How to deal with a traffic ticket I got while on my bike in New York?
April 17, 2011 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I was cycling in Central Park this morning and got a summons for running a red light with my bike. Now what?

If you're a cyclist in New York City, you probably heard of the recent police crackdown on cyclists ignoring traffic rules. You also probably heard they're issuing tickets to cyclists in Central Park even on weekends, when the Park is closed to vehicular traffic. I heard about that too. Alas, I ran a red light this morning and guess what - seconds later I had a police cruiser sitting on my rear wheel, telling me to pull over.

I pulled over, got off the bike, and I was approached by a very polite officer who asked me why I didn't stop at the light. I replied that I didn't have an excuse - the light was on an uphill road and I just didn't want to stop and lose momentum. He asked for my driver's license and returned to the cruiser. He was in the cruiser for about 10 minutes, while I waited by the curb and counted at least another 40 cyclists running the same red light I just did, not to mention multitudes of jaywalkers. But I digress.

He returned with a traffic ticket saying that normally he would let me go with a warning(*), but since there were pedestrians at the light that had to actually wait for me to pass so they could safely cross, he would issue this summons. I asked how much it was and he said I had to go to the traffic court within 15 days, in person, and find out there. He said that a bike is not a registered vehicle like a car, so it's not something I can mail in or do online - I have to go there. With that, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

Now for the question - I am completely unexperienced with this, since this is the first New York ticket I've got in my life. What happens now? I go to this traffic violations court and they tell me how much I have to pay? Will I be given the opportunity to state my case or is this just a formality? I don't think I need to lawyer up or anything, but I don't want to show up there and having people asking me questions that I should have thought about in advance.

(*) Actually if you read the stories about people who were ticketed in Central Park, normally they're NOT let go with a warning, so I guess this may be a recent policy change or he was BSing me.
posted by falameufilho to Law & Government (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Contact Transportation Alternatives at and report the ticket and get advisement.
posted by Pineapplicious at 2:41 PM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good call, just found this URL on their site.
posted by falameufilho at 2:46 PM on April 17, 2011

You go to court on the day it says to and you pay the fine. You admit you ran a red light, so pay it.

When I've gotten appearance summonses in the past for violations like this I've had them dismissed w/o a word being spoke. I guess they figure the hassle is the punishment or something. You will be given an opportunity to state your case, but given what you said here anything other than "I did it" is perjury.
posted by JPD at 3:23 PM on April 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I received a ticket for running a red light (on my bicycle). This happened in the early 1990s in El Segundo (the military/corporate enclacve just south of LAX). I'd had conversations previously with Officier Friendly but never actually been written up until this last time.

Since you're in Manhattan I kinda doubt you're a driver but of course any moving violation can affect your insurance (but I got out of that by attending that great California institution of Traffic School). Every jurisidiction is different, some will just mail you a bill for the fine but others insist you show up, as I had to that time (my court was in Inglewood).

Bottom line, go to court, plead guilty pay the ticket and move on.
posted by Rash at 4:21 PM on April 17, 2011

Don't just pay it. Get advice. This is a super political issue and a lot of these tickets are overturned.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:22 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You will be given an opportunity to state your case, but given what you said here anything other than "I did it" is perjury.

Actually, there exists a fifth amendment now, such that, in certain circumstances, shutting the hell up might be able to help you. And you won't perjure yourself in doing so.

Also, if a plea isn't given under oath, you can plead 'not guilty', be found guilty, and still not have perjured yourself. Conversely, you can even plead 'guilty' to a charge while asserting your innocence as regards the crime itself (Alford plea).
posted by matlock expressway at 4:28 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, the OP is looking for some fairly specific advice here - "You broke the law, you pay the price" is not helpful.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:37 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's a $290 ticket you have in your hands there. Yes, $290.
posted by swngnmonk at 8:25 PM on April 17, 2011

Sorry, $270, not $290.

Talk to your local community board, and to the New York Cycle club. This was supposed to be a settled issue.

More here: Reason Makes a Comeback in Central Park

This is an EXTREMELY politicized issue in the city right now. There was a major brouhaha in the park a few weeks ago when the NYPD started pulling over cyclists in Central Park for exceeding a never-posted 15mph speed limit that didn't exist (They actually went door-to-door to people's homes to apologize for that one).

