It’s insane that I got a $278 fine for running a red light on my bike

red light bike ticket nyc

Car? Bike? Eh, just cross out the license plate part and write “CYCLIST”

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 v(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.

44 Comment

  • You ran a red light. You knew it was wrong. You didn’t care. Because in Brooklyn it’s cool to mow through red lights. Screw on coming traffic or the people that might have to brake or swerve to avoid you. Screw those silly pedestrians trying to cross the street. You look totally awesome riding like the wind.
    Well your not awesome. Rules are there for everyone’s safety. If you want to continue running red lights then do so. But as a cyclist, driver and pedestrian I really hope they keep giving you tickets because your just a nuisance to everybody else.
    Good day.

    • Richie, Im sure you’re a hot dog eating, Coors light guzzling, beer belly kind a guy. Probably the same kind a guy who’s texting while crossing the road or running to beat the car or maybe even walking on a NON WALK SINGAL, you should get a ticket just for being a “nuisance” and because jaywalking is a crime too.

  • I’m okay with you getting a ticket. It’s annoying for pedestrians who, with the right of way, still have to look to the sides before crossing to make sure a cyclist isn’t barreling down the street anyway. Cyclists should adhere to the rules of the road, whether people are there or not to build better habits when the street is populated with pedestrians.

    • But in actuality, pedestrians in NYC are more often guilty of disobeying the rules of the road. What if cops started handing out more tickets for jay-walking or leaving the sidewalk while the sign is flashing? I bet Ramon wouldn’t like that for the same reason that Isaac doesn’t appreciate his ticket. I think the cop’s strategy to ticket in both cases (for pedestrians and cyclists) is misguided and ineffectual unless it can be enforced consistently and with appropriate fines. Rather than leave it up the cops, let’s all try to be a little less hostile to each other and more conscientious of others as we share the space on the roads.
      Morgan
      (driver, biker and pedestrian)

      • I would be fine with handing out tickets to jay walkers. They can be (they are, really) hazardous when they practice such behavior. They also slow down vehicular traffic.

        The one thing I did not address before but is a little annoying is the douche-like attitude towards someone in a car. Why make the assumption that the person behind the wheel of an SUV has the money to afford the ticket? The point of the ticket is not to give it to people who can afford them. It is to penalize someone who broke the law and to deter the person from doing it in the future. I hope it was effective in this instance.

  • I have no problem with this. If you ride a bike you need to follow the rules just as a car would. I’ve seen 3 bikers hit pedestrians in the past 8 months because the bikers ran a red light. Personally, I’m tired of biking around this city not knowing what the cyclist in front of me, or behind me is going to do (e.g. a cyclist turning left at an intersection without signalling and crashing directly into me).

    I think you make some good points (e.g. the unfairness of cops parking in bike lanes) but that doesn’t excuse a biker who wants to drive around disregarding the rules while endangering the safety of others. You also make too many assumptions that biking = being of lower income status.

    If cops crack down on bikers who are running red lights, causing traffic AND pedestrian accidents, and endangering their own safety, one would hope that cyclists would be more likely to follow the rules.

  • After having nearly been run over three times this week by cyclists who didn’t feel like obeying traffic lights, no one is happier about your ticket than me. Obey the same rules that cars obey and you won’t have to worry about getting ticketed. You’ll also be less likely to have to worry about being hit by a car.

  • The point isn’t that he didn’t deserve a ticket or that he clears he’s super awesome for running red lights (what?). The point is that it’s pretty crazy to treat a bike running a red light and a car running a red light as the exact same thing. They’re pretty different things – both illegal – but different. Imagine if we gave the same $278 ticket to pedestrians for jay walking.

    • Booo not being able to edit your comments. Typo: “…or that he think’s he’s super awesome…”

    • Agreed. As a cyclist, I do take issue with other cyclists who habitually run red lights; that makes all of us look bad, and it compromises our integrity when it comes to arguing for increased cyclist rights. That said, it does seem really unfair to penalize a cyclist as you would a motorist. He deserved the ticket, but he didn’t deserve the amount of the fine.

  • “I ran a red light, but I’m a special snowflake so I shouldn’t have to pay the ticket.”

  • Really missed a nice opportunity by not posting this brilliant piece of satire on April Fool’s Day.

  • I got pulled over (with a warning) for running a red light at a crosswalk that isn’t a through street. Near Cadman Plaza, there’s a cross walk for pedestrians with a red light for cars and bikes (who are in a protected two way lane). Totally reasonable, even though there aren’t that many pedestrians there ever. So my usual m.o. is to slow down and look for pedestrians and then ride through. One morning a cop was there pulling people over – another guy at the same time as me. He pulled us aside and yelled at us, we both commented there was nobody there, but didn’t push it. He asked to see our drivers licenses (strange, but ok) and then let us go. At the next intersection (where the bike approach for the Brooklyn Bridge is, always busy), we both stopped and vented a little. I’m not against stopping bikes for illegal activity, it was just such a pointless place to do it.

