August 3, 1997
NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: NEW YORK UP CLOSE
Ticket Blitz Hits Whizzing Bikes
By ANDREW JACOBS
Spero Stamboulis chuckled when a police officer pulled him off his mountain bike two weeks ago, asked for identification and wrote him a $100 ticket for running a red light. ”I thought he was joking,” said Mr. Stamboulis, 28, an actor from Astoria, Queens, who had just sailed through the intersection of 66th Street and Second Avenue well after, he said, cars and pedestrians had passed. ”I’ve never heard of such nonsense. If they want to treat us like automobiles, then give us a lane of our own.”
Another cyclist, Jay He, didn’t laugh when the police issued him $1,500 in summonses for running five red lights in a row on Avenue A in the East Village. The fines, he said, exceed his monthly salary as a delivery boy for Benny’s Burritos in the neighborhood. ”I was an easy target, the fastest way to fill their ticket quota,” said Mr. He, 34, who lives in Woodside, Queens. ”If they saw me breaking the law, why didn’t they stop me after the first red light?”
Stunned cyclists across the city are asking similar questions this summer as the police step up enforcement against riders who mount sidewalks, pedal the wrong way on one-way streets and cruise through red lights.
While the Police Department declined to provide citywide figures for bicycle summonses, officials said at least 1,168 riders received tickets in July alone in the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, half the total number of ticket issued in the precinct this year. Fines range from $50 to $150, identical to those for law-breaking drivers, Lieut. Christopher Acerbo of the Manhattan Traffic Task Force said. ”Riders,” he said, ”have to obey the same laws as motorists.”
Cyclists say the ticket blitz is one more indignity on the streets of New York, where aggressive drivers, brazen bike thieves and rutted roadways make cycling frustrating and perilous.
”This is an egregious case of harassment disguised as public safety,” said Gian-Claudia Sciara, the program director at Transportation Alternatives, a cycling advocacy group. Ms. Sciara and others complain that compared with cyclists, drivers seem to get off easy. Only 31 speeding tickets were issued in the 19th Precinct from July 1 to 24, the police said. In 1995, 20 cyclists and 236 pedestrians were killed by cars in the city. No pedestrians died from injuries caused by cyclists. ”It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that cyclists aren’t the ones mowing down pedestrians,” Ms. Sciara said.
But many people, including Councilman A. Gifford Miller, who represents the Upper East Side, applaud the crackdown. Until recently, he said, cyclists were rarely given tickets. ”Reckless riders are the number one complaint in my district,” he said, adding that his office receives up to a dozen calls each week from frightened pedestrians.
Mr. Miller himself was knocked down this year by a rider going against traffic on a one-way street. ”I brushed myself off,” he said, ”but for the frail and elderly, getting buzzed by a bike can be life-threatening.” ANDREW JACOBS
Photo: The off-ramps of the Queensboro Bridge are one place that cyclists are being ticketed. (Arnie Schlissel for The New York Times) Chart: ”ENFORCEMENT: The Wheels of Justice” Summonses issued by Manhattan Traffic Task Force in the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side, July 1 to 24: Bicycle violations — 1,168 Automobile violations: Speeding — 31 Failure to yield to pedestrians — 6 Horn-honking — 13