almost impossible to see a bike that is parallel to an auto when the auto turns or moves over to get around a double parked vehicle. As a pedestrian, I constantly have to look both ways when crossing the street, again looking for a very small object. Beyond enforcing the laws against bicyclists, New York City should also have a set of laws that treat them like the dangerous vehicles that they are. For example, all bicycles should have visible license plates so that the riders can be identified when the police should ticket them or they cause an accident. Also, all bicycles should be required to have liability insurance so that injured pedestrians have some recourse. Bikes also must have lights and use them, a law which, I believe, is already on the books but needs to be enforced.
Michael Brown January 16, 2011 at 10:35 PM
Francis - The ignorance shown in your comment is downright scary. It IS legal for a bicycle to ride next to an automobile, and the responsibility is on the driver to ensure that he or she does not kill or maim the cyclist, as he or she is the one behind the 2 ton death machine. A driver SHOULD constantly be worried about what other vehicles are on the road; such is the responsibility of a driver. More bicyclists force traffic to slow, creating a more humane streetscape and reducing deaths. Yes, bicycles can injure people, but cars kill people every day. Instead of attempting to make it more difficult to bike in the city (when every single progressive public policy decision indicates that additional modes of transport sharing the road INCREASE safety and quality of life), perhaps the NYPD should focus on enforcing the 30 mph speed limit, the violation of which actually kills people, rather than the negative effects of bicycling, which by your admission, are apparently to make drivers more aware of the world around them? - Michael (a car owner and frequent driver)


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