Officers Stopping Cyclists in Central Park


From Streetsblog commenter Steve:

Project "Look" may include new programmatic law enforcement efforts
targeting bicyclists. Each morning this week we were confronted by a
Parks & Rec. Department law enforcement personnel operating
checkpoints at different locations on the Central Park Loop.

Today’s checkpoint was different than the previous two. There were
two serial checkpoints, with the officers at the first one (located
midway up a downhill stretch) gathering information on the bicyclists
passing them and radioing it down to a more formal checkpoint at the
foot of the hill.

We were actually waved through a red light by the officers up the
hill, I think because they saw that we were going to stop in time for
the red light and thus yield no useful information for the officer at
the foot of the hill.

The officer at the foot of the hill didn’t seem to be giving out
tickets, only warnings. However, we saw him grabbing and detaining
bicyclists who attempted to evade him by riding in the traffic lane
outside the cones, and giving them extra-long warnings. One of these
counseling sessions was actually pretty intense, with the bicyclist
attempting to wrench his arm free.

Photo by ifreedman500/Flickr. Click through to see the shot with notes added. 

  • mike

    You are not required to ride in the bike lane. I think PEP needs to re-read the laws.

  • Pedestrian

    Is this true even if the other lane is used by pedestrians?

  • steve

    I saw two bicyclists grabbed for riding outside the cones, but in both cases, it is possible that the bicyclists were disregarding a directive by the officer to come to a stop in the bike lane so he could counsel them. I can’t say that anyone was warned/detained for riding in the traffic as opposed to the bike lane.

  • While they are at it, I hope these “councilors” are reminding joggers not to use the bike lane. Every morning I have to weave in and out of joggers in the bike lane, many who are often running against traffic!

    I didn’t see any of these officers this morning though.

  • Brooklyn

    Oh please — the nanny state strikes again. I tell you what, no rent-a-cop is going to grab me while I’m on my bike. I ride to go, not to stop.

    The CP roadway is a zoo, the most abused thoroughfare in the city by every mode of transportation. I wouldn’t be caught dead there except on very early mornings.

  • Spud Spudly

    Those guys aren’t rent-a-cops.

    I’m not one of those people who thinks that every bike rider should obey every rule of the road the way cars generally should. I’ve lived here my whole life and have always owned a bike and I’m the first person to blow through a red light when it’s safe to do so on a bike.

    But the fact is that some bicyclists are indeed dangers to others, even on the park roads. I used to spend a lot of time in Prospect Park and there were often groups of spandex boys racing their ten-speeds around the park road in pods of 10-20 people. The big problem is that you can’t hear them coming. You can be strolling down the road and all of a sudden be swarmed by bikes you had no idea were right around the bend. As long as the Parks enforcement people are only stopping dangerous riders then I say good for them.

  • steve

    Spud sounds reasonable for a change. I agree they are not rent-a-cops. From observing them, I think they were told that their primary goal was educational rather than law enforcement. And as much as I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, the only ones who seemed to be trying to avoid the checkpoint (and hence the only ones getting forcibly detained) were the fitness bicyclists. I did not observe the situation long enough to form an opinion as to whether the fitness bicyclists were being “profiled,” in the manner of the NYPD profiling of hipsters on Broadway from 6 pm to 7 pm on the last Friday of each month.

    A checkpoint to warn and remind bicyclists to yield to pedestrians doesn’t bother me. Reasonable law enforcement against bicyclists does not bother me. But I am wondering what “phase II” of this program will look like. If I am right that this is part of project “Look,” it seems to me that DoT can help shape bicyclists’ perceptions and acceptance of this type of program if it would explain program objectives and rationale in advance.

  • Brooklyn

    I’m more in favor of rider education than gratuitously arbitrary rule-enforcing.

    How about Parks Enforcement teaching obviously new riders to be safe and predictable instead of being the asses-on-wheels that I see all the time in parks and on city streets? Smarts and skills will save your life more than stripes, cones and stupidity.

    Oh, that’s right — the last time you saw Parks Enforcement on a bike is . . . never. Much better to wave some sign at the bottom of a hill and force every unfortunate schmoe to come screeching to a halt.

    Don’t let the vainly starched white shirt in the pic above fool you — most of these “peace officers” are more like Missy Foo on the right of the pic, bending back the chicken wire with her fat ass. All they have are radios, and all those radios can call is Parks dispatch.

