It's the annual Bike Month NYC, when the DOT and cyclist activist groups encourage New Yorkers to commute by bicycle with races, workshops and other events. This year the DOT is also asking cyclists to sign a pledge to follow five cycling rules. These include: Yield to pedestrians, ride in the direction of traffic, stay off the sidewalk unless you’re 12 or younger, and use bike lights at night. That all makes perfect sense, but in the DOT's press release there's one rule we won't be pledging to follow in every situation: "Stop at red lights and stop signs."
As you probably know, the NYPD has been issuing $270 tickets to cyclists who pedal through a red light or stop sign—even when the intersection is clear. (The NYPD crackdown has also targeted cyclists for non-crimes, like biking with a tote bag on the handlebars or not wearing a helmet.) The law is the law, but in a city where injuries and fatalities from cars far outnumber the injuries caused by cyclists, the NYPD's focus on cyclists is wildly disproportionate.
Don't get us wrong—we fully support ticketing a cyclist who rides through an intersection when pedestrians are crossing. Pedestrians should always have the right of way, and we are sensitive to the fact that this “5 to Ride” campaign is connected to the Stuart C. Gruskin Family Foundation, founded by Nancy Gruskin in honor of her husband, who died in a 2009 Midtown collision with a wrong-way delivery cyclist. We applaud her efforts to raise awareness among cyclists about safe riding.
But the reports we've been getting suggest that cops are simply filling quotas, and issuing expensive and frivolous tickets for harmless infractions. If the NYPD is going crack down on violations across the board, shouldn't they also be stopping jaywalkers? Have they also been ticketing drivers for blocking bike lanes? Setting aside the issue of selective enforcement, we still see no reason why a bicycle rider—who relies so much on momentum—shouldn't be allowed to "cautiously" proceed through an empty intersection. Give us a "rolling stop" pledge, and we'll sign it. Why should New York lag so far behind Idaho? Here's how it works:
Ultimately, bike transportation advocates are going to have to get the city to enact a rolling stop law, because the NYPD's desperate hard-on for cyclists shows no sign of abating. Until then, we'll be civilly disobeying this rule.