Tuesday, November 3, 2015

If you see something, say something about cops in bike lanes ride and reflection on a decade of bike lane liberation rides

 On the morning of November 2, 2015 a group of cycling advocates set out to address perhaps the greatest hindrance to safe cycling in New York City: cars illegally parked in bikelanesThe City of New York recently celebrated installation of more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes, but they areoften impeded by motor vehicles, all too often police vehicles, flouting the law.

Catherine, Dulcie, Paige, and radical historian LA Kauffman in a cameo appearance outside Ft Greene Park. 

The cyclists with The Public Space Party met in Fort Greene Park, where they talked about this ongoing problem and what needs to be done to generate heat.  While the City has laid out a model of Vision Zero policing, lack of enforcement of traffic violations in bike lanes, many caused by vehicles illegally parked in bike lanes, impedes these steps forward, creating unsafe riding conditions.  The cyclists headed out to the busy corner of Hoyt and Schermerhorn in Boerum Hill, where multiple vehicles belonging to police were double parked in bike lanes across the street.
Carrying air horns and wearing colorful clothes, cyclists crashed into the cars parked in the bike lanes, holding out  signs declaring, “Warning: Cop in Bike Lane!”, giving police in bike lanes tickets, and calling 311 reporting bike lanes illegally blocked by NYPD vehicles, including outside of NYPD precincts.

Cars illegally u turning and 

According to the Rules of the City of New York, it is plainly illegal to park in a bike lane RCNY § 4-08 (e)(9) states that, “It is against the law to park, stand or stop within or otherwise obstruct bike lanes.” Yet, police vehicles are parked in bike lanes all over the city, from Schermerhorn Street, to Jay Street, to Coney Island, to Sixth Ave. On Schermerhorn Street, the police went as far as painting their own parking spots over the bike lane.

Throughout the action, the Public Space Party (PSP) group drew attention to this illegal and dangerous practice by the NYPD, and how it relates to the greater culture of lawlessness in the City’s police department. Each car parked in a bike lane was given a PSP “Bike Lane Parking” “tickets” reminding them of NYC traffic rules.  Some 25 cars, six belong to police, were given tickets for illegally parking in a bike lane.

Brennan Cavanaugh photos of the Public Space Party in action.

Brennan Cavanaugh video. 

At the corner of Hoyt-Schermerhorn in Boerum Hill, the police acknowledged that they were in violation of the law.  Asked why they were not informing the other motorists double parked there not to park in the bike lanes, they explained that it was a lot of work to do so.  The police there promised to do more in the future.  Other police were less interested in taking part in a conversation and walked off. 

Impunity is a key ingredient in the police violence and malfeasance being outed now in social media,” notes activist Owen Crowley, of the Public Space Party. “This is exercised in many different ways that I witness almost daily. Police cars running red lights without cause, personal cars parked illegally and encroaching into the street in front of police stations, police cars parked or standing in bike lanes. This creates hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and civilian drivers. On top of that, it is an exercise that reinforces a culture in which police are above the law.”

“With climate change looming, New York needs to move toward sustainability,” notes Benjamin Shepard, of Public Space Party. “A simple first step is safe, non-polluting transportation. Cars in bike lanes create dangerous conditions on the streets, discouraging cycling. Getting cars out of bike lanes is an essential first step in Vision Zero policing.”

"Our of the bike lanes, into the streets," cyclists declared riding down Jay Street, talking with car drivers parked in bikes. Many were unaware of the danger posed by their actions. 

Through the ride, cyclists thanked us for what we were doing.

Others talked about doing something again after the city failed to cope with the problem. 

Of course, this is not the first bike lane liberation ride for all of us.  Ten years ago, we started these rides when the city was first laying out its bike lane program.  Back in 2005, the city was a year into the crackdown on Critical Mass bike rides.  Part of the purpose of the bike lane liberation rides was just organizing a fun and meaningful group ride after critical mass became seemingly untenable. Over the years, we created a mythology and storyline of the bike lanes, using the streets as places for theater, graffiti, agit prop, and public performance. Sometimes we borrowed from the Surrealists and Situationists on our rides, remapping the fading bike lanes of the city with chalk, in our 21st century model of derive and detournement.  I found myself quoting Herbert Marcuse on bike rides, suggesting there has to be more to urban life than a means of necessity. Our wanderings throughout the city, beyond work, mean something.  We have to be able to get there. 

Scenes from Critical Mass and the bike lane liberation rides over the last decade.
Top photo 2005 ride by Fred Askew.

Yet, over the years, the comic quality of the streets changed, as the police continued to impede the utility of the bike lane program. And deaths in the streets escalated.  The traffic justice movement with Right of Way and Families for Safe Streets pointed to a new more urgent cycling activism. While cyclists viewed the bike lanes as public spaces, offering the sorts of eyes on the streets that Jane Jacobs applauded, the NYPD seemed to follow the Robert Moses playbook, clogging the bike lanes with cars, emblems of an outmoded model of urbanism, framed around cars, rather than non-polluting transportation.

The Bureau of Organized Bike Lane Safety. 2010, our spin off group.Photo and story, NY Times.  

Today, the problem of police in bike lanes may be changing, with activists taking the problem into their own hands, changing the discourse of urban cycling.  Yet, there is a lot of work to do to educate drivers and police alike.  On my way home from our action, I ran into a police car parked on the bike lane on Hoyt Street in Brooklyn and gave it a ticket.

We’ll have Monday morning rides throughout the coming weeks, in which we’ll continue to address this problem, taking it to bike lanes where police park throughout the city of New York City.
We’ll be at Jay Street and Myrtle at 9AM for another bike lane liberation ride next Monday. Join us for a morning coffee and group ride where we'll take on other spots throughout Brooklyn the police have blocked the bike lanes.

Hope to see you then. 

Police cars parked in bike lanes throughout Brooklyn, often when there were other lanes in which to park.

1 comment:

  1. Great action, scintillating post. Terrific mashup of text & pics; theory & action; past, present and future. Really inspiring!