Despite Pressure From CB 7, Riverside Park Keeps “No Cycling” Policy

Efforts to replace these dismount signs in Riverside Park are stalling, but Manhattan CB 7 is keeping up the pressure on the Parks Department. Image:
Efforts to replace these dismount signs in Riverside Park are stalling, but Manhattan CB 7 is keeping up the pressure on the Parks Department.

The parks committee of Manhattan Community Board 7 restated its support for shared bike/pedestrian paths through Riverside Park and Central Park last night. In Central Park, the shared paths would create new east-west routes through the park, while in Riverside, the community board is fighting against the Parks Department’s surprise imposition of dismount signs on what was once a part of the greenway system.

In Central Park, progress is continuing apace, reported committee co-chair Klari Neuwelt. She said that Doug Blonsky, the head of the Central Park Conservancy, had told her that plans to allow bikes on certain east-west pedestrian paths through the park were moving forward around 102nd Street, 97th Street, and in the 80s. “You’ll have options in Central Park,” promised Neuwelt.

She added, however, that the plan to allow bikes to take the 72nd Street Cross Drive across the park is moving more slowly through the Department of Transportation than hoped.

In Riverside Park, however, a victory that seemed to be in hand remains elusive. Neuwelt said that she had been informed that the dismount signs in Riverside Park were to be replaced with signs urging bikes to ride slowly and share the space with pedestrians. Then, however, the Parks Committee received what Neuwelt called “a pretty weasely e-mail back from John Herrold,” the administrator of Riverside Park, shying away from any such commitment.

The Parks Committee promised to keep on top of Riverside Park to see that the dismount signs are removed. “We’re working on it,” said Neuwelt. “We’re not about to be taken for patsies either.”

In the long term, engineering efforts to take some pressure off the 72nd Street entrance to Riverside Park are still being pursued. CB 7 chair Mel Wymore noted that as part of the Riverside Center negotiations, funding was allocated to create a new ramp from 72nd Street to the greenway, so cyclists will go from road to greenway without passing through the park. The committee also pledged to continue pursuing the plan to create bike access from the 79th Street boat basin to the greenway.

In the short term, though, they said that getting rid of the dismount signs is the top priority. “There’s always going to be a need for bikers to enter at 72nd,” said Neuwelt.

  • Glenn

    I will continue to ride at a walking pace and always yield to pedestrians on any park path regardless of signage when there is not a dedicated cyclist path to get from point A to point B. Parks should provide more connective paths than regular city streets. It’s a sad state of affairs when parks are obstacles to connective bike paths rather than backbones of the citywide cycling network.

    Similarly, if routes cannot be found for bikes to go through parks, I suggest the same burden at least be applied to automobile paths in parks and even highways that were originally run through what was parkland.

  • Why bother to take them down when almost no one obeys them anyway?

  • butters

    This blows a lil bit, but Central Park crossings are a much bigger deal. Walking your bike west through Riverside Drive is annoying but quick. Trying to cross Central Park is annoying as hell. Although I’m not sure I’ll trust any trans-Central Park routes while the ticket blitz is in effect …

  • Ken

    Here’s one very good reason to replace the Dismount signs with something more realistic. The current signs are giving the self-righteous license to create incidents like the following:

    Late one afternoon before Christmas I was laboring up the 72nd St. path from the river. It was 35 degrees, the path was nearly empty, and I didn’t feel like dismounting. Besides, I checked my speedometer and I was doing a blistering 4 mph. Towards the top of the hill an older woman was walking towards me pushing a small cart. When I moved to my right to avoid her, it became clear that she intended to block my way. As I shifted left, she screamed, “You’re supposed to dismount!” and rammed her cart into the side of my bike, fortunately missing my spokes. As I pulled myself free she characterized me as “a piece of human garbage.”

  • Marco

    As the park leadership decides whether the area around the 72nd street path maintains its character as a recreational area or changes into a transitway, I hope they keep the signs up and stick with recreational area. Bicycles zooming around human (and canine) chicanes has no place in Riverside Park.

