In God We Trust We love biking. In the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I decided to bike to the Prospect Park in Brooklyn from our home in Queens through the Brooklyn-‐Queens Greenway, a bicycle and pedestrian pathway linking many parks. Putting on our helmets and taking out water, we were on our way. The only problem we had on our way to Brooklyn was the section of the Greenway around Ridgewood Reservoir was closed and we were forced to ride on Cypress Avenue, a street along some cemeteries and with few people walking. I was leading the way on the street and cars were passing by my side with high speed. My lovely wife called me from behind. She was worried and wanted us to ride on the sidewalk. I know from reading the rules on the NYC Bicycle Map that we should not ride bikes on sidewalks, but my wife did not know that. She has seen people biking on sidewalks all the time and felt it was ok to ride sidewalks as long as the bicyclist does not put any pedestrian in danger. Her suggestion at that moment seems more reasonable. There were no one on the sidewalk and if a car hit us we would fly over the sidewalk and go straight into the cemetery. Soon we found our missing Greenway again and finally arrived at the Prospect Park. On our way back, the Greenway on the East New York Avenue disappeared abruptly and we were riding on a street competing with speeding cars again. I knew this area was not safe and decided to ride behind my wife to keep an eye on her. The lane on the street became narrower and the speed of cars higher. My wife escaped from the street and rode on to the sidewalk. I followed her on to the sidewalk too. There
were no pedestrian there. A police car passed by and stopped in front of us. Two police officers came out of the car and signaled my wife to go over. One officer asked my wife if she knew this neighborhood and told her it was not safe. Then he told my wife that we could not ride on sidewalk and asked for her ID. He called me over and took my ID too. Back to the car he started to make phone calls while the other officer we were chatting with us. He told us that his colleague would give us summonses but we did not need worry. He said that we just needed to go to the court and nothing would happen to us, no fine, nothing; but if we did not go something very bad would happen. Finally the officer in the car got out and handed each of us a pink summons. They left and we continued our bike trip home, still smiling but somehow in a different mode. The pink summons is a criminal summons. A leisure bike ride to a park turned us, two law-‐abiding citizens, to criminals. We needed to appear in NYC criminal court a few months later. We were not scared since the police officer told us nothing would happen to us, and we were a little bit excited since we never got a chance to see the criminal court. The court day finally arrived. We took the time off our work and arrived at 346 Broadway in lower Manhattan around 1 pm. We submitted our pink summonses to the clerk at the window and were asked to go to Courtroom 3 for a hearing. A few people were waiting out of the room already. A sign on the door said it would be open at 2 pm. More and more people arrived and formed a long line. Around 2, the door opened and we got in. This is a big room with 20-‐30 rows of benches. Caught my eye immediately is the big sign on the front wall -‐ “In God We Trust”. Soon the room was full. More than one hundred people were sitting there quietly waiting. A nice gentleman in his 50s or 60s came out and presided under the “In God” sign. He must be the judge, actually a Judicial Hearing Officer. I knew that from a slip of paper the clerk at the window asked me to sign, which said I agreed that my case be heard by a Judicial Hearing Officer not a criminal court judge. Seems there were too many cases in this courtroom and a police officer called some names and asked them to go to Courtroom 2. My wife was one of them and I was left here still wondering how the JHO could handle so many cases in the afternoon. People were called one by one to the JHO and each only took a few minutes. Suddenly I heard my name called. I jump out of my seat and walked toward the JHO. Totally surprised, I heard only “50 dollars” when I faced him. That was not what the police officer had promised us. “Why?” I responded without thinking and started to tell my story. The next thing I heard was “ECB. Dismissed”. I knew that term from Internet. Tickets for riding on the sidewalk fall under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Control Board (ECB) and my summons in criminal court should be thrown out for lack of jurisdiction. My case was over and I was free to leave. I went to Courtroom 2 to be with my wife. Courtroom 2 is about the same size as Courtroom 3. The JHO presiding there seemed more serious and always looked sideway not on the person in the case. One by one people were called even faster then the other room. My wife’s turn came. She walked toward the JHO with a
flashing face. She must be very nervous. “20 dollars”, the JHO said as soon as she got there. My wife started to tell her story, but the JHO refused to hear. He ordered her to go back to seat and think about it: either to pay $20 or come back another day for a trial. No need to think. Any normal mind would choose paying the lousy $20 instead of wasting another day. Everyone in the room got called in the first round and in the second round my wife got called again. “ I will pay the fine but I still want to tell you what happened,” my wife said. Before she could continue, the JHO interrupted her and said, “I don’t need to listen.” Her case was over too. She was led by a policeman to the cashier and paid her $20 fine. We left the court and went back to our life. Since the court was very close to Chinatown, we went there to have a nice Chinese dinner; and since we were in Manhattan, after dinner we went to see a funny off-‐Broadway show. This was the happy ending of our court day. In that night, I could not sleep. I thought a lot. The Law In Queens and other districts of NYC there are some streets with busy car traffics but empty sidewalks. Common senses will lead us not to ride bikes on sidewalks endangering pedestrians but go on to the empty sidewalks to avoid competing with the cars on the roads and risking our own lives. But we are human and there are always some people who do not think of others and ride bikes recklessly on crowded sidewalks. So here comes the Law – New York City Administrative Code §19-‐176 -‐ Bicycle operation on sidewalks prohibited. The Law protests pedestrians but sometimes forces bicyclists into dangerous motor vehicle traffic unnecessarily. The law is clearly not perfect and up to the people who enforce it. The Police Policemen can use the law to stop those reckless bike riders and leave other bikers alone. I guess that happens most times and that is why we still see quite often people riding happily on not crowded sidewalks. But policemen are human and for whatever reason they still can give you a summons when you are riding on an empty sidewalk. The reason might be the boss’s requirement to issue more summonses or simply a bad mood of that day. We got the summonses when the policemen were kind enough to warn us being in a bad neighborhood. Maybe they thought it would be more efficient to issue two summonses since they had already stopped us. They kept promising us that nothing would happen to us but they still issued the summonses. Maybe their performance is really associated with the number of summonses. Anyway there is still the court if policemen issue tickets recklessly. The Court Judges are there to hear people’s cases and make right rulings. But they are human. For most of them, it is just their job. I understand very well how the court at 346 Broadway works now and found the Judicial Hearing Officer in Courtroom 2 especially creative and very experienced. He needed to finish so many cases and
designed a very efficient process to handle this. The process can be called Hearing without Hearing. He called each case and announced right away his ruling, usually a small fine. He bet one would be better off accepting the small fine instead of coming back another day. If one wanted to talk he would send him back to think. So all cases went through this process fast the first round. In the second round, people were still given these two choices: accepting the fine or coming back another day. A very efficient machine and no hearing were really needed. With this, the JHO finished his job magically and could go home satisfactorily with his pay. In Got We Trust, but the judges are human. The policemen are human, the laws were made by human, and we are all human. We, imperfect human living in an imperfect society, can still choose to be happy in an imperfect day. It turned out the court’s decisions were perfectly right: it was my wife who urged me to ride on the sidewalk and so she got $20 fine and I none. Anyway, the city might need the money and I definitely felt her love. With this thought, I fell asleep.