    On the other side of it – a bike going the wrong way on a one way street outside the bike lane ran into a cab door I was coming out of once. He was fine, but a bystander reamed me out for not looking. It’s hard to look the wrong way in a space the bike isn’t supposed to be (not that I wanted him to get hurt, but some rules are there for a reason)

  • ” Some goddamn one percenter in his SUV who runs a red light can afford a $300 ticket,” …
    Sigh, we’ve really gotten to this point of class warfare?
    I mean, someone better tell Ford and GM that their best selling vehicle is only affordable to 1 percent of the population. Class warfare rhetoric clearly causes brain damage. I mean, must EVERYTHING but put into some sort of Marxist Lennist framework? However utterly silly?

    And you know, if you can’t afford a metro card, maybe, just maybe, you should move to a lower cost of living city.
    I hear they don’t issue tickets in Camden.

  • ” Some goddamn one percenter in his SUV who runs a red light can afford a $300 ticket,” …
    Sigh, we’ve really gotten to this point of class warfare?
    I mean, someone better tell Ford and GM that their best selling vehicle is only affordable to 1 percent of the population. Class warfare rhetoric clearly causes brain damage. I mean, must EVERYTHING but put into some sort of Marxist Lennist framework? However utterly silly?

    And you know, if you can’t afford a metro card, maybe, just maybe, you should move to a lower cost of living city.

  • Two rules for rolling through red lights: 1) Make sure there are no cars, bikes, or pedestrians anywhere near you who have the right of way. By “anywhere near” I mean anybody who will cross your path in the next 10 seconds. 2) Make sure there aren’t any cops around, you moron.

  • DUDE, go contest the ticket. No one will show up. And don’t admit guilt on the internet–this goes for all the crimes you commit!

  • Suck it up! You broke the law. Quit harping on about it and start abiding by it.

  • Its ridiculous that you think bikers should not get tickets or get lower tickets. why? they are part of the road and they should follow the LAW. I dont run lights even though I ride a motorcycle, why? cause I DONT WANT TO PAY the ticket and this applies even if there is no cars or people around. you do it, you pay if caught. dont do it otherwise.

  • Cry me a river.

    If you ran a red light and got hit you’d be singing some tune about cars looking out for cyclists.

    This isn’t suburbia – this is the city where cars and trucks are constantly going through the streets – everyone has their turn and you need to respect that.

  • I ran a red light on my motorcycle and the ticket was about $120. They probably charged you a lot cause you were being a dick. I’m only saying this because you sound like a dick.

  • Bicycles should be allowed to run red lights…as long as you’re not an asshole about it.
    The fine is egregious.
    I don’t know where all the hatred for bicyclists going the wrong way or running red lights come from…they’re fucking BICYCLES

  • ah yes, the bleating chorus of privileged white males saying “it’s totally fair!! you broke the law!! i love the establishment because it’s always in my favor!!”

    grow up, guys.

  • You are aware that you must follow the same traffic rules right? Maybe you should have to take bike riding lessons to be allowed to ride. Half the time bikers are going the wrong way to save time. You may not have been causing danger in this situation but I’m sure this isn’t the first red you ran. People parking in the bike lanes is ridiculous and should be fined as well. Sadly you and I are not them and you made a illegal choice. Don’t throw the blame around though. Just because someone else does something illegal doesn’t mean you should.

  • WOw your retarded, i couldnt even read it all. It doesnt matter what u and your bike weigh, my Truck still weighs the same and will kill you and i will be given 100% blame if jump a red light. it doesnt matter if your in a car or on a bike, the rules of the road are for all that use them. So dont do it.

    Imo , if a bike is considerd a vehical you should have to pass a road test and carry a licence of some sort in order to ride on the road. My drivers test didnt teach me how to drive a car, It was a test showing that I knew how to controle my vehical on the roadways and follow the laws put infront of me. yet anyone can grab a bike and ride downtown on the street. It just doesnt make sence.

  • A bicycle is not a motor vehicle. A bicycle ought to have more of a fine than a pedestrian, and less than a motor vehicle. Rules are there for everyone’s safety, and ought to be enforced fairly upon everyone.

  • The law is quite clear, when the light is red you are supposed to stop, very simple. This is for cars, trucks, and even bikes. Just because you calculated that you don’t have the killing power of a car does not mean the stupid, selfish act could not cause a accident or even the death of an innocent pedestrian or yourself.

    Don’t be mad that you have the pay this time that you got caught.

    Bicyclist running red light
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gxY6DXPTy8

  • Bike riders are subject to similar traffic laws as cars. I wish the police racked down on bike riders. THEY NEVER stop at red lights. This is easy money for the city….for a time they’d generate a massive amount of ticket revenue.

  • I don’t get bicycles in NYC. it’s not Portlandia. And please spare me the poverty line. If you live within 10 miles of this city you’re doing better than most.

    A guy on a bike nearly hit me running a red as I was crossing at the light. I said something and he turned around and got in my face. I then struck him in the face with a closed fist.

