At Witt’s End: Citizen bounty hunters for parking infractions will sow discord

City Councilman Lincoln Restler, without a helmet, celebrates the opening of a protected bike lane in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo from the NYC Department of Transportation.
Stephen Witt

When it comes to sowing discord and pitting New Yorkers against New Yorkers, the progressive bicycle lobby takes the cake.

The cherry on top is the latest legislative proposal from City Councilman Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) that would turn regular New Yorkers into car bounty hunters where they can call in complaints about cars illegally blocking bike lanes and intersections, and get a 25% cut of the ticket fine.

The proposed measure would empower the city’s Transportation Department to enlist civilians to flag parking scofflaws, who could then be subjected to fines of up to $175.

“Too many parents with strollers, people in wheelchairs and bicyclists face unsafe conditions every day because of sidewalks and bike lanes obstructed by illegal parking,” Restler told the Daily News this week. “NYPD has refused to take this issue seriously, so it’s time to empower and incentivize citizens to help make our streets safer.”

The media outlet reported an NYPD spokesperson disputed Restler’s claim that it does not take illegal parking violations seriously. Over the past year, it has issued 52,837 summonses for parking in bike lanes, 2,008 moving violations in bike lanes, 25,244 summonses for parking in a bus lane, 33,638 summonses for parking on a sidewalk, 513,435 summonses for parking at hydrants and 69,389 summonses for parking in a crosswalk, the spokesperson said.

The NYPD also is concerned that the proposed law will pit neighbor against neighbor and will likely lead to violence.

“Our hard-working Traffic Enforcement Agents, who wear an NYPD uniform and have extra legal protection enshrined in state law, are assaulted dozens of times per year after issuing summonses. This law would outsource that risk to everyday New Yorkers. The legislation, while well-intentioned, leads to more problems than it solves,” an NYPD spokesperson told the Daily News.

This isn’t the first time the bicycle lobby has tried to strong arm motorists or neighborhoods. Just last year, as the Brooklyn Paper reported, the bike lobby pushed hard to put bike lanes along Eighth Avenue in the heart of Brooklyn’s commercial Chinatown – much to the chagrin of the Asian community.

While critical, this column is not a put down per se of the progressive bike lobby. They have accomplished many good things for the city. Protected bike lanes and other changes that make streets more equitably utilized are generally very positive improvements.

But their often heavy-handedness on issues and mob-like tactics on social media can be viewed as a microcosm of what is wrong with American politics today. Too often we get activists and elected leadership from both the right and the left thinking it’s all their way or the highway. The palette is all black and white with no colors in the middle.

In American politics we seem to be moving further to the extremes. Trying to reach the center and compromise is all too often shunned. It’s seen as somehow selling out. In truth, American politics at its best has always been about consensus building to make for the art of the possible. 

Whether it’s sharing the streets or figuring out a strategy to tackle the migrant crisis, this is something worth considering.