New York City: Topless Pedestrians Okay, Skirts on Bikes Not

NEW YORK—As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I feel entitled to ask “What the fuck?” regarding two incidents that occurred over the past two months in the Big Apple. That’s not a complaining “What the fuck?,” mind you, but a generic “What the fuck?,” meant to communicate a perplexity about how things are done in my hometown; a perplexity I’ve had since I was born.

Last month, a young female Dutch tourist was attending the annual New Amsterdam Bike Show in Manhattan, enjoying the event on her bicycle downtown around Broadway in Soho, when she stopped to check her map.

“This policeman was in a car, and he stopped next to me and got out of the car,” said Jasmijn Rijcken, 31. “I was like, 'Oh, my God, what did I do wrong?' I was by myself. I thought maybe I rode wrong or something. But he starts talking about the way I was dressed."

It turns out the cop, who was youngish, thought Rijcken riding her bike in her skirt was presenting a danger to city drivers.

“’He said I was distracting cars, and that it was dangerous, I shouldn't wear these clothes on a bike,’ said Rijcken, who added she was not scolded for not wearing a helmet.

The cop asked to see her identification, which indicated she was Dutch. "Oh, you're not from here,” she said he remarked.

Unsure if she had really done something wrong and not wanting to jeopardize her ability to get home to The Netherlands, Rijcken said she apologized and told the cop she was unaware of a dress code for bicyclists in the city.

"I decide what’s a dangerous situation,” she quoted him as saying before he let her go on her way.

Oh, really? I have a few comments about that, but first the other incident. On June 6, almost a month to the day after Rijcken was stopped for riding a bike in a skirt, a young woman was spotted strolling in the Bowery topless, according to the Village Voice. Eventually, she was stopped by some cops and ticketed, though for what we do not know, because the VV reported the next day that it is legal in New York for women to walk around topless.

Those would be my italics. I grew up in that city, the greatest city in the world, and I did not know that. What the hell am I doing in Los Angeles?

To make sure, the VV contacted NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Paul Browne, who replied, “The state's highest court established long ago that women have the same right as men to appear topless in public. Absent a link to some commercial enterprise or promotion, the woman's lack of certain attire in this instance does not appear to be a police matter.”

Browne also corrected the record to say that there was no indication the woman had been ticketed. The name of the topless stroller, who appeared neither indigent nor nuts, was not obtained by anyone close to the story, however, so unless she comes forward her motivation for stripping down to her skirt—which was, coincidentally, what she was wearing—we will never be know. But it was probably just the heat.

So, there you have two tales of two women stopped by New York City cops within a month of one another because of the clothing they either were or were not wearing. My feeling about the skirt-wearing bicyclist is that the cop was lying through his teeth about her being a danger to drivers. He stopped her because she is cute, with awesome pins, but as someone who has worked as both a bicycle messenger and a cab driver in New York, I know that it is impossible for this girl to have been that much of a distraction in New York City. In the first place, New York itself is one huge distraction, and in the second, drop-dead gorgeous women abound in New York City, and every driver worth his/her salt not only knows it, but is also trained from birth to do the swivel his/her head maneuver while driving in order to take it all in. That is just a fact of life.

As far as the topless woman goes, I’m sure I speak for millions of red-blooded Americans when I give thanks that I live in this country, which may be broke and fucked up in a million other ways, but which, at least in New York City, has got its head screwed on straight as far as allowing people to live free.

Now if they would just reconsider some of those fascistic smoking laws.

Photo: Jasmijn Rijcken on her VANMOOF urban bicycle; unnamed topless pedestrian strolling the Bowery. Rijcken, btw, is general manager for VANMOOF.