Central Park Becomes Center Stage for NYC Bike Crackdown

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 09:18 AM

Cyclists running a red light in Central Park. (Alex Goldmark)

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)  Cyclist Derrick Lewis used to train every day in  Central Park. On a cold February morning he had just put new brakes on his bike. “I took a short test ride on my bicycle and very slowly rolled through a red light and a police officer in a small three wheeled vehicle pulled me over and gave me a $270 ticket.” He felt singled out as a cyclist because, he says, pedestrians aren't ticketed for jaywalking, nor are the horse-drawn carriages he points out.

This kind of comparison has been common on the NYC bike blogs and local papers since rumors of a crackdown began to surface in mid-January. One notable video made the rounds showing what it is like to stop at various lights on the 6.1 mile loop.

But it's been prompted by an equally fierce reaction from pedestrians, many of whom feel threatened by fast cyclists. “Quite honestly sometimes I wanna knock them off the bike, honest that's how I feel, 'cause they whiz right by you even though I have the light," pedestrian Jeanne Vodak said on a recent sunny morning.

"Sometimes I feel that if I wasn't watching he would have hit me, or the dog, that's the other thing I was concerned about, hitting the dog.”

The commander of the Central Park Precinct, Captain Philip Wishnia, told a crowded community meeting on Monday that in Central Park alone, the NYPD has issued 230 tickets to cyclists since the beginning of the year.

“I do understand that for the last 15, 20, 30 years," Wishnia told the group Monday. "You guys and gals were cycling in the park and nothing like this was enforced.” He said the NYPD started Operation Safe Cycle in January city-wide, and officers have to enforce the law in the parks just like anywhere else.

Bikes are treated as vehicles on city streets and are legally obligated to obey traffic laws. According to the figures Wishnia cited at the meeting, his officers have given more tickets to cyclists this year than to speeding cars in all of 2010. Some cyclists are upset at the prospect of having to stop at the nearly 50 lights in the Central Park loop.

And biking advocacy groups, like Transportation Alternatives, say bikers should follow the rules -- but they disagree with the police strategy of ticketing all red-light violators equally. Instead, TA's head of Bicycle Advocacy Caroline Samponaro says, they should focus on the most dangerous intersections.

Capt. Wishnia made it clear that he'd support a change in the signals on the Central Park loop, or another solution if one arises. Local politicians like City Council members Gail Brewer and Ydanis Rodriguez are planning to introduce a bill that would alter the lights to a flashing yellow for cyclists when cars aren't in the park. The City Department of Transportation however, tells WNYC that the plan would cause confusion for pedestrians about when it's safe to cross.

Their message to cyclists -- you're on a vehicle, obey vehicular traffic rules. If you're out today, the warmest day of the year so far, you've been forewarned.

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Comments [8]


As a cyclist, a driver of a car and a pedestrian, I am concerned with the influx of tickets across the board and feel that a "blame game" just offers an opportunity to look elsewhere and not focus on the key issues. There are other ways to implement safety other than ticketing and offering legislation for license plates on bikes and enforcing policies in the parks. Safety is of the utmost importance and there are plenty of cities throughout the world that find ways to offer very safe cycling. I genuinely feel that if the city is concerned with safety issues that looking towards other cities with very safe cycling would be of the utmost sense. These cities have done the necessary prep work and I am quite certain that many cities have healthy implementation of policies on cycling. Perhaps partnering up with Holland and figuring out what they do for the sports enthusiasts, cars and pedestrians would be helpful. The main feeling on this is that cyclists, pedestrians and cars alike need to find safer ways to navigate the city and can do so. As a cyclist, I have noticed many pedestrians breaking the rules and causing potential harm to themselves on well marked paths. As a pedestrian, I have noticed many cars and bikes breaking rules and causing potential harm to people. As a driver, I have noticed many pedestrians, cars and bikes breaking rules that put themselves and others in harms way. I believe the answer is to study safer cities, rather than to assume issuing plates to people is the right answer or ticketing cyclists who are getting exercise. This city needs healthy ways to stay in shape, to reduce stress and can do so in safe ways. It is so healthy to bike, walk, run etc, but more importantly to find a healthy and safe defined way to co-exist. Trying to work as a team rather than peg one another against each other is a great way to find much needed revenue for this great city we live in, but it is not a solution to this problem.