    No one in that pic is going to chase you down. Just don’t be so dumb as to loop back around — kick a cone into the grass and leave the park.

  • evan

    i don’t get it. someone please explain what they are stopping the cyclists for. speed? red lights? no bells?

  • steve

    I think the cyclist in the picture was being stopped for having allegedly blown through a red light at a previous intersection up the hill. I didn’t hear anyone getting warned for anything other than red lights, but I was only there for about 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure they are not stopping people for lights, which aren’t required from dawn ’til dusk in any event–we had none, and we were not stopped. Also, one of our bikes was missing its horn, they didn’t stop us for that either. Plus, they waved us through the red light mid-way up the hill when they saw that we were going to brake for it, saving us some of our momentum. The conclusion I draw is that they were only concerned with bicyclists who did not appear to be stopping for red lights.

  • Dave H.

    “Plus, they waved us through the red light mid-way up the hill when they saw that we were going to brake for it, saving us some of our momentum. The conclusion I draw is that they were only concerned with bicyclists who did not appear to be stopping for red lights.”

    If true, then the implied logic is: “you can run red lights as long you know you aren’t supposed to?”

    We’ll try this next time: “Honestly, officer, I knew I wasn’t supposed to.”

  • alex


    I think we have gone over this before, but it would be great to see the parks folks use similar vigor to educate motorists about the dangers of travelling at high speeds in the park. As an example, as I ran on the Bridle Path this morning, I noted that the average vehicle careened rather precariously through the rest of the CP loop – this became especially clear when a motorist or two actually followed the posted speed limit and were aggresively honked at and passed by the typical-speeding vehicle.
    Equity in enforcement seems reasonable and is definitely not the case at present.

  • Hilary

    Does Parks Enforcement have the jurisdiction over motorists to issue tickets for traffic violations? If so, is it unique to this park or does it apply to any park with a road through it?

  • steve

    Dave, there was an arbitrary feel to the operation of these checkpoints, but at the same time, the more traditional method–handing out summonses–would have seemed even more arbitrary. As a commuter, I don’t experience these checkpoints as particularly instrusive, it’s no different than any other red light I might stop for.

    For fitness/speed training cyclists, being forced to come to a full stop is clearly a bigger issue. In one case the cyclist being detained was incensed that he was being physically delayed in proceeding with his lap for a harangue on the importance of stopping on red. Forcing these cyclists to stop at red lights in the park will be akin to Guiliani’s effort back int he 1990s to generally enforce the jaywalking laws.

    Alex, I agree motorists speeding on the loop are a serious problem. Transportation Alternatives have documented that speeding is the norm rather than the expcetion. Enforcement is limited to non-existent. If these checkpoints are part of the “Look” awareness campaign, that speeding should also be addressed. At a minimum, they could install for a few weeks one of those automated radar readers that shows in large, highly visible numbers exactly how fast each car is going as compared to the 25 MPH limit. Position it randomly in a new location on the Loop each weekday morning. I think it would slow many, perhaps most motorists down. I would be nice, as a cyclist, to be able to point to something objective to make motorists slow down.

  • Matt H

    A friend and I were stopped at the light this morning between the Sheep Meadow and Tavern On The Green. It wasn’t that big a deal; then again, there is that small uphill immediately before it.

    We had a little chat with the guy (among other things, asking if cars were really supposed to be in the southeast corner of the park before 8 AM*), and one of the things he mentioned was that the Parks Enforcement group doesn’t stop motorists anymore. They used to at some unspecified time in the past, but their bosses decided that they didn’t want them doing that without being armed with guns. (!)

    * The motorists in that part of the park got angry that we had taken over the left lane to do some passing instead of riding in the bike lane. I didn’t have a chance to explain to them that it works the other way around: that we’re allowed in the traffic lane, and contrariwise they’re _not_ allowed in the bike lane.

  • steve


    Was the stop you had this morning at a “formal” checkpoint with cones and mutliple officers, or was it a more casual situation with a single officer?

    And good for you for taking the traffic lanes prior to 8 am!

  • Olmstead Vaux

    Brad Aaron writes in the Intro: “I think because they saw that we were going to stop in time for the red light ”

    Thanks for implying ( streetsblog would never ADMIT it) that cyclists normally run red lights.

