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.


Adam H. said...

Knowing NYPD, they wanted you to run the light specifically so they COULD ticket you.

KRoberts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kriserts said...

Treasure that nice feeling and use it to keep you warm next time you run into NYPD and they're completely insane jerks for no reason whatsoever.

Paul M said...

Do you in Denmark - do they in NYC - have the legal principle enshrined her in the case of Crank versus Brooks in the Court f Appeal?

In summary, a cyclist proceeded through a red light by stepping off his machine, and walking as he pushed it across the junction, where he subsequently re-mounted and cycle off - until stopped by the forces of law & order, who ticketed him.

Initially he took his case to a magistrate's court and was convicted, but on appeal, the court determined that when you put one foot in front of the other, both feet on the ground, you are a pedestrian, not a cyclist, even if you are pushing a bike at the same time.

It is a strategy I frequently use, if I come to a light early in its red phase. It doesn't really get you much further forward if t is approaching green again anyway.

Chesse Spleen said...

This happened to me once before. A cop gave me permission to run a red light and I did and he did not ticket me. Sometimes people can be very decent, even police, and even in New York.

Also, for your edification, it is not illegal to ride a bike drunk in New York. See the New York VTL § 1192: "Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 1. Driving while ability impaired. No person shall operate a motor vehicle while the person's ability to operate such motor vehicle is impaired by the consumption of alcohol."

There is much more to the statute than what I've excerpted but you can find it all online. The upshot is that the restrictions are limited to operating a motor vehicle, which is actually surprisingly reasonable given how absurd some other laws with respect to bikes are (e.g., being forced to use a bike lane if it's there regardless of how well maintained it is or how many people double park in it).

Alexey said...

Meanwhile, that very summer in Brooklyn, I got ticketed for the very same infraction: $300. Ouch. To make it even more interesting, it was on a very busy cycling route (bike lane and everything). Since then, I've seen several other cyclists pulled over.