Park Slope's 78th police precinct has made a name for itself as a bastion of bike-and-pedestrian-friendly measures since the beginning of 2014. Its last commanding officer embraced Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative, which aims to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2024, from almost the moment it was announced, auditing crossing guards, ticketing cars parked in bike lanes, and staging an undercover failure-to-yield sting, with plainclothes officers posing as pedestrians in crosswalks. For his efforts, that officer scored a promotion to overseeing the citywide Highway Patrol Unit, and his replacement pledged to keep road-safety a priority.
All that is what makes The Brooklyn Paper's story about the precinct today especially gobsmacking. It turns out that Park Slope's police lead the city in tickets for texting while cycling, having written 151 tickets for cellphone use in 2014. There is an argument to be made about how such a crackdown would further road safety, but there is a much more glaring problem: texting while cycling is not illegal.
The prohibition on thumbing your iPhone while in motion specifically applies to "motor vehicles," and Coney Island Councilman Mark Treyger is currently pushing a bill to expand the prohibition to bikes.
Pressed by the Paper, 78th Precinct commanding officer Capt. Frank DiGiacomo wouldn't address the legality of his precinct's texting-while-biking tickets. He did offer this non-apology: “We like bikes, and we want to keep them here, but we want people to be safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, where some young professionals on bikes are zipping down the Flushing Avenue bike lane, the local cops are also cracking down on what DNAinfo describes as "Unruly Cyclists."
Because nothing says spring like an NYPD crackdown on cyclists, cops from the area's 88th Precinct wrote 14 cycling summonses in the last month, compared to just 2 during the same period last year, according to the site. Capt. Benjamin Lee, the precinct's commanding officer, is especially perturbed by bike riders thinking that they can just ride across intersections when they're clear, rather than sitting at red lights like the pilots of heavy, motorized vehicles mostly do.
"[Bicyclists] look and see that it's good and then they just ride," Lee said, basically describing what's known as an Idaho stop. "A lot of accidents that we see have a lot to do with the cyclists running red lights."
The problem with that logic is most apparent on Flushing Avenue, where the westbound bike lane is flush with the sidewalk for most of the way, crossing only the occasional Brooklyn Navy Yard driveway, as road-safety activist Hilda Cohen told DNAinfo.
"That is where the selection of priorities comes into play," she said. "Because a lot of the cyclists that are being ticketed are running lights at the T intersections along Flushing Avenue, and, yes, that is a violation. But I do not think it is necessarily a safety hazard."
What is a safety hazard, however, are the trucks that routinely block the Flushing Avenue bike lane, forcing cyclists to merge with one lane of angry traffic.