Needless to say, don't take this quietly. Complain to TransAlt, to the New York Cycle Club, to your Community Board, to your City Councilperson, and to anyone else involved. The NYPD's tactics here are borderline discriminatory, fight back.
posted by swngnmonk at 8:30 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, for future, it won't help your options if you admit your guilt to the officer. When asked something about the offense, simply deflect the question. e.g. Do you know how fast you were going? How fast, officer? Why did you run that stop sign? Oh my god! Am I going to get a ticket? Otherwise you are providing corroborating evidence that you committed the offense.
posted by kevinsp8 at 9:36 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: From swngnmonk's link:

"He offered several examples of what might be considered reckless riding, including racing through a red light when pedestrians are in the crosswalk. None of his examples involved a cyclist riding through a red light when no one is attempting to cross."

I wasn't "racing" by any means (I never speed on the busier, southerner parts of the park), so replace "racing" for "cruising" and that could describe what I did. So I guess that's where I screwed up. Also, I guess that explains why the officer told me he would normally let me go with a warning. This is the new policy.

kevinsp8, I know that's what you're supposed to do, but what I did was so blatantly obvious I didn't really feel like playing that game.

But even with me doing exactly what I did, there's this issue of whether these tickets being given in Central Park are valid in the first place. Is it worth the time and hassle of fighting the validity of this? How many visits to a traffic court am I looking at if I plead not guilty on the basis that the I can't be ticketed on lane closed to vehicles (or something like that, which is the legal argument currently being made)?

If I have to suck it up and pay the fine, that's OK (not really). But if there's something I can do to guarantee a more palatable outcome, whose efforts of doing so are not worth more than $270 of my time, I may want to try that.
posted by falameufilho at 4:40 AM on April 18, 2011

You may well get stuck paying the ticket.

With that, this is where the rules need to be changed. Lobby your CouncilCritter. There is at least one bill in the City Council right now to direct the DOT to change all lights in the park to flashing yellows during car-free hours, as a way to directly deal with this BS from the NYPD.

You don't want to have to deal with this a second time.
posted by swngnmonk at 5:01 AM on April 18, 2011

Response by poster: Update: I pled guilty and paid the ticket. I tried to explain myself but the judge basically said "if you want to explain yourself, then plea not guilty and you'll have a hearing". I was in a rush and afraid that the bureaucracy involved would cost me more in time than in money.

The judge said since I had no priors (and probably because I was on a bike) he would set the ticket at $150, which is under the recommended minimum of $190. I paid it right there. In total, I was in and out of the Rector street DMV in about 20 minutes.
posted by falameufilho at 10:50 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

guh i can't believe you gave up. i'd fight til the end, this ticketing spree is insane.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 1:34 PM on April 29, 2011

also for future ticket reference here are some links to guide you to all the laws you need to know related to bike tickets:

bicycle defense fund main page
nyc bike laws

also follow #bikenyc on twitter, streetsblog, transalt (already mentioned), and gothamist are all pro-cyclist and great resources towards the fight back against the anti-cycling crackdown.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 1:59 PM on April 29, 2011

guh i can't believe you gave up. i'd fight til the end, this ticketing spree is insane

I don't understand this attitude. He ran the light. If I got a jaywalking ticket I'd roll my eyes and pay the fine. There isn't a rule that lights don't apply during car-free hours in the park. Its absurd that the police waste their time on this, and I'm all for bitching about that, but the facts are the facts.

Also I almost got clipped by a guy on a bike running a red light at the corner of bleecker and 11th earlier this week. I'm not so sure a few shots across the bow of the biking community in NYC isn't warranted.
posted by JPD at 2:20 PM on April 29, 2011

a few? do you have any idea of the multitude of cyclists that have been targeted since this crackdown started back in january??

give this a read, put yourself in our shoes for a moment:
this applies to stop signs but could apply to stop lights as well.

and please check this out too: stop sign as yield.

my basic conclusion is that we are not pedestrians, we are not motorists - we do not move like peds, we aren't protected in a collision from cars. we don't fit into either category and should not be treated as such. we need to create a bike specific system that works not only in cohesion with the existing systems already in place (ped, car) but that also does not detriment the purpose of riding a bike in the first place.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 12:21 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Debate on the general topic can go to memail - please do not continue it here.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:30 PM on April 30, 2011

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