    TA astutely observes in the Blueprint for the UWS – “New Yorkers do their living out on the block. And just as it wouldn’t make sense to drive through a backyard BBQ at 50 mph, it is crucial that New Yorkers feel safe in their
    public outdoor spaces.” It’s awfully cynical to think that cyclists are unable to play their part in keeping non-cycling park users comfortable and safe using their park. It’s a park. Kids should be able to run across paved pathways without the danger of getting clipped. And it’s not as if bicycles are *banned* from these few hundred feet of pathway – they are welcomed if they are not being ridden.

    All Riverside Park users make accomodations for the greater good: ball playing is restricted from passive lawns, adults without kids are not permitted in the playgrounds, squirrels are not allowed to be fed, dogs aren’t allowed in many fenced areas. We all sort of work together to get along. Nobody gets extensive hearings and notice – there’s no big drama. I simply it hard to believe that people could argue that cyclists are unable to participate in this normal dynamic.

    I recognize that the pedestrian is not the priority of TA or this blog, but “livable streets” in the truest sense of the term means more than promoting cycling over all other modes of transport when conflict arises. I believe in livable streets and I believe that cyclists should walk the 72nd street path.

  • Glenn

    Marco – saying that bikes are welcome as long as they are not ridden is like saying that pedestrians are welcome as long as they crawl. Or that joggers are welcome as long as they just walk at a brisk pace.

    Riding at a walking pace and yielding to pedestrians endangers no one. And saying that TA and Streetsblog don’t advocate for pedestrians is absolutely incorrect. They both have made more strides to advocate for real solutions that have proven to be effective in practice while too many people are distracted by thinking up various schemes to deter people from cycling.

  • Marco

    Glenn – that’s silly. I’d imagine every cyclist that leaves home walks their bike out of their building, across the sidewalk and into the street. Walking a bike is walking a bike. It’s not something else – let’s not get overly dramatic.

    I’m an *ardent* proponent of protected bike lanes, increased vehicular enforcement, congestion pricing, community-friendly development and eleventy thousand other things that promote liveable streets. However, TA and the other Gorton outlets operate in a spirit of cyclist primacy and confrontation that I’m not comfortable with. Do they advocate for pedestrians? Absolutely. When pedestrians and cyclists are in tension? Absolutely not.

    I truly question why unrestricted cycling on this particular pedestrian path is the battle they’re choosing. It is an anti-pedestrian, anti-livable streets fight against the majority of park users.

  • Danny

    Ken, I think I’ve run into the same old womsn. She called me a human piece of shit and attempted to punch me off my bike. She also told me she hoped I died a horrible death. Really a lovely encounter.

    Marco, I like what you say about everyone working hard to get along. But the real issue is a design issue, and until a proper cycling path is created, everyone has to work hard to share a badly designed path. Improvements to its design could be made. For example, fences cordon off dog runs. Some simple pavement markings could help?
    Cyclists should be allowed to ride through but should ideally be considerate of all other users, and vice versa. I don’t think your line of thought requires cyclists to dismount, but just to be better citizens towards others.
    The reason this battle is being chosen is because without this path there is no continuous bike access to the greenway from 59th to 84th. The same cannot be said of pedestrians, who have plentiful access.

  • Marco

    Danny – you’re right that there are probably other solutions, and I’d love it if those were explored and evaluated before calling for eliminating the current solution we have now. There’s quite a bit of impatience and carelessness by cyclists on the 72nd street path as well as in the park itself between the ramps down to the greenway (between 91st and 87th). Many cyclists are responsible, but others are already clearly in “race mode” heading down to the water.

    I’m wrong about a lot of things, so I very well might be wrong about this, but if cyclists continue to fight every battle against pedestrians when a space conflict arises, they will absolutely lose the larger war. TA and Upper West Side Streets Renaissance look like phenomenal hypocrites when they refuse to argue for pedestrian safety when bicycles are the concern.

