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NYPD Bicyclist Crackdown Hits Wrong Target, Critics Say

By Leslie Albrecht | February 17, 2011 7:47am
Cyclists say a police crackdown against scofflaw bike riders is unfairly targeting law-abiding cyclists.
Cyclists say a police crackdown against scofflaw bike riders is unfairly targeting law-abiding cyclists.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Frustrated cyclists say an NYPD crackdown on bikers takes aim at the wrong target, ticketing largely law-abiding bike riders when they should be keeping an eye on dangerous motorists.

Upper West Side cyclists spoke out against the recent citywide campaign to get cyclists to obey the rules of the road at the NYPD's 24th Precinct Community Council meeting on Wednesday night.

Police have issued a record number of tickets against cyclists this year as part of a program called "Operation Safe Cycle," the New York Post reported.

"I don't have any problem with law enforcement against cyclists, as long as it's focused on safety," said cyclist Steve Vaccaro, a member of cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "But what I don't understand is the enforcement priority on ticketing cyclists regardless of whether safety is an issue."

Vaccaro said he's heard of cyclists ticketed for turning right on red at an empty intersections. He accused police of issuing "gotcha" tickets to cyclists for technical violations.

Deputy Inspector Kathleen O'Reilly, commanding officer of the 24th Precinct, said Wednesday that she would remind her officers to use discretion when writing tickets — but she defended the enforcement crackdown as "warranted."

The 24th Precinct issued tickets for 393 moving violations in the last 28 days, about 20 percent of which were against cyclists, O'Reilly said.

"It's a pedestrian safety issue," O'Reilly said, adding that she sees cyclists break the law frequently, sometimes right in front of the precinct on West 100th Street and Columbus Avenue.

Cyclists denied that charge, claiming that they're victims of "bicycle profiling."

Mary Beth Kelly, an Upper West Sider whose husband was killed in a traffic accident while he was riding his bike, said bikers are an easy target.

"When (police) see a cyclist, you zoom in on them and what they're doing," she said at Wednesday's meeting.

Enforcement of cycling laws is a hot topic on the Upper West Side, where new bike lanes on Columbus Avenue have sparked intense community debate.

The raging debate over bikes and bike lanes pits those who see cyclists as a dangerous menace plaguing parks, streets and sidewalks against others who see bikers as the forefront of two-wheeled transportation designed to make New York into a healthier, more liveable city.