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Morning Spew

It’s Monday and the City Council Might Make Us All Snitches

A new-ish idea to get vehicles out of bike lanes and other links to start your day.

9:38 AM EDT on October 3, 2022

So many illegal things going on here. (Hell Gate)

Since the advent of the humble bike lane, these noble stretches have found themselves consistently foiled by the one mode of transportation they are explicitly not for—cars. In New York City, some bike lanes are so consistently jammed up by illegally idling vehicles that they’re worse than not having a bike lane at all, because they give vehicles the space they need to pull over without blocking car traffic, just bikes! The City’s enforcement of traffic laws is minimal, and falling. And on top of that, when delivery drivers are eventually ticketed for blocking said bike lane, UPS, FedEx, and Amazon are more than happy to eat the fine at an enormous discount, all for the sake of expediency. 

Now, New York City might be turning to the bounty system. A proposed city council bill from Brooklyn’s Lincoln Restler would allow New Yorkers to take photos of vehicles idling or parked in a bike lane (or bus lane or crosswalk), and send the photos to the City’s Department of Transportation. If the DOT finds that the car was truly parked illegally, the person who reported the infraction would earn 25 percent of the proposed $175 ticket.

This idea has been kicking around for a while. And while some are cheering the proposal for finally giving frustrated cyclists and pedestrians a way to get involved in improving safety, others worry that a program that incentivizes people to go around and take photos of cars in bike lanes (instead of just telling someone to move along) would further the disproportionate impact that fines and fees have in low-income communities—or lead to physical confrontations. 

“It’s incredibly tempting to turn to an enforcement scheme because that makes money,” Joanna Weiss, co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, told Bloomberg. “If this is a real public safety concern then we need to be addressing it, but we need to be addressing it in a way that’s equitable and actually serving the community.”

Restler’s legislative package would do away with the City’s placard system, which allows City workers and their friends to park illegally across the city, without consequence. But that part stands almost zero chance of passage—meaning many of the cars parked in bike lanes (like, ahem, near City Hall), would not face any fines through this system. 

The program is modeled after a similar existing program where New Yorkers can take videos of idling trucks for a cash reward. That program has definitely led to more fines being issued—between 2019 and 2021, 35 percent more tickets for idling were handed out, and it netted $724,293 dollars for citizen snitches. The question is whether this type of after-the-fact enforcement actually cuts down on something like idling. The all-day traffic jams that are NYC streets appear to answer this every day, meaning maybe, just maybe, the people who are actually supposed to enforce New York City’s traffic laws should enforce said traffic laws, and bike lanes should be effectively designed and protected to make it so cars can’t block them. 

Here are some links for all you snitches: 

And finally:  

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