  • I recently got a ticket for riding pass a red light. I came to a stop looked to see if it was clear then rode over. I’ve done this many times in the presence of cops and it’s never been a problem before. I would always stop to make sure it was safe to proceed. I went in to clear it up and I asked the clerk how much it would cost and he said it’s $190 which I think is just crazy. It takes me 30 minutes to ride to vs. 1 hour 15 minutes by bus. I ride because it’s healthy, it saves me money and time it would take me to reach to work. $190 is way too much because I have a pet job and that’s more than half of my paycheck. Some of you really do not know the full situation of others. I really hope when I take over a full lane other drivers know that I have a right to occupy that lane since I have to obey the same rules and pay the same tickets.

    • Do you not understand what a red light means? It means stop. Now let’s move on to green, do you know what a green light means? It means go. A red light doesn’t mean stop and then go, that’s a stop sign. I’ve sped past cops before in my truck and they didn’t pull me over, do you think when I do get pulled over say if that I’ve done it before and a cop didn’t stop me is any sort of defense? This has nothing to do with how long it takes you to get somewhere or helping the environment, nobody gives a shit. You intentionally broke the law, pay the price, quit whining.

  • These comments are wild! The author doesn’t argue that he shouldn’t be ticketed! He argues that the fine should be lower because cyclists have much less capacity to injure than cars do for the same illegality.

    I completely agree with the author that policy should do everything they can to encourage more people to get on their bicycles. Reducing fines is one of the ways that policy can encourage people to ride more, which has a myriad of proven benefits to the public as a whole, and to individual riders.

    People who ride bikes for transit are uniformly in lower income classes than those who drive cars, even moreso here in NYC. Fines should probably be more along the lines of what people can pay anyways, and should be able to be repaid through community service or something else anyways.

    • So if a cyclist runs a red light and a car hits him/her, you think there’s much less capacity for an injury? How does that make any sense? If I’m riding my motorcycle and I come to a red light, I can just as easily look both ways, see there’s no traffic, and run the light. But you know what happens when a cop is there, I get a ticket. I don’t understand why so many cyclists insist that they don’t need to obey traffic laws. How about this, obey the traffic laws and don’t get a ticket. In all honesty, how difficult is that?

  • actually there is nothing wrong with running a red light on a bike if youre a good biker. bikes have mobility and can swerve out of the way of any pedestrian or car. nobody wants to get hit, obviously a biker will look to see if there are any cars before going through a light. stopping at every red light slows you down so much, so going through them makes biking more efficient than it already is. however, when cops have nothing better to do or are in a bad mood, they may try to give you a ticket. in this case, never stop. a bike in nyc can always outrun a car, except on a main avenue at 4 in the morning. as soon as he tries to pull you over, speed up and make the first turn the wrong way on a one way street. this way the cop will not be able to chase you and you will easily get away. if there isnt a one way street, quickly turn around. note to pedestrians and cars: if you walk or drive like you normally would, a good biker will not hit you. they will swerve around you before you even realize what they did. thats cause bikes are much faster and more mobile than you are. so leave bikes alone, they save the environment, improve traffic and help you stay in shape. also they are the fastest way to get around the city

    • I am both a biker and a driver (but not in the 1%). This is terrible advice. Hybrid cars save the environment as well. Does that make it okay for them to run red lights as well?

      I’ve run slot of red lights on my bike. If I ever get caught breaking the rules, I will own it. The Rules are rules. Stop making up excuses. The law exists for the safety of all. The lack of accountability on this thread is astonishing.

  • Glad you posted that pic. I lost mine now I can finally call them about it lol

  • I think bicyclists should pay *more.* I ride both a motorcycle and a bicycle, and one main difference is that I pay annually to renew my license, which goes towards paying for roads and said red lights. Bicyclists don’t have to pay for anything like that, yet they use (and abuse) the same road resources.

    Sorry, but just pay up like a man and move on.

  • Cyclists can’t have it both ways. If you claim that the the road belongs to both drivers and cyclists, then all of the rules should be applied equally.

    You broke the law. Don’t cry about fairness, that’s what children do. Be an adult and face the consequences.

  • In Paris, it’s now tolerated to run a red light if you give priority to pedestrians crossing.

    My point is: laws are NOT ALWAYS good to follow. As a cyclist, I ALWAYS give priority to pedestrians crossing. However, I would stop cycling if i had to stop for every single RED light.

    • Agreed, Jeremy. Pedestrians and cyclists are on the same team, here, and should respect one another as they work together to make use of infrastructure that was designed around cars.

  • You are driving a vehicle. Through a red light. Sure, it may not be powered by explosions but simply powered by your leg muscles, but it’s still a vehicle. It can still kill a kid crossing the street. It can cause other drivers to swerve and cause accidents. In fact, you are actually more difficult to see thus MORE likely to cause an accident when running red lights.

    You are more of a danger to other people on the road than a car is due to the size and visibility of your vehicle.

    Really, this makes real bicyclists look bad. You are putting everyone’s safety at risk. Shame on you.