Hundreds Ask NYPD to Cease Irrational Bike Crackdown in Central Park

Photo: Ken Coughlin

A crowd of 300 people, outraged at a police ticket blitz that threatens to effectively eliminate Central Park as a place of recreation for cyclists, ran into an unyielding blue wall at last night’s meeting of the Central Park Precinct’s community council. The precinct commander, Captain Philip Wishnia, offered no hope that his precinct’s enforcement of red-light laws at each of the loop road’s 47 traffic lights will abate, nor any assurances that his officers will exercise meaningful discretion.

Both Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Upper West Side City Council Member Gale Brewer made brief statements at the meeting, urging exploration of a proposal to change the traffic lights to blinking yellow when cars are not in the park. Brewer, however, grasped the essence of the problem. Noting that she has had a bill before the council since 2006 calling for a trial closing of the park to cars, Brewer said, “Let’s get cars out of the park and change the current policy.”

Central Park precinct commander Philip Wishnia. Photo: NYPD
Central Park Precinct Commander Philip Wishnia. Photo: NYPD

Wishnia initially tried to claim that the precinct’s sudden crackdown is in response to a “dramatic increase in incidents over the years,” an assertion that he failed to substantiate. When speaker after speaker challenged the claim, Wishnia would eventually fall back on the explanation that he is simply being instructed by higher-ups to enforce the law and has no flexibility. He suggested audience members talk to their legislators if they want a change.

Here are some further highlights, if you can call them that (many thanks to audience members Steve Vaccaro and Lisa Sladkus for their notes):

  • Wishnia said that 230 summonses have been issued to cyclists so far this year, compared to 160 speeding summonses issued to drivers all of last year and 62 the prior year. Wishnia maintained the summonses given to cyclists are “not a lot” and that it “doesn’t amount to zero tolerance enforcement.”
  • “We cyclists don’t understand how routine speeding by motorists in the park is condoned and even encouraged in this way, but you can’t allow a cyclist to ride through a red light in a deserted intersection in the park,” said Vaccaro. “How can an officer have the discretion to ignore one, but not the other?”
  • Wishnia responded: “My officers have discretion. Not everyone who went through a light got a summons.” But when a cyclist asked under what circumstances he could go through a red light without getting a ticket, Wishnia replied, “I won’t tell you what your window of opportunity is.”
  • One audience member presented his calculation that a park visitor has an infinitesimal chance of being struck by a cyclist (35 million park visitors in 2010 vs. 43 incidents involving cyclists and pedestrians, an unknown number of which were not the cyclist’s fault). When Wishnia was pressed by this and other questioners on his evidence for a problem warranting the current crackdown, he declared, “Even one injury is too many.”
  • Stephen Bauman of the Five Borough Bicycle Club made a detailed legal argument that cyclists are not subject to Vehicle and Traffic Laws during non-car hours. “I think you’re making up the law,” Bauman said. “VTL does not apply directly to bicycles, and only to roadways ‘ordinarily used for vehicular travel.'”
  • Wishnia claimed that the crashes involving bikes typically happen when the cars aren’t in the park. “I can guarantee you that if you ban cars in the park, there will be more crashes.”
  • More from Wishnia: “When you’re leaned over your racing handlebars, you’re not looking out for pedestrians.”
  • Wishnia refused to address a question about why officers don’t try to keep joggers out of the bike lane. “Right now we’re talking about cyclists, not runners. There are lots of other things we could talk of.”
  • An 8-year-old girl asked Wishia: “If cyclists are being killed all the time, why are they being punished?”
  • “I believe in this little yellow light idea that would give cyclists the right to use the park,” said Stringer. “I sent a letter to DOT. If we (i.e. cyclists) respect the yellow light, we shouldn’t be hitting cyclists with $270 tickets.”
  • Wishnia estimated the crowd at 300 but claimed that the room could be filled with just as many who favor the current enforcement regime. “Where are they?” the crowd roared back.

Where do we go from here? Your comments appreciated.

  • Al

    Most of what Wishnia said is BS except for one, “I can guarantee you that if you ban cars in the park, there will be more crashes.” This is very true. One thing that cars do when they are in the park is that they enforce order that is not there when they are not there. Try riding your bike on a warm, sunny spring day. You will see just how difficult it is.

  • Jayne

    all the cyclists who have received tickets should get together and file suite against the city

  • cyclist formerly known as central park cyclist

    Where can we ride now during the week without being hassled?

  • jt

    Wishnia said that 230 summonses have been issued to cyclists so far this year, compared to 160 speeding summonses issued to drivers all of last year and 62 the prior year.”

    Dang. That tells you a lot about NYPD priorities.

  • jt

    I wrote to Wisnia a couple times by email – I think about six or eight weeks ago, and again about four weeks ago. Never heard back, which is OK, but if no one is even checking his email they should indicate that, or make it bounce.

    The captain of the precinct I live in freely gives out his email address to people who he meets with, though he also directs them to email specific members of his staff about specific issues.

  • jt

    “Does any other park have its own precinct?”

