For a few hours last week, the intersection of East 79th Street and First Avenue saw a sudden influx of police activity. Not because of a crime, but for a blitz of enforcement on cyclists in the area. The move was especially notable because Community Board 8 recently rejected a plan to install several crosstown bike lanes, partially because of vehement community opposition due to concerns such as lack of ticketing and enforcement by the Upper East Side's 19th Precinct.
Despite officers' crackdown on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, Lyn Familant, who lives nearby, was not satisfied.
“On this corner there is incredible abuse [of biking laws],” Familant said. “Now our mayor has chosen to spend money to create flyers to put policemen on the corners and the flyers don't tell [bikers] what the law is.”
The simple flyers address pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, and tell the latter group to “bike smart” by not passing trucks when they are turning and by giving pedestrians priority. Though the pamphlets direct cyclists to “use bike lanes,” they do not go much deeper into the rules of the road. “Someone's going to get killed on this corner,” Familant said. “They think this is going to make a difference?”
Detective and community affairs officer Chris Helms later clarified that the officers had been discussing the laws with passers-by as they handed out the pamphlets.
Deputy Inspector Clint McPherson, recently installed as the precinct's commanding officer, addressed the ticketing issue at a community council meeting in early May. McPherson said the 19th Precinct gives out the second-highest number of tickets to cyclists in the city, just behind the 17th, in midtown.
Last week's focus on cycling was also a collaboration with Councilmembers Ben Kallos' and Dan Garodnick's offices, which collectively represent the area from about East 92nd Street to about East 34th Street and have prioritized bike safety, and Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero program. The 19th Precinct first handed out pamphlets and then switched to handing out tickets. On Thursday afternoon, they estimated that they had issued around 100 tickets during the previous two days. The officers present declined to comment on the record, but expressed their understanding for and awareness of community concerns.
Kallos' office has been prioritizing bike safety since he took office in 2014, and reports significant improvement. A recent press release announcing the expansion of the bike safety program to cover Midtown East touted a 15 percent decrease in bike and pedestrian collisions as of August 2015, and a 52 percent increase in enforcement.
“One of the top complaints I get in the district is about bikes,” said Kallos, who added that he was “deeply disappointed” by the community board's continued inaction on bike lanes. “On the flip side, people on bicycles feel that pedestrians are not respecting the bike lanes. ... We are spending a lot of time working with motorists, cyclists and pedestrians on education and sharing the road.”
Email reporter Madeleine Thompson at email@example.com