In Central Park the police will, supposedly, be handing out traffic tickets to cyclists who ride through red lights, even during car-free hours. Last year around this time, the police were running a bicyclist dragnet on Central Park’s East Drive at about 98th Street (which strikes us as kind of incredible given the lack of police enforcement for motor vehicle moving violations throughout the rest of the city). While we have not heard any reports of bicyclist ticket blitzes this season, a Streetsblog reader wrote a letter of objection to Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe regarding the ticketing policy, and here is the reply that she received:
Dear Parks Patron,
Thank you for your letter regarding bicycling in Central Park.
I understand your frustration with a system that seems to make travel through the park more difficult for cyclists. I’m sure you’ve noticed our parks – especially large parks like Central Park – are more heavily used than ever, with a marked increase in the number of people engaging in active recreation activities. Activity often takes place simultaneously on park roadways and pathways, and park space is shared by many user groups.
Central Park was intentionally designed to accommodate various modes of travel. However, modern automobiles and even bicycles travel at much greater speeds than their counterparts of almost a century ago, and can present a danger to the great numbers of children, the disabled, the elderly, and leashed pets on pedestrian pathways and crosswalks. To help achieve our goal of increasing safety for all park users, we have increased our efforts to enforce vehicular traffic laws on park drives. Motorists are receiving greater numbers of summonses than ever. Bicyclists are also subject to New York State’s vehicular traffic laws, and their cooperation results in a safer park environment for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists alike. Stopping at red lights is part of the vehicular traffic law of New York State, and applies to all road traffic inside and outside city parks.
Many pedestrians, especially those accompanied by children, are often apprehensive about crossing Central Park’s roadways because of bicyclists who fail to yield to pedestrians. Issuing summonses to bicyclists who ignore red lights is one legal tool that effectively curbs reckless cyclists, and raises awareness among cyclists about the very real dangers of failing to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
Ideally, this will result in the same type of self-policing among responsible cyclists that has been adopted by dog owners in our parks.
We do not want to change the state’s traffic laws, however, I appreciate, as do law enforcement personnel, that effective self-policing would reduce the need for stringent enforcement measures.
Parks has been – and remains – a staunch ally of bicycling as both an environmentally sound means of transportation, and an effective way to maintain physical fitness. Our advocacy is supported by the current city administration, which is actively planning for New York City’s future as a "greener" environment. Improving and expanding bicycling opportunities is an important part of this planning.
At Parks, we continue to work with the New York City Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, and advocate organizations such as Bike New York and Transportation Alternatives to support and promote bicycling in New York City.
Our purpose in enforcing vehicular traffic laws is not to discourage bicycling on parkland, but rather to increase safety for cyclists and other park patrons. More and more, bicycles are being recognized and advocated for as practical means of daily transportation for city dwellers. Along with motorists’ acceptance of bicycles as vehicles with equal rights to the road, comes greater responsibility for cyclists to observe vehicular traffic laws.
We appreciate your taking the time to write about this issue, and we welcome this opportunity to clarify our concerns and our actions. Should you have any other questions, please feel free to call our Chief of Urban Park Service, Mike Dockett, at 212-360-2778.