    Yes. http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/home/precincts.shtml

  • JhunLup

    @ Wishnia and Al

    “I can guarantee you that if you ban cars in the park, there will be more crashes.”

    I can guarantee that if you ban bikes and other recreational users in Central PARK, the cars won’t have anything to hit either. 0 crashes.

    This is the mindset we are dealing with here.

  • @BicyclesOnly

    The 78th Has Prospect Park. They have been abusive towards cyclists for years, but instead of profiling roadies doing laps they go for harassing Brooklyn CM participants and intimidating cyclists at CB6 meetings, and others in the streets.

    I suspect John Argenziano and the rest of the clowns at the 78th are keeping a low profile until the NBBL/PPW heat dies down. Then they can start ticketing hipsters in Prospect Park for running reds.

  • craig

    Since the cycling tickets are issued at a rate that is out of proportion to any other types of tickets, it would seem to me that the Police officers are probably incentivized in some way. I suspect that the very high fine and ease of issuing the tickets for cycling violations helps the officers reach their quotas faster.

    Dog walkers who let their dogs go unleashed are the biggest threat to cyclists in central park. Yet when I have pointed out violators to officers, they have not made the effort to ticket those dog walkers. I suspect that the reason for this is that it is too difficult to do so and may be a lower fine amount.

    The cyclists who should be ticketed are the delivery men who
    1- ride black bikes without lights or reflectors at night
    2- ride against traffic in the center of the street
    3- have batteries on their bikes giving them them the ability to move at high speeds.

    Horse droppings fill highly trafficked areas of the park with a foul odor. The entire upper west side is filled with dog droppings and unleashed dogs. These are the things I want our Police department to focus on. Ticketing a person trying to get their exercise is an insult to the taxpayer.

  • Suzanne

    “The cyclists who should be ticketed are the delivery men who… have batteries on their bikes giving them them the ability to move at high speeds.”

    Excuse me. I have a battery on my bike and not only am I constantly passed by non-motorized bikes (mostly because I don’t feel comfortable riding as if I’m in a velodrome) but the bike *can’t go* any faster than 20 mph. I don’t see how anyone can say that’s high speed. Even those stupid gas driven bikes are putputters (altough I wish they’d get rid of them because they seem to stink worse than cars!)

  • Joe R.

    I agree Suzanne. I’ve kept up with motorized bikes going full tilt for miles, although admittedly I was getting a good workout doing so. And passing them on even the mildest of downgrades is relatively easy. 20 mph isn’t “high speed” by any measure. Even for bikes, it’s more like medium speed. Any decent cyclist can break 40 mph on some of the hills we have in the city. That’s getting into “high-speed” territory, but of course I only do those kinds of speeds when the roads are empty.

    Don’t even get me started on those stupid gas-driven bikes. Between the noise and smell, those are what should be illegal. Electric bikes on the other hand are a great way to increase the range/speed of anyone unable to ride a bike longer distances.

  • Daphna

    I support Joe R. and Suzanne. I think electric bikes are fine. I do not see those riders going especially fast. Those bikes are quiet. A rider on an electric assist bike is just as vulnerable as any other bicyclist. They have to take the same care as any other rider because if they hit anything they themselves will be hurt.

    I wish the whole bicycling community would band together. I am disgusted when I hear bicyclists disparaging electric bike riders. More riders on the street make it safer for everyone so each additional rider is a good thing. When less than 1% of modal share commute by bike in NYC as now, the bike community can not afford to start tearing apart their ranks when there are so few.

    It is such a misconception to think of bicyclists as dangerous to pedestrians. A bicyclist is going to make sure to the best of his/her ability that he/she does not hit anyone because the rider him/herself would likely be hurt far more than the pedestrian. Bicyclists can not go around hitting people with impunity. The physics of a two-wheel vehicle in motion do not work that way. Any bicyclist who has any care about his/her own well-being, is going to make sure he/she does not hit anyone. This whole idea that you have to put up signs all over (parks, greenway, etc) telling riders to yield is absurd because of course riders will yield, otherwise they will be hurt themselves!

  • Rick

    Really? Come on? Really? Wishnia has no authority and shouldn’t have been at this meeting. If he keeps referring to “higher ups” who are mandating the crackdown then he, as well as them, are truly douchebags. Yes, I said it. I refuse to believe in the cowardess and spineless nature of the people who enforce what amounts to the opposite of common sense.

    And no, I don’t want to hide behind a name or pseudonym. My email is RKrupa7799@yahoo. Have at it.

