“Easy as riding a bike” means different things to different New Yorkers, depending on their skin color and ZIP code. The nonprofit Transportation Alternatives (TransAlt) recently determined that New Yorkers of color are overwhelmingly ticketed for bicycle-related offenses. Em Friedenberg, the organization’s senior research coordinator, funneled NYPD numbers from last year into a spatial data map that pointed to significant disparities in cyclist enforcement.
“We analyzed every bicycling on sidewalk citation from 2022 and the results were appalling, yet unsurprising,” said Friedenberg. “More than 90% of these tickets were given to New Yorkers of color and 90% were issued on streets without a separated or protected bike lane. When the city builds safe places to bike, biking on the sidewalk drops dramatically.”
Friedenberg noted that a two-way protected bike lane on Prospect Park West reduced sidewalk riding by 97% and said by designing streets that give options for all road users, traffic fatalities go down. She believes that the mayor must invest in self-enforcing streets and protected bike lanes.
“Instead of ticketing people just for getting around, the city should build essential, lifesaving infrastructure,” she said.
Last year, 47.5% of people issued a “bicycling on the sidewalk” ticket by the NYPD were Black and 8.3% were white, per TransAlt. The biking law states that New York City cyclists must remain on the streets at all times, with the exception of youngsters age 12 and under with 26-inch diameter wheels or smaller.
Of the NYPD’s 722 total bicycle-related tickets, 102 were issued by Brooklyn’s 70th Precinct, which covers Midwood, Fiske Terrace, Ditmas Park, and Prospect Park South, where 61% of residents are nonwhite. Of those, 60 were for bicycling on the sidewalk—with 40 issued to Black cyclists. That’s a significant departure from second-most, Harlem’s 28th Precinct, with 42 tickets issued, and only one for bicycling on the sidewalk.
Most tickets issued by 70th are clustered just outside Prospect Park, where there are safe places to bike. When cyclists spill out onto the nearby streets, there’s little dedicated infrastructure to keep them safe and off the sidewalks, said a TransAlt spokesperson.
The NYPD responded to the disparities arguing that the department “does not engage in racially based enforcement,” adding that body-worn cameras capture police interactions and are reviewed by supervisors.
“There has been an increase of enforcement of bicycle-related summons year-to-date in the confines of the 70 Precinct due to both community complaints involving bicycles being ridden on sidewalks in a reckless manner and the use of bicycles in violent crimes by suspects,” said the department spokesperson.
Community Board 14, which largely overlaps on the map with the 70th Precinct, ranks 43rd out of 59 in protected bike lanes.
But in Greenpoint, 37% of residents bike at least once a month, according to the Health Department, although the study did not indicate whether hipster unicycles were included.
That is more than double the citywide average, according to TransAlt, yet not a single ticket was issued in the Brooklyn neighborhood last year. Greenpoint is majority white and only 3.8% of residents were Black in 2017–2021 when counted with Williamsburg’s population, according to American Community Survey data examined by the NYU Furman Center.
Despite the disparities in ticketing for “bicycling on sidewalk” offenses, there was just one more crash between bicycles and pedestrians in the 70th Precinct last year than in the 94th, where Greenpoint is located, according to the DOT. The 78th—which contains the actual Prospect Park—and 84th were the only two Brooklyn precincts with double-digit crashes between bicycles and pedestrians, easily ranking first in incidents borough-wide. Between the two, 17 bicycling on the sidewalk tickets were issued. Both are majority white neighborhoods.
Of tickets for bicycling on sidewalk, 13.5% were also issued within 50 feet of NYCHA developments, which only cover roughly 1% of city land, and 95% of those ticketed were nonwhite.
And the absence of bike lanes can be deadly: The New York City Department of Transportation found in 2017 that nine out of 10 citywide cyclist fatalities occur where there’s no dedicated space for bicycles, and 15 of the 18 New York City bicyclists killed last year were involved in a crash involving a motor vehicle, according to the NYPD.
“All New Yorkers deserve access to bike infrastructure, and DOT is on target to install a record number of bike lanes and protected bike lane miles this year,” said DOT spokesperson Monica Bruno. “Under the Adams administration, equity is a key factor in how we locate new bike lanes, with a new formula for determining project locations that considers community demographics and whether neighborhoods have been historically underserved.”
The half-century-old TransAlt is a long-time proponent of bike lanes and critic of “car-centric” infrastructure. Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visitinghttps://bit.ly/amnews1.