    As an old-skool Jane Jacobs fan and legit environmentalist, it bothers me a bit when Streetsblog posters and commenters act as if every concern expressed about cyclists is part of a conspiracy by old men in a Mason’s lodge or something. As if there is a genetic bias towards anti-cycling, or that the media is conspiring against bicycles. Yes, there are people who are uninformed, stupid and misanthropic and have uninformed, stupid and misanthropic reasons to criticize cycling and cyclists. But most people have reasonable, real reasons and experiences on which they base their positions on their experiences.

    A true livable streets philosophy accomodates these real reasons. It does not automatically advocate for cycling over all other community members’ uses for our shared space. To the extent that TA/Upper West Side Streets Renaissance is truly trying to be a livable communities advocate, it has made a significant misjudgment.

  • Marco,

    You seem like a reasonable person. You should know that Transportation Alternatives and and Upper West side Streets Renaissance take the tension between cyclists and pedestrians seriously and do not always resolve it in favor of cyclists.

    I for one, and the other advocates I work closely with at both organizations, believe that shared park pathways have to be handled on a case-by-case basis. The best practice is to avoid the conflicts in the first place with engineering. That is, channel cyclist and pedestrian traffic separately, with separate routes, or using paint to split a single route into designated space with signage and other control devices (and enforcement as necessary) to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians respect each others’ space. These arrangements work because most cyclists are sensitive to the impact they have on pedestrian park users (including older people, people with dogs or small children, joggers, etc.) and so they act responsibly and observe the restrictions on them in these shared settings.

    The portion of the Greenway running alongside the Hudson is an obvious example of how this system works. Even on the very narrow strip alongside Chelsea Piers, where cyclists, pedestrians have to share not only with each other but also the considerable motor vehicle traffic crossing the pathway, folks get along and I’m not aware of significant injuries occurring in this spot.

    In some cases, pathways are simply too narrow for the combined traffic and respecting each others’ rights requires cyclists to dismount. For example, where such conditions exist in the proposed Central Park crosstown shared routes that Klari Neuwelt of the CB 7 Transportation Committee mentioned at the meeting, mandatory dismount zones have been part of the discussion and likely will be incorporated into the final design. The cycling advocates involved in those discussions with Doug Blonsky have not categorically or reflexively ruled dismount zones out.

    This willingness to cede space to pedestrians is shown in a few examples. In the case of the Riverside Park paths, there are two paths at issue (69th and 72nd), but advocates, reasonably, have focused on just the wider and less steep 72nd Street path. On the other hand, the 72nd Street path has been shared, relatively peacefully, by pedestrian and cyclists for over a decade. It has been marked as a part of the West Side Greenway on the NYC Cycling Map, published jointly by the Departments of Parks and of Transportation, for at least 9 years. last spring, a small group of park users caught the ear of John Herrold and convinced him that he should, without giving cyclists any notice or opportunity to be heard, establish the mandatory dismount policy as a way of resolving conflicts on the path. At the CB7 meeting with John Herrold last year, it was clear that there was no fact-finding or study process, or consideration of less drastic measures, before Herrold evicted a significant group of cyclists who had been using the path for years at the behest of another group.

    Had the shoe been on the other foot–if, say the existing dog run along the 72nd Street path were suddenly overnight converted into a bmx park with “no dogs allowed signs”–the dog owners who seem to form such a large part of the “dismount” supporters would be up in arms, and rightly so. No one questions that Herrold, as the designee of the commissioner, has the authority to determine which park pathways will allow bikes. But it is completely arbitrary to exercise that discretion in the manner he did, without notice or opportunity to comment, without doing any fact-finding or investigation, and without trying or even considering less restrictive measures. As a reasonable person, I hope you’ll see that the fait accompli process here was wrong and should be reversed so that any restrictions can be applied in a fair and rational manner.

