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Jackactivism

by Ted Johnson

It’s hard to know what happened to YouTube user caseyneistat before he was ticketed in New York for “not riding [his] bike in the bike lane.”

He says he received a $50 fine. He certainly deserves to be fined for his failure to punctuate and capitalize, but not for leaving the bike lane for his own safety. Or is there more to the story?

I really wanted to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but then…

Jackactivism quote

Yes, he actually says that to the officer in the video. The voice of the smug cycling martyr. And that’s when the benefit of my doubt slipped away.

Of course he deserves to be presumed innocent, and he has the right to fight the ticket in court. Instead, it appears that his strategy is to embarrass the officer and/or the City. The tactics of someone without a legal leg on which to stand.

I’ve heard of a one-man critical masshole in my own town who is waging a campaign of provocation against cars, buses, and the city government. And this is in a Silver Level Bike Friendly City. If you want to turn motorists against you–and turn back progress–this is how you behave.

New York’s bike infrastructure and progress is in a delicate state, and making headway–at least it appears so from here, 2000 miles away. Cycling issues are already on the public radar. Very much so. Forcing a confrontation at this point is hardly necessary.

This is good for a cathartic laugh, but is he doing more harm than good for the cause of cyclists in New York?


Update: Commute by Bike interviewed Neistat about his video, and our reaction to it: ‘Nobody gives a s*** about concise political arguments’

 
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37 Responses to “Jackactivism”

  1. Emily WK says:

    Isn’t that the same guy who (with his brother) made the Bic pen unlocking a u lock video and the one where they used a power saw to cut a lock off of a bike in broad daylight in Manhattan and nobody even blinked?

  2. Jesse says:

    I guess he makes a decent point that bike lanes are often obstructed, especially in a crowded city like New York. But then, most of the obstacles that he crashed into could just as easily exist in a regular traffic lane in street without a bike lane. Either way, the intelligent behavior is to steer around it, not intentionally crash to make a point.

    That said, if I was in NYC, I would be calling the police to report every delivery van or taxi that I saw blocking a bike lane.

  3. mike says:

    Jesse, if you actually were to call the police every time you saw a car in the bike lane in New York, you would have no time left to actually ride your bike.

  4. Euan says:

    Did you watch the whole thing? What he did wasn’t illegal, it’s not illegal to not ride in the bike lane in NYC.

    The cop was arse. Well played in my book.

  5. george says:

    Point of order: it is not illegal in NYC to ride outside of a bike lane. The police have been issuing incorrect tickets to cyclists with increasing regularity over the last few months. The person in question may be an idiot, but he’s not doing anything illegal.

  6. Lisa says:

    @Jesse: sadly, you would be doing a lot of calling. I don’t think I’ve ever seen non-obstruction of bike lanes being enforced by the police. But you make a good point that the common sense thing to do is to steer around obstacles in a bike lane.

    As for caseyneistat, I don’t want someone with his attitude to be advocating for me as an urban bicyclist.

  7. Ted Johnson says:

    This is a case of, Ready, Fire, Aim.

    I don’t know how it works in New York City, but everywhere else I’ve ever lived, if you get a ticket–rightly or wrongly–you can challenge it in court

    If you pay the ticket, that means you’ve chosen not to challenge the ticket; you’re pleading no contest, or you’re pleading guilty.

    So (1) he gets the ticket, and feels wronged by it. Then (2) he pays the ticket. Then (3) he investigates law, and finds out that what he did wasn’t illegal.

    So (4) he wants a do-over.

    The most powerful thing he could have done would have been to show up to court, and defend himself–prove the officer wrong.

    That might have been inconvenient to do. But for chrissakes, he filmed himself running into things for an entire day. That couldn’t have been too convenient.

    This is not how intelligent people confront legal problems–and that’s part of what makes the video funny.

  8. Rob E. says:

    I don’t see him as hurting bicycle advocacy, but he’s not helping anyone (unless they need a laugh). The video would make a lot more sense if there actually were a law confining bikes to bike lanes, but since there is no such law, this video has no purpose other than to show off his excellent falling skills. He should have called out NYPD for not knowing the laws they are supposed to be enforcing, rather than mocking a law that doesn’t exist.

