Culture Digital News, Article, Bike blog, Blogposts, Cycling, Film, Matt Seaton, New York, Transport policy, United States — June 10, 2011 19:54 — 0 Comments
Casey Neistat: bike lane warrior
See Casey’s film above or follow this link
Film-maker Casey Neistat’s latest piece of guerrilla filming is on the dangers of cycling in the city — and getting no sympathy from the cops. Not sure if this was filmed on a smartphone, but brilliant all the same. Way to go Casey!
"Hair and makeup for msnbc" tweets Casey Neistat. For Neistat has achieved something rather extraordinary: a short film about getting ticketed by the NYPD in New York for not riding in a bike lane that, within 24 hours, has gone beyond viral and is getting him huge mainstream media attention.
And justifiably, too. It’s a great piece of gonzo filmmaking, with hair-raising stunts – all done by Neistat himself. I just hope his medical insurer isn’t watching. (Neistat is an interesting filmmaker, in any case: with his brother, he made a film about the failings of the early model iPod, which became a big underground hit and seriously embarrassed Apple; and more recently, the Neistat brothers made an excellent film about how ridiculously easy bike theft is.)
But when you’ve stopped laughing, or wincing, at the film, what about the issue he’s highlighting here? Is it really against the law not to use a bike lane in New York if one is provided? And the larger "philosophical" issue takes us into the contentious topic of whether segregated bike lanes are the way to go to boost cycle use – especially, if any rider with the temerity to opt out gets punished with a fine for doing so.
The backstory here is that the NYPD announced late last year that they were going to get tough on cyclists’ infractions of the law. And they meant it. First, there was the controversy of the ticket blitz in Central Park, where cops were on duty before dawn to nab bikers training on the park’s closed loop road. Eventually, after a strong pushback from park users and residents and the bike community, the cops backed off that policy and an uneasy truce reins. But elsewhere, the new approach continues: according to the New York Post, the NYPD has handed out nearly 14,000 tickets so far this year, up nearly 50% on the same period last year.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with the extra enforcement. You think Casey Neistat’s stunts are scary? Well, take a look at this video, via NPR’s TransportationNation, of traffic interactions at just one, typical Manhattan intersection.
Sure, there’s some bad driving, and some reckless pedestrian behaviour, but by any objective measure, the bikers are the most egregious offenders. So, if the cops are catching the guys riding the wrong way, on the pavement, through red lights, I say: go NYPD!
The problem is that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the police have taken a quantitative, rather than qualitative, approach to ticketing. There’s no systematic, methodical policy of using the crackdown to win better compliance – and zero "re-education" effort. No carrot, just a big stick – waved around in the most random manner: what it looks like is a totally haphazard, opportunistic, "fill-the-quota" approach.
Hence Casey Neistat’s ticket for not using the bike lane. Can that really be the law? Yes, actually. Kind of. As one blogger has it, "It’s a fuzzy area." Here’s the relevant passage of the New York City traffic rules and regulations (pdf: section 4-12, p56):
(1) Bicycle riders to use bicycle lanes. Whenever a usable path or lane for bicycles has been provided, bicycle riders shall use such path or lane only except under any of the following situations:
(i) When preparing for a turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(ii) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards) that make it unsafe to continue within such bicycle path or lane.
So, before paying his ticket, Neistat had two grounds on which to challenge it. He could have claimed that he was necessarily on another part of the roadway in preparation for making a turn at an intersection. Or he could have claimed that the bike lane was obstructed (in fact, he seems to make this claim verbally to the police officer in the film, to no avail). Instead, he went out to demonstrate the latter in a highly graphic and hilarious way – and the world should be grateful.
Because, really, what’s the point of this sort of "dumb" enforcement? It makes an ass of the law, by bringing the traffic rules into disrepute through its obvious stupidity. It fosters ill-will, rather than cooperation, between cyclists and the NYPD. It does nothing to improve compliance, merely making cyclists feel like outlaws rather than citizens with a stake in the system. It casts the bike lanes themselves in a poor light, since it’s so easy to point out how often they are obstructed (with the police showing no interest in enforcement of the traffic regulations that should keep them clear). And finally, dishing out tickets to people in an arbitrary and unfair way is more likely to stop them using their bikes altogether. It’s lose, lose, lose, all round.
So let’s hope the NYPD sees Casey Neistat’s film, gets it, and gets smarter about enforcement on cyclists.
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