NYC-area cyclists make no secret of the fact that they bike like New Yorkers. Of the more than 80 who wrote in about their experiences on the road, only one claimed to have never intentionally violated a traffic law.
At the same time, they make no secret of their frustration with drivers. Complaints about illegal and erratic behavior ran the gamut, from double parking to using their vehicles to threaten or intentionally hit cyclists.
In a way, this is a double standard — in New York City, the same laws that apply to cars also apply to bikes. But many cyclists push back, arguing that certain illegal behavior, like riding through stop signs and red lights when there’s no oncoming traffic or hopping onto the sidewalk when the street is obstructed (and no pedestrians are in their way), is a matter of trusting their own judgement to keep themselves safe.
“The lack of smart planning and/or regular enforcement make for downright murderous situations, and civil disobedience is absolutely in order,” wrote in Brooklyn cyclist Elizabeth Giddens.
And, many pointed out, the stakes are much higher for cyclists, who know that they themselves are most at risk when they engage in truly reckless behavior. “If I asked most drivers if they thought it fair that I crush their knee with a baseball bat for ignoring right of way,” wrote Alex Frank, who regularly commutes from Brooklyn to Manhattan, “the rules would be very different.”
The most common violations cited by cyclists who saw a direct threat to their safety, by far, were:
- Drivers illegally stopping, parking or driving in bike lanes
- Failure to yield right of way to cyclists and pedestrians
- Running red lights
- Failure to signal lane changes and turns
- Unsafe passing of cyclists (either too closely or too quickly)
With the understanding that, unless New York decides to legalize the Idaho stop, they’re as liable for traffic violations as cars are, cyclists — and pedestrians — do have some power to fight back against unsafe drivers, particularly those driving taxis or vehicles for hire, as well as anyone who obstructs a bike lane. Here’s how:
- Record and report cars in bike lanes
Stopping, standing or parking in a bike lane is a violation of NYC’s traffic codes subject to a $115 fine — and a dangerous obstruction for cyclists, as it forces them to merge into car lanes. It also counts as one of the “quality of life” issues that can be reported to 311.
When to do it: When a car’s parked in a bike lane (that’s any time a car is parked in a bike lane), when it’s double parked, or when it’s blocking a crosswalk or sidewalk.
What to do: Submit your complaint using the city’s online form or mobile app. If a car is a repeat violator, or a specific stretch of lane is susceptible to frequent abuse, there’s space to include that information as well.
Does it work?
The NYPD won’t ticket illegal parking based solely on a complaint, said Jehiah Czebotar, who makes and tracks 311 reports. (Mayor Bill de Blasio, when asked about the possibility of using cyclists’ photos to enforce parking violations, rejected the idea.) So the situation has to persist until police arrive to investigate in order for anything to happen, meaning that drivers who temporarily stop in bike lanes still need to be caught in the act by law enforcement.
2. Tell TLC about reckless taxis and Ubers
When to do it: Drivers of taxi cabs and other vehicles for hire are required to follow the same traffic laws as everyone else TLC rule book 54–13(a)(1) and 54–12(a)(2) and are also accountable to the Taxi & Limousine Commission for additional fines and penalties. You can submit a complaint to the TLC any time you witness cars engaging in reckless behavior, including:
- Running lights
- Distracted driving
- Driving or stopping in the bike lane
- Parking on sidewalks
- Unnecessary honking
- Failing to give right of way
- Unsafe passing or lane changes
- Blocking intersections or crosswalks
(Note that if you’re witnessing dangerous driving in action, from any type of car, you should call 911.)
It’s important to be specific, according to Czebotar. In his guide to the reporting process, he recommends you “include context on the situation, how you were affected, or your relation to the situation, and the specific complaint.”
This information will be useful if the drivers chooses to go to trial instead of paying a fine, and the TLC asks to you to testify (via phone). “You absolutely do not need photographic evidence of anything to make your case compelling,” writes Jeff Novich, who’s developing an app to streamline the TLC reporting process. “You just need to have details.”
If you only have a partial license plate number, you can look it up and attempt to match it to the vehicle you’re reporting.
Does it work? Unlike the NYPD, TLC will prosecute based on a complaint. Cyclists who frequently submit reports say they’re usually successful — so long as you have clear evidence.
3. Publicly shame them
If all else fails, you can always resort to naming and shaming reckless drivers and parking violators online. The Tumblr Cops in Bike Lanes has been documenting exactly what its name suggests since 2013, while a newer offering, CarsInBikeLanes.NYC, collects and displays detailed information about where vehicular violators are located — along with their license plate numbers. On Twitter, you can use the hashtag #CyclistsWithCameras.
When to do it: When a vehicle’s parked in a bike lane and you can (safely) snap a photo of their license plate.
What to do: Both sites have forms you can use to submit your evidence; you can also email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Does it work? Posting online provides all the catharsis of yelling at an unsafe driver without the accordant danger of provoking road rage. CarsInBikeLanes.NYC acknowledges that this is a big part of the service it provides; in addition, it hopes to provide ongoing documentation of this pervasive issue. The owner of Cops in Bike Lanes admits s/he hasn’t gotten any direct feedback from the NYPD, but has seen some success from using Twitter to get specific precincts’ attention.
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