    The case of the cyclist and pedestrian pathways in Central Park under discussion with Doug Blonsky also demonstrates cyclists willingness to cede space to pedestrians. For context, you should know that safe legal cross-park routes for cyclists are virtually non-existent, because the transverses are not engineered for safe sharing of motor vehicles and bikes (somthing that the DoT freely admits) and have been the site of numerous cyclist serious and injuries and deaths. For decades, cyclists and pedestrians shared the park pathways, under a de facto policy of non-enforcement against the cyclists. Then in May 2009, orange warning pylons were erected at pathway entrances evicting cyclists form the paths, without any notice beforehand or opportunity to comments.

    Since then, there have been discussions and proposals for cross-park shared pathways, like the one currently in place connecting Central park West at 106th Street and West Drive. Dismount zones are a part of the proposed cross-park shared pathways, in places where the path is too narrow, the expected pedestrian and cycling traffic is too great, and there are no reasonable alternate routes. Cycling advocates have no problem with this. Doug Blonsky of the CPC came to CB7 with the encouragement of cyclists (including TA) because we don’t think any park constituency should be able to make a backdoor space grab with parks administrators. Rather, there should be notice and an opportunity for everyone to comment.

    Hopefully the context I’ve laid out above makes clear that cycling advocates are not being unreasonable in their space negotiations affecting pedestrians.

  • butters

    Marco, nobody’s asking for cyclists to have the run of Riverside park. This particular path is a pretty important access point for a really important piece of bike infrastructure, and it’s been de facto bikeable for years. With some appropriate “ride slow/don’t be a dick” signs, it’d be perfectly safe for mixed use.

    “TA and the other Gorton outlets operate in a spirit of cyclist primacy and confrontation that I’m not comfortable with” — this doesn’t strike me as remotely true. TA is a leading advocate for pedestrian-friendly reforms. It’s also true that they’re, effectively, the bike lobby. Why shouldn’t bikes have a lobby? Bikes get disproportionately shafted in the allocation of transport resources, and it’s not crazy to think bikers need someone to consistently assert their interests.

  • J

    Marco is right, the pedestrians must always come first.

    The real fight should be for a redesign of the park to create a real path that can accommodate cyclists. Clearly this has come to a head, and signage will never be a solution. If people are this upset about it, then a redesign should be moved to the top of Riverside Park’s priority.

  • Marco

    These things quickly roll off the front page, but I wanted to thank you, Steve, for your reply. While I very much disagree with you about the process for restricting areas of the park from a particular use (it happens all the time – there are certainly “no dogs” or “no ball playing” areas that pop up without warning or subsequent drama), I do agree that a data-based or science-based reason should always be heard. However, I don’t believe that we’ve gotten that from TA. We’ve heard their basic objections to the new policy, but no legitimately researched alternatives. Nothing concrete that sounds like it would have any real impact or suggests compromise on the part of the cycling community in a space that requires compromise from everyone.

    Similarly, when the “no biking” decals were proposed for UWS sidewalks, the TA answer was pro-sidewalk cyclist, anti-pedestrian, and delivered without any real alternative. Frankly, that was a more shocking example, but it’s all part of the same pattern of giving lip service to the most vulnerable road users, but only truly fighting for them when the opponent is a car. Protesting signage that protects pedestrians is not ideologically consistent with promoting a livable community.

    I really do want livable streets. That means bike lanes on every avenue and plenty of EW streets, better signage and traffic control for all road users, more education for cyclists and (*in particular*) drivers, prosecuting dangerous drivers, more bicycle parking and virtual zero-tolerance for blocking bike lanes. But all of this is unlikely if the cyclist lobby’s overactive immune system attacks every pedestrian-related inconvenience to cycling as a life-threatening concern. I find it frustrating, and I’m on your side. You’ve got to appreciate that the “cycling backlash” certainly has some relationship to these experiences.

  • Marco

    J – I agree. The park set aside land for the dog park right there, and the dog owners raised the funding for construction. If the city won’t fund a path (and they should), why not propose a similar funding process for this path? I’m sure we could raise the money in a heartbeat.

    I’m not sure exactly where the path might go, but it seems that they could carve out 6 a foot wide bike path along the south edge of that big lawn, from 73rd and Riverside down to the tunnel.

