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Cops Ticketing Cyclists For Biking On The Left Side Of The Road

A giant reason why cyclists might want to stay on the left side of the road on Fifth Avenue
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A giant reason why cyclists might want to stay on the left side of the road on Fifth Avenue Google Maps

Brian McQuillen was riding a Citi Bike down Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street yesterday afternoon when a policeman ordered him and two other cyclists to pull over. The officer told them they were guilty of biking on the left side of the street, which in New York City, is not a crime.

"The officer said there had been a lot of cycling accidents recently, and that he was doing this for my safety," McQuillen says. "My safety? And you're telling me to ride in the bus-only lane?"

State law requires cyclists to ride on the right shoulder of one-way roads (except of course "when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue") but New York City law allows cyclists [PDF] to use both sides of a road that is at least 40 feet wide; Fifth Avenue easily fits the bill.

"I told the officer it was unsafe to drive on the right side because it's a bus lane, and it's easier for drivers to see you when you're on the left side," says Joe Wertzberger, who was also on a Citi Bike when he got pulled over at the same spot. "It doesn't make sense."

Both men said the officer who gave them their tickets promised that the fine would be $10, a seemingly arbitrary amount to streamline the ticketing process. The smallest traffic fine a cyclist can receive is $50.

"This is the model of how not to do enforcement," says attorney and cycling advocate Steve Vaccaro. "I couldn't imagine a worse setup: ticketing cyclists for completely lawful and safe cycling conduct, then giving them bad information about the consequences of the ticket."

Vaccaro said he called the Midtown South Precinct, which is headed up by Inspector Edward Winski, and was told by a detective that they would stop citing the cyclists for the imaginary infraction, but Vaccaro says, "I'll believe it when I see it."

"The NYPD is wasting time writing garbage summonses, all of which should be dismissed, when there's important work to do to make our streets safe."

Midtown South has not returned our telephone message. It's unclear whether the officers will void the tickets, saving the court system and the cyclists a lot of hassle. McQuillen, himself an attorney, says he was told by someone at the precinct not to worry because his ticket would be dismissed.

"Now I have to waste a half a day going to court," he lamented.

"All these stories I see about pedestrians being killed in the crosswalk by drivers who fail to yield, and they never get a ticket," McQuillen added. "But they go after bicyclists for stupid stuff."

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