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NYPD Starts Draconian Crack-Down on Cyclists Riding Outside Bike Lanes NYPD Starts Draconian Crack-Down on Cyclists Riding Outside Bike Lanes

NYPD Starts Draconian Crack-Down on Cyclists Riding Outside Bike Lanes

by Alex Goldmark
April 29, 2011

New York City is in the midst of a boom in bike riding—and an accompanying ticket blitz for cyclists that break traffic rules. Today it reached new extremes. I witnessed two cyclists ticketed in succession on Lafayette Street in Manhattan for not riding in the bike lane. See below for a close up of one ticket, which reads “not in bike lane” under the description of offense.

“I was riding my bicycle … on the wrong side of the street,” said Victor Velasquez, “and they gave me a ticket.” Several bike message boards also had reports of numerous other tickets given out today.

Many cyclists understand that, when it comes to traffic law, they’re treated like cars. But there’s confusion about whether it’s okay to ride outside of a bike lane if one is provided. The short answer is no, but it's not entirely that simple. And the short section of bike lane where I was today is adding to the confusion.

Here’s what the street looks like:

Lafayette is a one-way avenue, northbound at this point, with the bike lane on the left hand side of the street. The lane begins just two blocks south. Cyclists riding north on neighboring Centre Street must merge onto Lafayette just where the bike lane starts. But they end up on the right-hand side of Lafayette. So that means they then have to cross two lanes of traffic to reach the bike lane. Many do not, especially if they plan to make a right turn soon after.

The police were parked in a van on the left side of the street, about one block after the lane starts. At one point they had pulled over two cyclists at the same time.

This comes just a day after the NY Post ran a story about cyclists flouting traffic laws at exactly this stretch of bike lane, noting that of the 7,182 cyclists that passed over five days—an amazing amount!—at least 24 percent violated a traffic law. The Post did not count the number of cars or pedestrians that violated traffic laws or obstructed the bike lane.

Here’s how Velasquez, who was the second cyclist I saw pulled over, described his interaction with police. “When he pulled me over, I said ‘why you pulling me over?’ He [the police officer] said, ‘I’m pulling you over because you are not riding your bicycle in the line [points to bike lane], you are on the other side.’ I said, ‘I never heard of that.’ He said, ‘we’re doing that now.’”

Here’s the ticket:

"The law is the law and lawbreakers should be ticketed but the unusual focus on cyclist behavior seems out of step with the realities of the road," the bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives said in a written statement. "Hundreds of New Yorkers are killed or injured by cars every year—we need enforcement that will protect New Yorkers from the real dangers on our streets."

The NYPD has not responded to a request for a clarification on the law. For a bit more on the actual nuance of the traffic code, head over to Transportation Nation, where there's more on this story.

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