04 January 2013

The Police Officers of New York City

Brooklyn Bridge The New Copenhagen - a collection of urban planning tales from a modern progressive city turned 1950s old school urban theatre - was a running theme last year. Unfortunately, our decision makers and law enforcers gave us plenty of reason for it to be. We're kicking off 2013 on a more positive note... and with that, here's the story of a brief encounter I had with the New York Police Department last summer.

It's late evening. Jens and I are cycling home from a Broadway show (Rock of Ages, unexpectedly good). We're on cloud nine from the show, the drinks, and a cool light breeze that matches our mood sweeps through the air. We've left Manhattan and are weaving our way through Brooklyn. There are no bicycle lanes, but traffic is sparse.

We come to a red light and, well, stop. Three policemen lean against the corner shop just a few metres from us. We nod. They nod back.

One of them says something to us, that neither of us hear. We (uncomfortably) smile and nod at them again, both running through a mental checklist:

Bike lights? Check.
Can they tell we've had a drink? Probably hopefully not.
Is that really a ticketable offense? Doesn't matter, we'll play the European tourist card.

Then another officer jokingly offers, "Hell, you're on bikes, there's no way we could catch you."

Third officer chimes in, "No, really, you guys go ahead. We won't ticket you."

Clueless (idiotically so, in retrospect) to what they're going on about, Jens and I sit patiently at the light, silently begging it to turn green so we can escape this awkward and confusing encounter.

A few hours later it dawns on me. Duh. They wanted us to run the red light. A free pass to run a red light.

My goodness what a lovely realisation. Logic and situational awareness. A friendly human interaction.

With bicycle cultures emerging all around the world, the gap of understanding between motorists and cyclists, law enforcement officers and cyclists, only seems to grow. Which is why that one conversation, over the course of one red light, lasts in my mind - an indication of hope for bicycles regaining respect as urban transport, and that this year, perhaps even the enforcers of The New Copenhagen will come around.