    Keep up the good work, PEP, making the Park safe for pedestrians from cyclists who are always narrowly missing us by constantly ignoring basic safety laws and common civility.

  • steve

    #17, Brad Aaron did not write that statement, I did. You cannot imply from the statement that cyclists normally fail to stop for red lights. I said nothing about what the other cyclists were doing, or what the other cyclists (or we) normally do. Your unwarranted inference and generalizations about what bicyclists are “always” and “constantly” doing suggest a willingness to substitute “implications” based on your own prejudices for fact.

    I think everyone on this site (including those who run it) knows and acknowledges that a substantial portion of NYC bicyclists proceed through red lights. This issue and other bicyclist transgressions are often and robustly debated here. The fact that pedestrians routinely proceed through red lights and travel in the roadway outside of the crosswalk is debated far less. The reason is that most people on/running this site are not focused on enforcing the letter of the law as much as trying to develop a more fundamental understanding of traffic dynamics among motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians that focuses on environmental and transportation policy, safety and civility, rather than allocations of rights and obligations in the abstract. You allude in a conclusory way to safety and civility, but without explaining what you are actually referring to, so you are not really helping to catalyze the open dialogue that you seem to be criticizing the site for squelching.

  • Olmstead Vaux

    Dear Steve,
    You write:
    “The reason is that most people on/running this site are not focused on enforcing the letter of the law ”

    Perhaps you should, if you want respect from the vast majority of citizens who do not cycle.

    “I think because they saw that we were going to stop in time for the red light”
    OK, you may not have “implied”, but your statement led me to ‘infer”. In this case, I believed, I inferred correctly.

    “based on your own prejudices for fact.”
    Of course ‘prejudices’ are not ‘facts’
    However, ‘postjudices’ are, because I have empirical evidence, after the fact, that most cyclists – the vast, vast majority, in fact – do not obey the law.

    Even you agree with my postjudices.

    Furthermore, if most everyone in NYC break the law by jaywalking, as you claim correctly,then cyclists, since they are ultimately pedestrians, break yet another law.

    Wish I could engage in this delightful Socratic dialogue all afternoon, but I must work.

    Ta Ta

  • steve

    #19, I would agree that the vast majority of us commit violations of the law every day as we move about the city, whether by car, bicycle, foot or even mass transit. I don’t agree that the “vast majority” of bicyclists violate the law in a manner that distinguishes them from pedestrians or motorists in terms of either the frequency of the violations, or the degree of danger caused or incivility demonstrated. If you have empirical evidence for that proposition, I’d like to see it.

    Your assertion that the “vast majority of citizens who do not cycle” will not respect me or others unless we “focus[] on enforcing the letter of the law” is wrong. As everyday conduct demonstrates, there are more important things than enforcing the letter of the traffic laws (putting aside the fact that you would need more law enforcement officers per citizen than the Shah maintained in pre-revolutionary Iran in order to do so).

    That said, I have spoken out many times on this site against bicyclists riding on the sidewalk or counter-flow to traffic, or passing through red lights in a manner that jeopardizes or threatens pedestrians. These things are dangerous and rude, and hurt the cause of bicyclists. In my experience only a minority of bicyclists do these things.

  • psycholist

    I think the LOOK campaign is positive overall. Makes sense to try to get everyone on the street to play by the same rules – needs to be more civil. Personally I don’t think it particularly makes sense for bikes to follow the exact same rules as cars but there needs to be some common ground. There’s always going to be the ignorant anti-bike crowd to deal with but that’s ok, nobody’s perfect! I’m surprised that Olmstead/Vaux is such a proponent of cars considering they both died before cars were popularized 🙂 And what’s the deal – in the afterlife they fused into one? What kind of spiritual world shenanigans is that?

  • Has there been discussion of ways to curb people from riding bikes on the sidewalks? I’m not talking about toddlers on tricycles. I’m talking about folks who zoom past me en route to a park. Not cool. Not safe.

  • Olmstead Vaux

    Psycholist responds:
    “I don’t think it particularly makes sense for bikes to follow the exact same rules as cars ”

    So, pycholist, you pick and choose which laws are to be followed? That’s OK, if you support anarchy. And who gave you the authority to decide?

    “I’m surprised that Olmstead/Vaux is such a proponent of cars”
    You didn’t do so well in Reading Comprehension on the SATs, did you? I never even said a word about cars. Boy, talk about pre-judging.

