08 March 2012

Enforcing The Law Without Knowing It

The New York Police Department (NYPD) is notorious for its capricious enforcement of traffic rules.  What's even worse is that too many officers don't know what the rules are for cyclists.

Evan Neuman found that out the hard way.  He was cycling up Allen Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side when a cop pulled up and ticketed him for not using the bike lane on that street.

Allen Street Bike Lane, New York City

The thing is, he had been riding on the Allen Street bike lane.  He left it to make a turn onto Ludlow Street.  He got his ticket shortly afterward.

New York State law requires that cyclists ride in bike lanes when they're available.  It also stipulates that we can't ride on the left side of the road (against traffic) or more than two abreast.  A number of New York City cyclists have been ticketed for alleged violations of this law. However, these laws (like many State laws) do not apply in New York City.

Instead, the New York City code says the following: Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane except under the following conditions:  (i) when preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway, (ii) when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such path or lane.  

My guess is that many police officers--and members of the general public--believe that cyclists must use the lanes, no matter what.  That may well have been the case of the one who ticketed Evan Neuman.  However, given that a fair number of "New York's Finest" patrol on bicycles, I would expect them to be more familiar with the law.  

Neuman has fought the ticket.  So far, he's lost in Traffic Court and a Department of Motor Vehicles appeals board has rejected his appeal.  Now he's filed a motion in State Supreme Court to have the ticket dismissed.


  1. Such cases really challenge the notion that bike lanes are really for the benefit and protection of cyclists any more than "colored" water fountains were for the benefit and protection of blacks.

  2. Steve, your analogy between the bike lanes and "colored" water fountains is great. Can I use it?

  3. Police, protect and serve? Not in my experience.