  9. JO says:

    No, he’s not doing more harm, he’s calling attention to the problem. this video has 150,000 views. That’s an amazing amount of people that are more educated because of it. He’s a great communicator.

    But, as for the people saying “no problem, you just fight it in court” — well, the thing is, once you are even given a ticket, you lose. If you are forced to spend that much time in the legal system, whether or not you have to shell out any money, you lose.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jo. I think I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with most of what you wrote.

      150,000 views does not mean he’s making a valid point. It may just mean that the video is entertaining–which it is.

      As Rob E. said, he’s protesting a law that doesn’t exist. If people who watch this video don’t understand that, they aren’t being educated.

      I haven’t read anyone say that fighting the ticket in court would be easy (not that I’ve read close to everything that anyone has written about this video). Fighting it in court would probably be difficult. And if the protagonist wasn’t a jackass, he’d probably be able to enlist the legal assistance of an advocacy organization. The end result would, I suspect, be worthwhile. But this guy has not only forfeited his right to challenge this in court, he’s also forfeited his credibility. He’s a buffoon. What advocacy organization would want to stand behind him?

      At best, this guy is a useful idiot for bike advocacy in New York. At worst, he’s become a proxy for everything that the anti-cyclists dislike about us.

      But, you know, I did post this on CbB. If I thought this was detrimental for cycling, I wouldn’t have. The discussion is worthwhile.

  10. I have to admit I was turned off at first by his “saving the world” spiel at the beginning, but it got funny after that :-)

    Plus, I’m a longtime fan of the Neistat Brothers. Who can forget their iPod battery expose, the ironic Holland Tunnel ride, or (best of all) the Bicycle Theft video?

  11. The Today Show has the DL on Casey & the movie: http://tinyurl.com/6ayjenl
    Good thing he was kind enough not to hit any pedestrians.

  12. Chrehn says:

    OK, here’s the deal. Casey is kind of a jerk, not, because he did or did not break a dumb law. He is kind of a jerk for putting this policeman on the spot and hassling him for trying to do his job. Casey needs to show a little respect. By the way, other than being a jerk to someone trying to their job, the video is funny and informative.

  13. Dan says:

    I had a recent discussion with a co-worker about how I wouldn’t feel comfortable using the bike/pedestrian lane being installed in her front yard because of all the driveways it crossed, and had hoped that this video would be an example of why I feel that way. Nope, not this time.

  14. Euan says:

    The cop needs to learn how to do his job. What Casey did wasn’t illegal.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Do we even know what Casey did? We only know what he said he did, and how he did it. We’re only getting his perspective here, and not the cop’s perspective. Perhaps Casey was not only out of the bike lane, but behaving recklessly. We should take this video for what it is: Entertainment that shows one version of the story–told by someone who has more confidence in the power of ridicule than he does in the strength of his case. I can relate.

  15. Tony Bullard says:

    “There’s no law saying you have to stay in the bike lane.”

    Exactly…the point he is making is that the cop, who many see as “the law”, is SAYING that he has to stay in the bike lane. SO yes, you could say “There’s no law that says that!” But then the cop gives you a ticket. So you fight it, get off, all is well. Then it happens again, and again…it doesn’t matter if there’s not a law if you have to keep wasting your time because cops THINK it’s a law. He’s not railing against a law that doesn’t exist, he’s railing against a cop (or cops) that think they can just guess at what laws exist.

    And to those who say “He could just dodge those obstacles” You’ve missed the point of the video entirely.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      This may be naive, but don’t you think that if enough cyclists were to fight these tickets and win, that word would get back to the police that these erroneous citations are wasting the court’s time? Don’t cops have to show up in court if you fight the ticket? Don’t tickets tend to be dismissed if the defendant has broken no law and the accuser (the cop) doesn’t appear in court? I’ve fought a few tickets in my time–and won–but never in New York, and never for cycling violation.

      People who just pay their tickets and then only whine about it later–to their friends or to the world on YouTube–are part of the problem.

      Maybe a two pronged strategy is would be most effective for stopping these kind of bogus tickets. Go to court AND expose the misinformed officers.

      As I said before, I’m not sure that we have the whole story. Casey would have us believe that he was innocently avoiding an obstacle. I wonder what the cop would say if anyone bothered to ask him.