  • Gary Irvin

    OUT-FUCKING-RAGEOUS! IVE BEEN RIDING A BIKE SAFELY IN THIS TOWN SINCE
    1970.  BACK THEN IF YOU HAD MENTIONED THAT THERE SHOULD BE BIKE LANES IN
    THIS CAR-CRAZY CULTURE YOU RISKED BEING THROWN TO THE GROUND AND
    BEATEN. NOW THE CITY HAS SPENT MILLIONS TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO RIDE
    BIKES. AT THE SAME TIME OUR HEROES IN  BLUE HAVE GONE NUTSO IN TRYING TO
    DISCOURAGE THEM. IVE AVOIDED THE PARK ALL THIS SUMMER BECAUSE OF THIS.
    BUT IVE SEEN COPS ISSUE TICKETS IN THE VILLAGE FOR POINTLESS
    INFRACTIONS. AND NOW WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH COPS HARASSING GIRLS WITH
    PURITAN MORALITY STANDARDS. THIS COP CAPTAIN’S RESPONSES TO PERFECTLY
    LOGICAL QUESTIONS WERE WERE ROTE ANSWERS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN GENERATED
    BY  ROBOCOP.  WHY DOESNT BLOOMBERG, WHO HAS TAKEN A REVOLUTIONARY STEP
    TO ENCOURAGE BIKE USE, HAVE A QUIET WORD WITH ROBOCOP? AND GO AFTER THE
    MESSENGERS WHO ARE THE REAL SOURCE OF PEDESTRIAN COMPLAINTS.

  • Gary Irvin

    OUT-FUCKING-RAGEOUS! IVE BEEN RIDING A BIKE SAFELY IN THIS TOWN SINCE
    1970.  BACK THEN IF YOU HAD MENTIONED THAT THERE SHOULD BE BIKE LANES IN
    THIS CAR-CRAZY CULTURE YOU RISKED BEING THROWN TO THE GROUND AND
    BEATEN. NOW THE CITY HAS SPENT MILLIONS TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO RIDE
    BIKES. AT THE SAME TIME OUR HEROES IN  BLUE HAVE GONE NUTSO IN TRYING TO
    DISCOURAGE THEM. IVE AVOIDED THE PARK ALL THIS SUMMER BECAUSE OF THIS.
    BUT IVE SEEN COPS ISSUE TICKETS IN THE VILLAGE FOR POINTLESS
    INFRACTIONS. AND NOW WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH COPS HARASSING GIRLS WITH
    PURITAN MORALITY STANDARDS. THIS COP CAPTAIN’S RESPONSES TO PERFECTLY
    LOGICAL QUESTIONS WERE WERE ROTE ANSWERS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN GENERATED
    BY  ROBOCOP.  WHY DOESNT BLOOMBERG, WHO HAS TAKEN A REVOLUTIONARY STEP
    TO ENCOURAGE BIKE USE, HAVE A QUIET WORD WITH ROBOCOP? AND GO AFTER THE
    MESSENGERS WHO ARE THE REAL SOURCE OF PEDESTRIAN COMPLAINTS.

  • Mike

    I am scheduled for a court appearance on July 11th for a ticket running red lights in central park.  Has anyone tried to fight a similar ticket or is it a waste of time?

  • Pminicam

    Garry I’m with You!

    I have been on my bike in CP for More than 30 years,I have never hit or run into any person. I HAVE been taken down twice by dogs who’s owners had elected to walk their animals off a leash! I HAVE been forced into traffic by runners wearing NYRR wear who were running in my lane. I HAVE been told that I cannot ride on thr ROADS that lace through the park. I SHALL continue to ride my bike, in a civil and safe and responsible manner, wherever I choose!!!

  • Bicycles don’t burn oil. That simple fact is threatening to our corrupt government.

  • Estée

    Wishnia is nothing but an oxygen thief.

  • JAFO

    I and 2 other unrelated cyclist stopped at a red light by the boathouse where we witnessed another cyclist getting a ticket. Since we had time we asked him what happened. He said he had come to the red light, dismounted, walked across the road and was given a summons on the other side. We looked at the cops (dreaded park rangers really) in disbelief and they said “You have to stop at red lights” Someone asked how many tickets they had given to pedestrians for doing the same thing. There was no reply.,

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

NYPD’s Selective Approach to Selective Enforcement in Central Park

|
NYPD’s official stance on traffic violations committed by cyclists in Central Park is one of zero tolerance. At least that’s the word from Captain Philip Wishnia, commander of the Central Park Precinct, who met with the parks and preservation committee of Community Board 7 this week. The West Side Spirit reports that when committee members […]

Reason Makes a Comeback in Central Park

|
It may now be safe for cyclists who want to get some exercise — as opposed to waiting for lights to turn green or for officers to finish writing $270 tickets — to return to Central Park. At a meeting Wednesday night with representatives of groups that use the park’s loop road, the Central Park […]

Tonight: Ask NYPD for a Return to Sanity in Central Park

|
Major crimes in Central Park may be up by 50 percent, but that hasn’t stopped significant resources from being spent on the ongoing NYPD crackdown targeting recreational cyclists in the park. Precinct officers are stopping cyclists for a variety of infractions, including spot equipment checks for missing bells and lights, but most notoriously are handing […]

UWS Shows Support for Car-Free Park, But Broader Campaign Is Lacking

|
Last night’s unanimous votes in support of a summer-long car-free Central Park by Manhattan Community Board 7’s parks and transportation committees moved the ball forward for advocates of car-free parks. With no movement at the mayoral level on the issue, any successful push will have to come from the bottom up. Similar statements of community […]