New York cyclists battle $4,600 fine for running red lights

It was an expensive cafe run

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Ethan Frey and James Gerien-Chen of the Bedford-Stuyvesant borough in Brooklyn are contesting a multi thousand-dollar fine from the City of New York over allegedly running four red lights in one single ride.

In October 2014, the two riders were cycling to a local coffee shop. Officer Kevin McLeish of the New York City Police Department witnessed them running a light at the intersection of Quincy Street and Marcus Garvey Boulevard. The two even admitted noticing the police car as they crossed under the red light.

"The light was changing and we went through because there weren't many cars around and I didn't see the cop at first," Frey told the Gothamist. "We hit a red at Gates [Avenue, the next intersection,] and I said to James, 'Hey, I think that cop saw us. We should wait.'"

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Officer McLeish waited to pull them over as they pedalled along another couple blocks. According to Frey, after McLeish stopped the duo, seized their identification and spent approximately 25 minutes at his police car, he informed the cyclists that he had been following them for several blocks, and they had both run four red lights.

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The officer then informed the cyclists about a new City of New York safety program called Vision Zero, which has the primary mission of protecting the public through various safe street initiatives.

New York has approximately 250 traffic-related deaths each year, and cutting down on traffic violations that threaten pedestrians is a high priority.

Officer McLeish then wrote Gerien-Chen and Frey four tickets under the fine schedule for motor vehicle drivers, which meant the one-day incident would count under the 18-month repeat offender program.

For the first red light, the penalty was $150 each. The second offence more than doubled to $350, the third and fourth tickets nearly tripled to $900 – totaling their Sunday morning coffee shop ride to $2,300 each.

"At that point we realized that we'd gotten ticketed for four different red lights," Frey said. "We were kind of stunned." Believing that they had only run two red lights, they decided to take the fight to court.

Fey was able to postpone his court date until October 2016, but even armed with video evidence in his defence, the judge upheld all four tickets.

Gerien-Chen postponed his court date until later this month, however, with the same sitting judge as Fey.

Steve Vaccaro, a personal injury lawyer specialising in cycling and pedestrian cases from New York, described the situation as “the worst I've ever seen. Ticketing ought to reflect the level of danger and risk and harm posed by the conduct."

Fey couldn’t agree more. “It's part of a big ticket quota thing," he said. "It's just really awful that there's no transparency around this stuff."

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