Police officers camped out near the intersection of First Avenue and 23rd Street are targeting cyclists for not using the bike lane, according to a cyclist who shared with Gothamist his encounter with the NYPD, despite the fact that the offense of leaving an available bike lane is governed by a vague law.

Cyclist Ed Yoo told us that he was riding on the bike lane on First Avenue this morning when he briefly left the bike lane on the south side of 23rd Street in order to go around jaywalking pedestrians and some slower Citi Bike riders. Police waiting for cyclists on the other side of the street than pulled Yoo over and told him he was getting ticketed for leaving the bike lane.

"The officer told me that 'when a bike lane is provided to you you must use it,'" Yoo told us in an email. He also said that cops pulled over two more cyclists for the same offense while he was being ticketed. "I had to resist the urge to ask him if he was going to do anything about the cars that enter the bike lane in that intersection every day, including large trucks," Yoo said.

The law actually governing if cyclists are required to remain in bike lanes is maddeningly vague, both on a state and city level. On the state level, Section 1234 of the state's vehicle and traffic law states that cyclists are required to ride in bike lanes if they're provided. However, if the bike lane isn't useable because of conditions that include, but aren't limited to, "fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, in-line skates, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or traffic lanes too narrow for a bicycle or person on in-line skates and a vehicle to travel safely side-by-side within the lane," a cyclist is legally allowed to leave the bike lane.

City law, which takes precedence in this instance, is similarly vague. Section 4-12 (p)(1) states that cyclists are required to use bike lanes on streets where they're provided, but again makes an exception "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 bicycle path or lane."

"The principle is that cyclists should stay in the bike lane unless they have a good reason not to be in the bike lane," attorney Steve Vaccaro, who frequently represents cyclists, told Gothamist. "Preferring not to ride in the bike lane isn't a good reason. But if the bike lane is blocked or unsafe, or the cyclist is preparing to turn, those are perfectly good reasons to leave it, and it's all laid out right there in the law."

Vaccaro also told us that "passing slower traffic and traffic that doesn't belong there like pedestrian traffic is one of the circumstances where you can exit the bike lane quickly, pass the obstruction or safety hazard and get back in the bike lane."

Yoo was fortunate in this case though, that instead of a $130 "Reckless operation of a bicycle" ticket, his summons will cost him $50, according to the officer who gave it to him. However, the practice of ticketing riders who leave the bike lane has inspired lawsuits, confusion, angry blog posts and this near-suicidal attempt by filmmaker Casey Neistat to show just what conforming to an unyielding interpretation of the rule can mean:

A cyclist was also seen earlier this month arguing with a police officer over whether or not she was legally allowed to leave the bike lane after she was ticketed.

In Vaccaro's opinion, situations like these arise because of poor training on the part of the NYPD. "I don't think NYPD training in the area of traffic law is adequate. The police who are doing this ticketing are mostly working off a 'cheat sheet,' and the cheat sheet short phrase that's supposed to summarize what constitutes a violation of the law is very misleading. The [sheets] don't capture the complexity of the law. I've never come across, except for cops who are cyclists, police who are familiar with the full provision that lays out the exceptions for riding in the bike lane."

The ticket trap set up on First Avenue and 23rd Street also seems to be part of a larger effort to ticket cyclists today, a day that is both the first day New Yorkers have seen the sun in almost a week and close to the end of the month, which has long been suspected as a time for police to reach their ticket quotas.

Asked for a comment as to whether there's a formal effort to increase traffic rule enforcement against cyclists at the moment, the NYPD sent back data that showed through April 23rd this year, there have been 7,743 moving violation summons for cyclists citywide as compared to 5,359 in the same time period last year.

"Certainly in terms of the laws that apply to cyclists, we've seen nothing to indicate that there's been any meaningful information or training supplied to the officers about what the law says," Vaccaro told us. Earlier this month, Streetsblog reported on an incident in which police ticketed two men in Riverside Park for not wearing helmets while they rode bikes, despite the fact that the mandatory helmet law only applies to riders under the age of 14.

On reddit, one cyclist warned that unmarked NYPD cars were pulling cyclists over (and hanging out in the bike lane while writing tickets). And there's also this very safe use of a bike lane this morning:

"My practical advice for people who are cycling is that they need to know what the law is, and they need to think about the reasons why they leave the bike lane. And they need to be able to articulate to the officer why they left, and ask an officer to put in the ticket and their memo why they left the bike lane," Vaccaro said.