Beating a Ticket for Running a Red Light on a Bicycle When You Are Very Definitely Guilty

by Matthew J.X. Malady

just fyi a ticket for running a red light on a bike is $278 dollars
— Dan Nosowitz (@dannosowitz) August 4, 2014

Dan! So what happened here?

Oh boy. So, last August, I was riding my bike to go feed a friend’s cats while he was on vacation, which I only mention because I am about to become pretty unsympathetic and I want to start things off on a good note. I am a pretty safe cyclist; I always wear a helmet, I only bike in bike lanes, I never go the wrong way up a one-way street. I do, or did, at least, routinely run red lights, though. Not in a particularly unsafe way, just in the same way a pedestrian does. Look both ways, etc, etc. Anyway I was running a red light while on Washington, crossing from the south to the north side of Fulton, and there was a cop parked on the north side of Fulton, behind a van so I couldn’t see her.

She whooped her siren and for whatever reason I decided I would try to make it as difficult as possible for her to write me a ticket. The first thing I did was pretend I didn’t hear the siren and turned right onto Gates, through another red light, which was out of the way to my friend’s house but looked like a pretty good escape route. The cop was not fooled and chased me down, at which point I couldn’t really pretend I didn’t hear the siren anymore, so I stopped. The cop yelled at me for a while about running two red lights (I wanted to, but did not, mention that I only ran the second red light because she caught me running the first red light).

At some point, she asked me for ID. Ah ha, I thought, this is another good way for me to make it hard enough for her to write me a ticket that she’ll let me off with a warning. “I don’t have my ID,” I said, making sure to angle myself so she couldn’t see my wallet’s bulge in my back pocket. She informed me that it’s illegal to ride a bike in New York City without ID, but that she’d let that slide if I could call someone who could verify my identity.

I tried to think of someone who would be around to answer a truly weird phone call at like 1 p.m. on a Tuesday, and decided to call my friend, because he was probably just looking at pictures of German short-haired pointer puppies at that time of day. So I call my friend, who answers, and without thinking I just say, “Hey John, it’s Dan,” at which point the cop yells “YOU WEREN’T SUPPOSED TO SAY YOUR NAME, THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS.” I say, “Oh, sorry, I’m giving the phone to this police officer,” because I heard somewhere that cops don’t like being called cops. My friend is very confused at this point.

The cop demands to know my full name, and then my age. My friend is a year or two younger than me so he kind of guesses my age, but he gets it right. The cop, barely satisfied, goes back to her car to write me a ticket. My friend asks me if I’m okay. I am totally okay. At one point an older guy sees what’s happening and yells at the cop: “I run red lights all day every day!” The cop informs him this is illegal. The guy says he’s not going to stop.

Anyway, the cop writes me a ticket for two hundred and seventy-eight dollars, which is the same fine as if I was driving a car through that red light — which strikes me as sort of insane, but I am also definitely guilty, so I can’t complain too much — and tells me that since it’s my first offense the judge will probably throw it out.

I continue on to my friend’s house, stopping at every red light on the way, to feed the cats.

We talked about this when it happened but decided to delay publishing until after the legal process had run its course. Now that it has, what can you tell us? Did you beat the rap?

Haha okay, so, I have to plead either guilty or not guilty, and I was really hoping the judge would, as the cop suggested, just throw out my case because I’m a good guy overall, and the only way to even SEE a judge is to plead not guilty, which makes me uncomfortable because, as I said before, I am very much guilty. Anyway, I plead not guilty and the city assigns me a court date on 4/20. Of the next year.

Months and months go by. Eventually it’s 4/20. I ask my friends what I’m supposed to wear to a traffic violation hearing. Either nobody knows or they just prefer to make fun of me for even asking. I end up wearing a dress shirt tucked into a pair of khakis like I’m going to a bar mitzvah. I keep a tie rolled up in my bag in case I walk in and everyone else is wearing a tie.

The traffic violation bureau is in the Atlantic Mall, close enough to an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels that you can smell them. I am easily the most formally dressed person in the entire place, including the judges. Anyway, I get there early because I’m nervous, but there’s really nothing to do, so I sit on an uncomfortable bench and read for a while. Eventually, it’s time for court.

Traffic court is amazing because there are so many violations that they can’t really see people privately. Instead it’s like a small shitty classroom-type setup, and the judge calls you and the cop — if the cop shows up — to her podium thing, and you argue your cases while maybe twenty-five other people pretend like they’re not listening. If the cop doesn’t show up, which happens a lot, the case is thrown out. I was hoping this would happen, but my cop showed up right on time. I thought about making up some story but decide I’m guilty enough already.

I’m the second person called, which is kind of shitty because I couldn’t see how other people did stuff. The cop has a sheet of paper on which her version of things (“the truth”) is printed in all capital letters. She reads her story. I say nothing. The judge interrupts the cop halfway through and says: “So you were sitting on the north side of the intersection, yes? And the defendant was on the south side?” I say nothing, again. The cop says yes. “How do you know that his light was actually red? What if there was a delayed green on that side?” I think, very cool question, very The Good Wife, but there definitely is no delayed green on that light, and I bet there’s a sweet cop app that can confirm that. Anyway, I continue to say nothing.

The cop is stymied. She admits she didn’t check to see if there was a delayed green. While she’s stammering, the judge says “NOT GUILTY” and stamps a piece of paper, very authoritative. Then the judge tells me I can go but that the cop should stay for a second. I say “thank you ma’am,” the first words I’ve said all day, and get the fuck out of there. I do not get an Auntie Anne’s pretzel on the way out, but I sort of want one.

Lesson learned (if any)?

After reading a lot about traffic laws for bikers it became pretty clear that I did exactly the wrong thing; if I’d stopped right when the cop first pulled me over, and was contrite, she probably would have let me off with a warning. Another cool lesson: Always plead not guilty! It turns out, legally speaking, you don’t have to actually be not guilty to plead not guilty. Sometimes guilty people go free! For example, me!

Just one more thing.

I actually do stop at red lights now. It turns out to not really make my biking trip all that much slower. Also, most bikers are assholes. Myself included.

Disclosures: Dan’s “friend” and accomplice was one of the editors of this website. He regrets his part in not having Dan sent directly to jail.

Photo by Savio Sebastian

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