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City slams bicyclist with $1,500 in fines

The New York Daily News: Off the chain! City slams bicyclist with $1,500 in fines for running red lights

BY TANYANIKA SAMUELS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, August 21, 2011

Manhattan bicyclist Juan (JC) Rodriguez didn't learn his lesson after running his first red light. Or his second.

But the third time may be the charm - because it came with more than $1,500 in fines.

"It's absurd," complained Rodriguez, 45, who's also a pedicab driver. "When you look at the fines leveled and the actual offenses, it makes no sense."

Some bicycling advocates agree fining two-wheelers the same as tractor-trailers is overkill, while others say bikers should stop at red lights.

"They are endangering pedestrians, many of whom are elderly or children who may not be able to get out of the way quickly," said City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx).

"We have too many people riding their cars and bicycles and thinking these rules are not meant for them."

Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman Nick Cantiello says cyclists are subject to the following fines for red-light violations: $190 for the first offense, $375 for the second, $940 for the third.

They don't, however, face $80 in surcharges that motorists get and there are no license points to worry about.

"Bicycles are expected to follow the rules of the road just like any other vehicle," Cantiello said.

Rodriguez says that regardless of whether it's legal, it's common practice for bikers to roll through red lights when it's safe.

He did it on March 3 as he rode down Central Park West near 109th St. on his way to work and a traffic cop pulled him over.

"My first thought was, 'Are you serious? Is this some sort of joke?'" he said.

It wasn't. The officer also gave him a ticket for not having a bicycle bell.

Rodriguez figured it was a fluke. But six days later, an officer pulled him over for blowing a red light at Riverside Drive and W. 96th St.

"I thought, 'Oh my God! What is going on?'" Rodriguez said.

Last month, Rodriguez was stopped after he rolled through a red in Chelsea.

He pleaded not guilty to all three tickets by mail.

"I thought if I show up in court I might have a say and show how unbelievably ludicrous this is," he said.

At a hearing this month, Rodriguez contested the Riverside Drive ticket. The judge slapped him with a $375 fine.

Rodriguez returned to traffic court last week to plead guilty to the two other tickets and was fined another $1,000.

Barbara Ross of the pro-bike environmental group Time's Up! said the penalty system needs a tune up.

"Fining cyclists up to $950 for a traffic violation - the same rate as drivers of 4-ton vehicles that kill hundreds of people annually - is excessive and unfair," she said.

"Traffic enforcement policies should focus on safer streets, not use them as a revenue source for the city."

Rodriguez, who lives in Washington Heights, hopes by telling his story, other cyclists won't have to shell out a lot of green for running a red.

"Things have changed," he said. "[Bicyclists] need to be aware of what the worst-case scenario can be."