  16. Euan says:

    We only know what he was ticketed for, not riding in the bike lane. Not riding in the bike lane is not illegal. What he did or did not do is irrelevant.

    Here in Melbourne, Australia I have also been wrongly ticketed for not keeping left. This was in a three lane highway where the nearside lane was left turn only (we drive on the left.) As I was proceeding correctly in the middle of the middle lane of a busy metropolitan street in accordance with League of American Bicycling doctrine, I was ticketed under a section that does not apply: there’s an exclusion “except in a multi-lane road under 80km/h”. The speed limit was 50km/h.

    I did the correct and legal thing, I opposed the ticket by mail. 14 months later I have yet to hear the outcome, it’s probably been conveniently forgotten about. In discussion with my LBS I found out that this erroneous application of the law was frighteningly common.

    Had I the talent and nonce to do as Casey did, a good deal more cyclists would be better informed and, more importantly, the ignorant police. That’s a far better outcome IMO.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      We only know what he was ticketed for, not riding in the bike lane. Not riding in the bike lane is not illegal. What he did or did not do is irrelevant.

      Thanks, Euan. But again, I have to disagree. What he did do is relevant. And only Neistat and the cop know what Neistat did.

      I won’t assume that the cop is ignorant in this case. I was actually impressed at how nonreactive he was to Neistat’s attitude.

      Crazy as it may seem, I went and looked up the New York Law pertaining to cyclists and bike lanes:

      Use marked bike lanes or paths when available, except when making turns or when it is unsafe to do so, etc. If the road is too narrow for a bicycle and a car to travel safely side by side, cyclists have the right to ride in the middle of the travel lane. Bicycling is permitted on all main and local streets throughout the City even when no designated route exists. [My emphasis.]

      Neistat never claims in his video that there was an obstruction in the bike lane, or that he had any reason not to be in the bike lane. He only gets indignant over the ticket that he paid–and then he ridicules the law as if it were completely inflexible. For all we know, he was weaving down the center of the street, riding with no hands, and singing Till The World Ends.

      By portraying the law as inflexible, Neistat is not informing people. He’s doing the opposite. In addition, he’s generating publicity for himself and his film-making business. I find it impossible to think of Neistat as a victim here.

      I applaud you, Euan, for opposing the ticket you received. That’s one way to help get the word to the police about proper application of the law.

  17. Fig says:

    Word. The bike lane I take to go from my house to the grocery store (about .3 miles) is infinitely scarier than the total milage of my commute to work (4.5 miles). Why? because the bike lane has tons of crap in it, has drains with large gaps to swerve around, and the cars come much closer than they do when I’m not in a marked lined bike lane. Consider me a fan of the bike route, not the bike lane.

  18. The problem here is how do you define the “law.” The police have a little one line summary of each law and by the police asserting “you always have to ride in the bike lane.” caseyneistat makes a mockery of that assertion in the video.

    I will also note that the police are generally regarded as expert witnesses in testifying what a traffic law means. It’s a higher bar to cross in court to override a police interpretation of a law, as it is not a simple matter that the police was wrong.

  19. Euan says:

    How is what I did getting the word out? Fourteen months later and there’s been no movement, the ticket is in limbo. While you may dislike it, jactavism is far more effective at informing other cyclists of what is and isn’t legal.

    A git of context around the nonsense that’s current regarding cyclists in NYC: http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/05/09/nypd-bike-blitz-cheat-sheet-tells-cops-to-enforce-invalid-traffic-laws/#more-260474

    I’m sure you’re aware of NYC’s less than stellar record with regards to Critical Mass.

  20. Jim says:

    This is a silly argument – it’s NYC!

  21. Chrehn says:

    Jim, I think you have summed it up.

  22. Durishin says:

    Finally! A mature response to this kid with too much time on his hands and – evidently – unresolved issues with his parents.

    Thanks, Ted!

  23. Durishin says:

    Were validity based on number of views, Paris Hilton would be queen of the world!

  24. Ted Johnson says:

    Well, this was refreshing:

    “My number one motivation to make this movie was to be funny,” Neistat told The Huffington Post. “I’m not trying to rise up against the man. I’m just trying to make a funny movie.”

