It’s not every day you’re slammed with a $278 ticket, the same amount as one given to cars doing this, for allegedly running a red light on a bicycle in the snow. And yet that’s what happened to me one day this winter, when all I was trying to do was get to work. It’s a lot of money, but what elevates it from nuisance to insanity is that it turns out the fine is the same as that given to a car for running a red light. That’s completely crazy any way you think about it. On the ticket, I’m allowed to select “guilty” or “not guilty,” but I select a third option: “bollocks.”
Now, there are several things wrong with this situation. As an engineer, I’ll give you an argument from the world of physics. My bicycle and I weigh one tenth as much as a car and ride half as fast as a car barreling down the road. The formula for kinetic energy of an object in motion goes KE = ½ m v2 (m is mass, v is velocity), i.e. I have very roughly one-fortieth, or 3%, the kinetic energy/killing power of a car. There is no sense in the fine being equal to that of a forty-times deadlier vehicle. Perhaps a $50 fine for running a red light would be reasonable, and if I get caught running a red? OK, I’ll pay that.
This goes beyond physics, though: it touches upon issues of class as well. The ticket I’ve been hit with is more than my bicycle is worth, so I call fucking bullshit. Some goddamn one percenter in his SUV who runs a red light can afford a $300 ticket, just like he can afford all the parking, gas, insurance, car payments, etc.that come with car ownership. To him, the fine’s milk money, chump change, a drop in the bucket. Those who bicycle commute to work because they can’t even afford the $112/month MetroCard, however, simply can’t cough up three hundred bucks on a whim just because the police have nothing better to do than to shake them down.
This goes beyond bored cops, though. It’s misguided policy from up above. Stepping up traffic enforcement across the board with a blind eye to vulnerability of each of the players involved misses the point, and ticketing pedestrians/cyclists/unicorn riders as harshly as drivers does not encourage use of transportation alternatives to cars, it just dicks everyone over.
Also, aren’t we trying to promote livability and safer streets? Why are we slamming those who embrace one of the key tools in the Vision Zero campaign? More bicycles on the road improves street safety across the board. Oh, we’ve got problems with obesity? Don’t incorporate exercise in the form of bicycle riding into your daily routine, you can’t afford it. I thought what with all the bike lanes and the bike share program, the city was encouraging bicycling, but now I’m getting mixed messages.
Let’s just put this ridiculous winter and ticket behind us. Fuck it, cops can have their bike lane parking as long as it’s not made their job to pull out of said bike lane to slap the cyclists they’re blocking with fines only cars can afford. Let’s just join hands and bike all over Brooklyn together forever. Come as you are, just grab a bike and ride. You might even like it.