Mar. 25 2011 10:05 AM

For a city that's trying to bike friendly, this is just silly. Looks like another way for the city to try and generate some revenue to close thier bugets. Picking on cyclist is really excessive and a fine of 270 dollars i thinks autos don't pay that much. It's a shame that in the city with all the other things police need and should be doing that they are wasting time giving out tickets to cyclists. I think if a cop tries to stop me i'll just turn up the cadence and out run them ,run over the walk path what ever it takes . Those junky golf carts can't catch me.

Mar. 22 2011 06:26 PM

Today, NYPD was issuing speeding tickets in Central Park to cyclists riding above 15mph. They were there at 5:45 am, this seems a bit excessive.

Mar. 22 2011 08:05 AM
Adam Chinitz

also a little off point.. for me a larger issue is the runners in the bike lanes. There are two paths,, bikers cant use the joggers path.... yet even with auto traffic the park bike lanes are populated with runners weaving in both directions.There is no sign of any enforcement of those rules.

Mar. 18 2011 03:16 PM

Let’s stay on point here. All cyclists are also pedestrians and none of us like inappropriate and unsafe cycling. We all want the streets to be safe and we all want appropriate enforcement. What is going on early mornings in Central Park is lunacy. Look at the picture on this page. By the shadows it is clearly an early morning shot. I see three cyclists all going the right direction, in the middle of the road, and not bothering anyone. I also believe I see three pedestrians who are walking in the roadway and one jogger running in the wrong direction. For as long as anyone can remember early morning cycling in CP has been going on and it has been safe. When I’m up there riders are using lights, they are cycling safely they are staying away from joggers and pedestrians and they are training seriously. What wrong with that? Go after the delivery guys, go after the messengers who ride abusively, please, they give safe cyclist a bad name. I’ve been riding 50 years or so and I have never hit a pedestrian, a car, or anything. Let me ride safely in the Park at 6AM without being hassled about not stopping at a vacant, empty, stunningly quiet red light meant for car traffic. That’s nuts, just nuts.

Mar. 18 2011 12:04 PM

It's a roadway, intended for linear non-motorized recreational movement and exercise in a specified direction. For people, such as Ms. Vodak who are crossing it, they need to watch where they are going. Period. It's not a place to relax unless you happen to be a passenger in a moving carriage or pedi-cab. There are plenty of other places for that. Go take a stroll if that is what you want to do; meadows and lakesides abound! It's a big park. As a cyclist I'm not allowed in those places, as it should be. I can't go tearing off into the woods or up into the meandering network of foot paths. I only have the road. But please let me have that one little piece of the park!

Mar. 18 2011 10:50 AM
dan ahearn

Any pedestrian knows that cyclists are a danger. they come up swiftly and silently from behind and pass much too close. a collision would lead to serious injury for which the city should be liable. bikers do not sound a warning. I guess a bell on the handlebars would not fit the lance armstrong image. bikes are vehicles and should be controlled.

Mar. 18 2011 10:31 AM
Deborah Harkins

I’m glad to see a crackdown on ANY red-light-riding bikers ANYWHERE in the city, including Central Park. I am hoping that the Central Park police’s welcome zeal will lead to a crackdown on the streets and sidewalks as well. What a win-win situation! The city rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars (no teacher firings needed!) simply by enforcing the traffic laws against bikers---and we walkers get to cross a street WITH the light, stroll the sidewalks, and get off a bus without being startled or smacked down. And cyclists, WHY don’t you have light on your bikes at night? That would give us walkers a few seconds’ notice that there’s a dark force i speeding through the red lights at us. Do you think getting a light is too expensive? too much trouble? LIGHTS ARE REQUIRED BY LAW. Bet you don’t have one.


Mar. 18 2011 10:24 AM

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