At the Biking Public Public’s focus group with the Chinese delivery workers union, a delivery worker told us, “Seeing the police, we should feel safe. Instead we panic.”
In our work, we have spoken to numerous food delivery cyclists who feel like they are being unfairly policed. Well, we’ve mapped NYPD data from 2007-2015 on criminal courts summonses/tickets issued for both commercial and non-commercial cycling infractions that you can see below. You can toggle between different map layers and see specific data for each NYPD precinct:
As you will notice, the geography of policing working cyclists differs sharply from that of policing of other cyclists. Here’s a screenshot of the two maps side-by-side to make it simpler to compare:
Essentially, the police have been issuing tickets to commercial working cyclists almost exclusively in a few white and affluent precincts in Manhattan. In contrast, the police have been issuing tickets for other cycling infractions in the outer boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens mostly) with the highest rates predominantly in neighborhoods of color. Given that most working cyclists in NYC are food delivery workers who tend to be Latino and Asian immigrants, this map means that in NYC, people of color who bike have been policed both where they live and where they work.
Bicyclists of color have been policed both where they live & where they work.
To clarify, here are the differences between the two kinds of summonses:
- Commercial: The police issue commercial cycling summonses under a specific ordinance (Administrative Code 10-157) that only applies to workers who use their bikes for commercial activities such as food delivery cyclists and requires them to wear helmets and reflective vests among many requirements. Since I am not a working cyclist, I don’t have to wear a helmet or a reflective vest and won’t get a summons/ticket for it. This data does not include the e-bikes summonses, which we don’t have data on yet, so part of the story is still untold. Also you may have noted that we normalized the commercial summonses data by the number of restaurants in each precinct so that we can see if the rate of summonses are simply a result of the number of restaurants in a neighborhood. As you can see, it wasn’t.
- Non-Commercial: These summonses are for other cycling infractions that apply to all NYC cyclists and only cyclists. Some examples of these summonses are riding on sidewalks, not having a bell, not having lights at night, and riding in parks. So the police issue these summonses to all cyclists whether you are a working cyclist or not . But also these summonses do not include other tickets given to cyclists such as running a red light or going the wrong way on a street because the NYPD public traffic violations data doesn’t differentiate between travel modes. So this data does not tell the complete story. We also normalized non-commercial summonses by the residential population in each precinct.
Breaking down the data, we compared the top ten precincts for commercial and non-commercial rates of summonses and we found stark racial differences reflective of the map above and as you can see in the following graphs (here also is the data as tables):
This data breakdown and comparison reveals a couple of key takeaways: (note: below when I refer to “whites,” I specifically mean “non-Hispanic whites”)
- Racial disparities: The residential population of the top ten precincts for commercial cycling ticketing is 60% white, which is more than 3 times the white residential rate (19%) in the top ten precincts for non-commercial cycling ticketing. This lends support to our point that people of color who bike experience policing where they live and work.
- Highly concentrated policing of commercial cyclists in a few white neighborhoods: 92% of the commercial ticketing has occurred in just four neighboring precincts (Upper East & West Sides, Midtown North, Midtown East) in Manhattan. These four precincts are 75% white and have just 13% of NYC’s restaurants. In these four neighborhoods, the rate of criminal summonses for commercial cyclists has occurred at over 200 TIMES the rate of the median NYC precinct! One thing we noticed in the process of doing our media analysis is that demonizing depictions of food delivery cyclists seemed to be originating largely from these Manhattan neighborhoods.
- It’s important to also note that there are influential police precinct-level decisions that shape the policing in a neighborhood.
The good news is that criminal court summonses including commercial and non-commercial cycling summonses has substantially decreased over the last few years. This mirrors an overall drop in criminal court summonses that began at the end of Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor as NYC’s stop and frisk practices were ruled to be unconstitutional. This decline appears to have continued under Mayor de Blasio who ran on a platform of policing reform.
The caveat here is that this data does not include traffic summonses. Due to public pressure, the NYPD has in recent years mostly shifted from issuing a criminal court summons for riding on sidewalks to a traffic ticket. But the data on traffic summonses for riding on sidewalks is not currently publicly available so there’s uncertainty whether policing of riding on sidewalks has actually decreased or if it has simply shifted. While traffic tickets carry fewer consequences than criminal court summonses, it’s still a punishing financial blow and especially so for low-income people. Likewise, the policing of food delivery workers for criminal court summonses appears to have decreased recently, but we cannot rule out that what they are being policed for may have shifted.
This question of policing immigrant food delivery cyclists takes on particular meaning with Trump’s promise to accelerate the deportation of undocumented residents. Because of the city ordinance that requires delivery cyclists to wear reflective vests, they become more visible for policing or for potentially worse under aggressive deportation policies. While the level of criminal summonses for commercial cycling has dropped, the laws and tools remain in place and can be revived at any given time. As we discussed in our book chapter, these Latino and Asian immigrant working cyclists cross invisible boundaries when they ride into rich, white neighborhoods to serve residents food, and yet at the same time, they are demonized and feared by those same residents. In many ways, the policing of immigrant working cyclists in rich, white neighborhoods mirrors what we’ve been seeing at the national level.
When I look at this data, I am reminded of our first meeting with Mr. Lu at the Chinese Delivery Workers Union when he told us, “We have the will and we are bold, but we can’t speak English.”
If you would like to help out with our work with immigrant food delivery cyclists, we have just started a crowd-source fundraising campaign to help fund some research and a documentary film about food delivery cyclists in NYC! Please donate to help our work.
A special thank you to Mario Giampieri who did the lion’s share of the work toward compiling the maps. Another big thank you goes to Professor Harry Levine from Queens College for his detailed insights on the NYC system of criminal court summonses and for directing me to the NYPD data.