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Queens Chronicle

Cops, pol take a closer look at cycling in city

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Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011 12:00 am

Bicycling in the Big Apple this week once again spun into the spotlight after the Police Department confirmed it was cracking down on unlawful riders, and a borough councilman proposed that all bikes be registered with the city.

“We are conducting an initiative to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists,” said Det. Cheryl Crispin, spokeswoman for the NYPD, in an e-mail to the Chronicle. “We will be addressing cyclists’ violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law rules and issuing summonses throughout the city.”

The regulatory rollout comes after snapshot efforts that began late last year in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy for Transportation Alternatives, applauded the emphasis on enforcement.

“We feel it’s a great thing that the Police Department is stepping up and doing their job,” she said. “Cyclists have the same rights as any other street users. We also care about our streets being in danger.”

Peter Engel, spokesman for the Five Borough Bicycle Club, acknowledged that riding on sidewalks or against traffic, and not yielding to pedestrians are issues that authorities need to focus on, but also hoped that traffic laws will be enforced across the board.

“If they’re going to step up on cyclists, that’s fine,” Engel said. “But we’d like also at the same time not to see cyclists being singled out. The NYPD should not be wasting valuable taxpayer resources on such a ‘ticket blitz’ if it’s just for cyclists without a policy of balanced enforcement.”

He also said he hasn’t heard any stories of “silly or excessive” enforcement by cops.

Additionally, Engel asserted that the crackdown was borne out of what he deemed the recent politicization of the culture. Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is a proponent of bicycling, having overseen the installation of more than 250 additional miles of bike lanes and the doubling of ridership during her four-year tenure. The proliferation of lanes has garnered as many enemies as supporters.

“The idea that cyclists in city traffic create in some people’s minds a problem — the police response is in response to this,” Engel said. “That being said, everyone’s in favor of safer streets.”

To that end, City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) has unofficially proposed the idea of making mandatory the registration of all bicycles. He hopes to introduce the legislation, which was spurred by constituents’ safety concerns, next month.

“Bicyclists aren’t held to the same standards,” Ulrich said. “I have a problem with them not following the rules of the road.”

Ulrich indicated he wants the one-time registration to be free of charge, with applications available at nyc.gov, through 311 and bicycle shops across the city. Advantages of an official decal affixed to either the helmet or frame, Ulrich noted, include helping to identify an owner in the case of an accident or crime, and a likely decrease in bike thefts.

“I’m not against bicycling — I’m for public safety,” he said. “But I’m not for nickel-and-diming people.”

Ulrich was to meet today, Thursday, with representatives from TA, who are adamantly opposed to any laws requiring a license or registration.

“It’s going to cost the city at a time when resources are tight,” Samponaro said. “It seems like a misguided means to attain safer streets. The NYPD already has rules in place.”

Samponaro added that such legislation “has the potential to deter bicycling” in the Big Apple.

“It’s antithetical to where we’re headed in this city,” she said.

Ulrich stressed that the aim is safety and accountability.

“Responsible bike riders should not be punished by this bill,” he noted. “They are the exception, not the rule.”

Welcome to the discussion.