    Nonetheless, I still think of this as the equivalent of a child being scolded for eating with his mouth not closed, and then he proceeds to demonstrate the impossibility of eating without ever opening his mouth. He comically pushes a loaded fork against his pursed lips, while mumbling, “Look! I can’t do it. It’s impossible!”

    It’s juvenile, funny, oppositional, and leaves me unable to take Neistat seriously as a grown up.

  25. Jim says:

    Ted, he’s a humorist much like BSNYC and made 2.6 million people laugh. He feeds his family and is successful. You’re getting bees in your bonnet for no reason.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      You may be right, Jim. I’ve heard that before. I hate to be that guy who makes a funny situation unfunny because he doesn’t quite get it, and wants to argue about it.

      The thing is, I think that video is funny. I must have said that five times so far. Perhaps there’s another layer of depth to this that I don’t see. Like people who don’t understand that Stephen Colbert performs The Colbert Report in character.

      I’ll watch the video yet again with the understanding that Casey Neistat is a parody. He’s portraying one of those smart-ass guys we all know whose sardonic wit is so thick that he’s unaware of the blind spot in his sense of personal responsibility.

      Wait…

      Yes! It’s much funnier that way. He’s like Borat–if Borat were naive and impudent instead of naive and sweet.

      Hopefully now I’m in on the entire joke.

  26. Jim says:

    Hey, if you don’t get it you don’t get it. Niestat = NYC wise guy. O’Rourke never was funny, just a snide moron.

    Borat is sweet? NOW who’s funny.

    BTW Niestat tweeted this today:

    CaseyNeistat Casey Neistat
    no shit just ran into the cop from the bike lanes movie. Totally nice guy, was psyched on our 2.6 million views

    The whole thing is just funny, despite under/overtones.

  27. Re: I still think of this as the equivalent of a child being scolded for eating with his mouth not closed,

    But you got it backwards, in this case it’s the parent scolding the kid in opening his mouth to put food IN. That is what the law says “never open your mouth to eat.”

    • Ted Johnson says:

      That’s not at all how I would interpret the law, which I have quoted above.

      Do me a favor. Read it, and then tell me if I’m seeing contextual flexibility that isn’t there.

      I talked by phone to Casey Neistat himself yesterday. I’ll be posting highlights of the interview this afternoon. Y’all come back now.

  28. First let me say I have seen your more recent article on this topic and seeing an open mind on the internet is rather refreshing.

    If I could let me re-frame your last post on this thread as “how the system should work” and you will get no disagreement from me on that point. But we would be remiss if we did not touch on how the system DOES work.

    The first thing to understand that in court a police officer basically acts as an expert witness on not only what the law says but also the intent of the law. And when dealing solely with motor vehicles that mostly works out.

    But most officers never received any bicycle specific training. So not only do they not understand the law but they also do not understand the intent of the law as bicycling law is a combination of safety and a desire to facilitate faster traffic. Thus opening the door to mistake facilitating faster traffic as a safety law.

    I can’t find the link to a copy of the summary of bike “laws” given to NYPD but its just one line summarizes with none of the legal exceptions mentioned. What the police officer said in this case basically came straight off that cheat sheet.

    The next issue is that this and other “police got the laws wrong” is constantly making the news and yet the police have not responded that they will correct the situation and will enforce the laws properly. Why should the onus to correct a police officer in what the law actually says be put on each and every cyclists? Especially if that onus REQUIRES taking time of work to go to court?

  29. J-Dub says:

    “He is kind of a jerk for putting this policeman on the spot and hassling him for trying to do his job. ”

    It’s not the job of the police to hand out tickets for non-exixtant laws.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Hey, J-Dub: Check out the followup article, “Nobody gives a s*** about concise political arguments

      In case you don’t have 20 minutes to spare, you’d find that Neistat is an unrepentant flouter of the bike-lane law:

      I’m never going to ride in bike lanes. Whether it’s legal or not going to change that. It’s just, is pursuing cyclists the best way to make the city, or anyplace, more bicycle-friendly?

      So, although the law does not exist in the strict sense that he portrays it in the video, he likely was riding with complete indifference to the bike lanes when he got pulled over. He has a bigger point that he says he was trying to make with the video. And critics of the video (such as myself) are missing that bigger point. In retrospect, I think that Neistat missed his mark–but really by less than I originally argued.

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