New York Lawyers Fight For Cyclists’ Rights


With the rise of bike riders in congested urban zones like New York City has come, inevitably, a rise in altercations with the law. The New York Times reports that the city has (not surprisingly) a “myriad” of regulations about riding that most cyclists simply aren’t aware of (nor are police, necessarily). Aside from the hazards of speeding taxis and car doors opening, riders earlier this year endured a ticketing blitz, not to mention ”stepped-up police enforcement of red-light and other, less-obvious rules, like having adequate lights or not riding with earphones in both ears.”

Other violations that cyclists have been ticketed for include riding without a bell (a bell is required by law in NYC); riding without a helmet (which is not required for adults); riding with a purse over the handlebars. The New York Times does note that, according to the Police Department, officers should not have issued summons in these cases.

Due to all this, New York is seeing a rise in lawyers specializing in the rights of cyclists. The small firm of Rankin & Taylor is preparing a class-action suit against against the city, contending that cyclists are being handed out summons for “phantom violations — bike behavior that it says is not illegal in the city.” Among the knotty legal issues they find themselves addressing are whether a cyclist must ride in a bike lane if there is one:

For example, it is legal to leave the bike lane to make a turn, and cyclists are allowed to prepare to make a turn by getting to the appropriate side of the street. But just where one can move out of the lane — 50 yards away, or two blocks, perhaps — is not specified.

On its website, Rankin & Taylor specifically mentions the NYPD’s “ongoing bicycle crackdown,” noting that, prior to 2004 — when the Republican National Convention was held in the city and a Critical Mass bike ride was seen as a “threat” — the NYPD seemed “generally to ignore traffic violations by cyclists, except in certain neighborhoods.”   NYPD training materials, says Rankin & Taylor, offer few specifics  about how traffic laws apply to cyclists, while saying clearly that

…persons involved in illegal drug sales sometimes use accomplices or lookouts on bicycles. Such training materials may unfortunately create the unwarranted perception among young officers that, at least in certain neighborhoods, persons riding bicycles are likely to be engaged in criminal activity.

In other words, at least in the training manual cited by Rankin & Taylor, cyclists (at least those “in certain neighborhoods”) are looked upon first and foremost with suspicion, when they may well be riding a bike due to not being able to afford public transportation or a car, or for the sheer convenience a bike offers amid NYC traffic.

Cyclists really only need a lawyer to fight a ticket if they’ve been hurt by a vehicle, notes the New York Times.

“For those people who think it can’t happen to them — I have a file of a person it happened to,” said Scott Charnas, a personal-injury lawyer who has represented many New York cyclists. He formed a relationship a decade ago with Bob Mionske, a West Coast bike lawyer and Bicycling Magazine columnist, who recommends Mr. Charnas to New York riders.

Mr. Charnas’s current clients include a delivery cyclist severely injured by a passing car. “In that case, the rider turned away to avoid the opening door and was then hit by a car,” he said. The deliveryman had a broken leg and other injuries, Mr. Charnas said, and will never be able to ride a bike again.

The accident highlights what can happen in the so-called dooring zone, the area next to a vehicle where its door could hit a passing cyclist.

Lawyers including Paul Vaccaro, who left a job at a corporate law firm to work for Rankin & Taylor, says that, ultimately, the point of suing the city is to make it more cycle-friendly by preventing injuries and also ensuring that cyclists are treated on a par with motorists. Certainly New York lags behind European cities like those in the Netherlands in instituting bike-friendly policies that not only encourage people to ride, but benefit all of us by cutting down on pollution, carbon emissions and noise, just to name a few things. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a city full of lawyers may only become cycle-friendly by — what else? — a couple of lawsuits?


Related Care2 Coverage

Should Drivers Be Charged A Fee-Per-Mile?

Vilnius Mayor Crushes Car in Bike Lane: Cyclists’ Revenge

Leave Your Car At Home: European Cities Create Anti-Driving Policies

Ride Outside NYC’s Bike Lanes, Get a Ticket

Photo by Paul Beattie

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Robert Guadagnolo
Robert G.2 years ago

I think it's disgusting how the radio media in MY city (Montreal) practically every day are on the air bashing cyclists and causing motorists to become aggressive against cyclists. In the past few months, two Montreal cyclist (so far) were struck by either cars or trucks that were going in the same direction as the cyclist. The cyclist were in critical condition, and nothing more was reported. I don't know if they died or what. And yet, CJAD keeps on bashing cyclists by calling us "targets" and then laughing, they say "there is a war out there" between motorists and cyclists....WTF are THEY doing?...a war? I think all media should be banned from using such hateful speech on public airwaves. I am an all year cyclist (summer AND winter) and i'm seeing more and more motorists try to hit me with their car. They get really close to me as if they want to ding me to cause me to have an accident. This is really getting DANGEROUS and CJAD thinks they are justified with their hate speeches because cyclist run red lights and stop signs and sometimes use the sidewalks. They invite motorist to KILL us. STOP THIS!!!! Get your friends and family to sign petitions and make more and more petitions against this sort of hatred.

No Body
Chi Warrior4 years ago

I live in australia and the most stupid bicycle exist here in regards to bicycle helmets that are compulsory just goes to show you that any idiot can create a law in australia

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

Thank you.

Ellen Mccabe
ellen m.4 years ago

They'd make more money being lawyers for all those crazies that get hurt daily, many by their own stupidity. If they run into carriage horses, how does a cyclist stand a chance!

Michael B.
Michael Bond4 years ago

some of the "phantom" offenses were probably hopes on the police officers side to collect the fine for the city with no questions asked.

ana p.
ana p.4 years ago


Will Rogers
Will Rogers4 years ago

Bikes forever!

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Heather O.
Heather O.4 years ago

I have ZERO problems with cyclists. AS LONG AS THEY OBEY THE RULES OF THE ROAD. I am so SICK of almost hitting idiotic ADULT cyclists who run stop signs and red lights, who don't signal to turn and who basically do whatever the heck they want IN THE ROAD and expect auto's to make way for them. For the cyclists who actually OBEY the rules of the road, well, I don't see enough of them.

Same road, same rights, SAME RULES. GAH!!!

Eric LaRue
Eric LaRue4 years ago

I guess I need to figure these out. I'm considering a move from Manhattan to Staten Island and am considering getting a bike to get to the train each day. If this is going on, then maybe I'll want to consider something different.

And maybe I want to watch the video of the guy crashing into all the things in the bike lanes of NYC streets to prove his point.