    All I said is that it appeared that Steve was implying ( Or, I inferred) that cyclists often break the law. Certainly they do more than motorists, who face all sorts of sanctions and punishments and fines.

    Further:”both died before cars were popularized”
    Olmstead and Vaux designed the Park Drives for horses and carriages. Then came horseless carriages. Would you prefer to have galloping wild animals circling the park? Have you ever cleaned horse manure off your shoes? What a way to spend an afternoon in the park

    Jaime has a point above:Has there been discussion of ways to curb people from riding bikes on the sidewalks?

    It would suit you better than excoriating pedestrians.

  • steve

    Jaime, you should just speak up and explain to the sidewalk bicyclists why they are unsafe and inappropriate. Same as if you saw someone failing to clean up their dog’s poop, or if someone was jabbing you repeatedly while they turn page of the paper on the subway, or if a driver trying to beat you into a crosswalk. I know you say they are “zooming” past, but I bet you will be able to get a few words in if you try, and you will probably end up engaging and influencing some of them.

    Also, you can also carry around some of the flyers found here ( (you will be most interested in the second page of the pdf) and give them out. I give them out to bicyclists and motorists alike.

    #23, in asserting that bicyclists violate the law more often than motorists, you seem to be ignoring that motorists in NYC exceed the 30 MPH limit and stand their cars in traffic lanes, bus stops, bike lanes and no standing zones, at the same or greater frequency that bicyclists pass through red lights. And motorists “block the box” (or the crosswalk), fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, and “slip” through a signal just before or after the light has turned red at the same or greater frequency as bicyclists fail to yield to pedestrians, ride counterflow, or ride on the sidewalk. Just watch a moderately busy intersection for 10 minutes.

    BTW, with your comparison of bicyclist vs. motorist lawlessness, are you implicitly conceding that pedestrians are the most lawless of all? They are, you know. But I’m OK with that, except for the truly egregious violations where the pedestrian enters the roadway without the right of way and avoids eye contact or any other measures to avoid a collision.

  • Matt H

    Hi Steve,

    Yep, there was a formal checkpoint with cones at the light. We saw it from a ways away and knew not to try blowing that particular light.


  • Dave H.

    “Not cool. Not safe”

    Jamie, I agree. I’m not sure what could be done though other than stepped up police enforcement (is this really worth it, though? maybe…) or just plain yelling at them.

  • psycholist

    Olmie – you are such a crank! If you weren’t so eager for a fight you would notice that I wrote “it doesn’t make sense for bikes to follow the same laws”, not that I advocate people breaking laws. I would not want to be responsible for anarchy in the streets! Seems your own reading comprehension skills are not as sharp as you’d like to believe. In re-reading your post I see that it was more anti-bike than pro-auto, please forgive my assumption. And you should ease up on the vocab lessons – at least until you learn how to spell your own name correctly. By the way, bikes are not pedestrians – a bike is clearly a vehicle. You can tell by the wheels attached at either end. And yes, the park paths were designed for horse and carriage – thank you for supporting my point, Olmsted and Vaux were both deceased before the car was popularized. I don’t know why your comments are so angry and uncivil, people of differing viewpoints should be able to converse without condescension.

  • Ian Turner

    Olmstead Vaux –

    Although it is true in theory that motorists “face all sorts of sanctions and punishments and fines” for breaking the law, that theory applies equally well to cyclists, and indeed to all citizens regardless of their transportation choices. But the reality in New York City is that nobody — not cars, not cyclists, and certainly not pedestrians — faces any real enforcement of traffic laws.

    As a motorist, you must perform some truly outrageous violation or string of violations to receive any attention at all from law enforcement — speeding, dangerous lane changing, and intimidation of road users of all modes is the accepted norm. Cyclists and pedestrians are guilty of the same degree of recklessness and for the most part receive the same (lack of) treatment from the authorities.

    All that said, however, there is an important distinction to be drawn between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians: The weightier and faster the vehicle, the more dangerous recklessness becomes. As a pedestrian, you would really have to work at it to injure, let alone kill, anyone but yourself. As a cyclist, you might be able to intentionally injure an inattentive pedestrian at some risk to your own life. But as a motorist, you could quickly and easily kill tens of pedestrians with no real personal risk whatsoever — not even risk of prosecution!


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