Parks Dept: Central Park Cyclists Must Stop at Traffic Signals

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.


Kevin Jeffrey

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Exactly, Krankenstein. The issue is that with a car, it’s very easy for a rude or careless person to maim or kill someone. It’s a lot harder with a bike or a dog. Not impossible, but a lot harder.

  • Sintesi

    As a cycling patron of the park for over 15 years, at least 3 times a week weather permitting, I guess I’ve seen it all by now. I don’t think it’s productive to divide folks up into “cyclist” “pedestrian” and “car” tribes and then cite the near endless (and justified I’m sure) list of transgressions from each sect.

    Frankly if there should be any dividing and defining of groups it should be between the “thoughtful and courteous” and the “rude and careless” regardless of transportation modes.

    If the city wants to promote safety and not engender resentment from the 2 and 4 wheeled variety of park users traffic enforcement should be comprehensive and crack down on all transgressors period. Time and time again these sporadic and completely ineffective threats of action come from the cops. Honestly, how many ticket blitzes have we been thru? Does anyone think CP traffic safety has greatly improved as a result? Repaving the roads and limiting car hours have done far more to this end, not to mention increase park enjoyment, than any stupid ticket threat.

    Personally if I see another person push a baby carriage onto a Central Park roadway w/ out so much of a glance in either direction I’m going to scream. There’s a nice place to start ticketing jaywalkers – appalling parents risking children’s lives needlessly.

    And yes those chucklheads that think they can treat the south end of the park as their personal racetrack and find it a wonderful thrill to weave and dodge amongst the tourists need to be targeted. Or how about that lone kook that insists on riding down the middle of the road opposite the flow of traffic like noting mattered except him? I got no problem w/ pulling these people over and handing them a nice fat fine.

    Who needs a kick in the pants as well are those utterly rude and inconsiderate pedicabs drivers who ride 3 abreast, make sudden stops and turns on either side of the road and generally disregard the safety and enjoyment of others. They as a commercial enterprise should above all be held to a higher standard of conduct than the average citizen merely out enjoying the sunshine. If it keeps up could someone please revoke their operator privileges? We don’t have these problems w/ the horse cabs do we?

    And finally the cars. How many cyclist have been dangerously buzzed by cars or startled out of your wits by a rude honk from a driver whose bumper menacingly sits a few feet from your back tire? (Every cyclist in the city knows this tactic – am I right? raise your hands) This happens because you’ve strayed outside the bike lane by a foot or two. Never mind the fact that the multi-use running and cycling lanes are jam packed w/, pedestrians joggers and cyclists traveling in every direction (don’t get me started on why this is). Also never mind the fact that 8 times out of 10 the driver has a clear unobstructed choice of lanes. They just want to be hostile that’s all.

    Do you know how easy it is to enforce the law? How easy it is to spot the problem people from each group? VERY EASY! I could right 3 or 4 tickets a lap if Mayor Bloomberg wants to deputize me.

    The cops are lazy and these “ticket blitzes” are patentedly unfair and ineffective. All the police needs is a couple undercover roadie cyclists or rollerbladers and they could solve all their park safety issues in a few weeks.

    I can’t believe the utter mendacity of cop representatives like Kevin Jeffrey when arguing that they are interested in promoting safety in the parks. It’s a pretty simple fix guys.

    PS – I’m one of those road guys w/ the spandex and the helmet and the speed. I’ve logged thousands and thousands of miles in Central Park alone and never had a crack up w/ anyone or anything. It’s not a problem for all of us to get enjoyment out of Central Park if you’re just thoughtful and considerate.

  • Richard

    I walk in Central Park everyday. I continually notice bikers not observing
    red lights. In fact,I have never actually seen a biker stop at a Red light even with several pedestrians crossing. I can’t tell you how many near misses I’ve seen,and sadly I’ve also observed a few accidents. Bikers need to SLOW DOWN and STOP at RED LIGHTS! I only hope someone won’t have to lose there life before real action is taken.

  • Steve

    What happens the other 10% of the time?

  • Steve

    To proponets of removing traffic signals from the CP loop: There is one busy intersection on the loop with a crosswalk but no traffic signal–between 85th and 81st on the West Side. Someone with the time and equipment (DoT? Streetfilms?) could do a 1 hour study of the interaction between pedestrians and bicyclists comparing that intersection and the one following (which has a traffic signal) on a busy summer weekend. The results might show whether the signals make any difference in how people behave and whether there is a safety advantage to either approach.

  • gecko

    Pedestrians should be encouraged to swing across the road on vines.

  • gecko

    BTW, Saw three racoons at the north side of Central Park last night. Had to yell at one to stop it from running in front of me. Worse than a kid on a Razor skooter. Maybe there should be racoon crossings and show them how to use them.

  • steve

    Word to the wise: this morning’s CP Loop bicylist checkpoint was located just outside Sheep Meadow.


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