  • butters

    Marco, if they put in a dedicated 6-ft wide bike path with “bikes only” signs, people would still walk in it. And, most likely, would walk down the middle of it and get annoyed at me for trying to bike past them. (Just had someone swear at me by the dog run for ringing my bell and riding past him on the Greenway.) Any path across Riverside will wind up being mixed use–which is fine. Pedestrians and bikes can coexist happily on a path that size, with appropriate signage.

    TA’s position on the decals was that they were pointless and would have a trivial impact on pedestrian safety. They were right. Lax enforcement and shit road design kill countless pedestrians every year. Sidewalk biking is awful and illegal, but focusing on that as a pedestrian safety measure is a distraction from the actual dangers.

    For the record, TA supports ticketing sidewalk bikers: http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/media/4165 . So do I–and I’d love to see some employer liability, so that restaurants have an incentive to keep their delivery guys riding safely.

  • Joe R.

    This is much ado over nothing. Riding slowly is actually safer than dismounting. It also takes up less road space. I don’t see why the need to insist cyclists dismount. If there was a portion of road where drivers had to get out and push their vehicles, almost to a person everyone would think it was unreasonable. Same thing here. Just stick up signs warning cyclists in advance when they come upon heavy pedestrian areas. Longer term build a proper cycling-only path separated from the pedestrian path by physical barriers of some sort ( forget painted lines-nobody notices or respects those ).

  • Ken

    Marco, it is absolutely untrue that the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance has not offered any concrete, compromise solutions for the shared space on the 72nd Street path. CB7’s Parks and Environment committee has been discussing this issue at its monthly meetings since July, and representatives of the UWSSR have proposed a number of creative solutions. Have you been at any of these meetings?

    As for the sidewalk decals, “butters” is right — there is no evidence that they work. Last time I checked, sidewalk cycling was still alleged to be the #1 complaint on the Upper East Side, where the decals were pioneered. They are a waste of scarce resources and a distraction from measures pushed by TA and others that would truly prevent injuries and save the lives of pedestrians – measures that include consistent enforcement of the sidewalk cycling law (although protected bike lanes have been shown to virtually eliminate the problem).

    There are legitimate reasons for supporting both these positions outside of the “cyclist lobby’s overactive immune system,” a condition I have never witnessed in any “cyclist lobby” patient I’ve ever examined.

  • Marco,

    We can agree to disagree. But I think a “cyclist dismount” directive on the 72nd Street path, with all its history of cyclist use, official recognition as a bike route, and critical role in providing Greenway access, is a little different than a “no ball playing” sign popping up. And you may not know this, but the major reason Herrold attended the Parks Committee meeting last fall was to discuss the precise wording of signs to posted in Riverside Park concerning dog walking. These signs were required as a result of an injunction entered by the court in a lawsuit brought by dog owners against the city over unleashed dog access. Now that’s what I call “drama.” As far as I know, cyclists have not tried to sue the city in this or any other instance to force access to parkland.

    As for the sidewalk decals, TA has long promoted direct education as the better alternative. In 2004, TA launched its “give respect, get respect” campaign, in which cyclists distributed tri-lingual leaflets with basic traffic rules and organized a number of peer-to-peer counseling events. TA has continued this work through it’s current “Biking Rules” campaign. Recognizing the particular contribution of delivery cyclists to sidewalk cycling and other problems, TA has specifically targeted businesses that employ cyclists with a “Biking Rules for Business” initiative in which businesses whose cyclists ride responsibly are recognized and promoted for their efforts to keep the streets safe.

    These campaigns are not just window dressing. These are substantial, good-faith efforts involving hundreds of volunteer and staff hours devoted to change the behavior of the minority of cyclists who routinely ride counterflow, on the sidewalk, or fail to yield to pedestrians. I and other TA members (and Upper West Side Streets Renaissance members, for that matter) have distributed thousands of these leaflets and booklets over the years, directly engaging cyclists face-to-face. Some may think that a decal on the sidewalk is more effective, but I would disagree. I don’t think that makes me anti-pedestrian, as you seem to suggest.

    Far more effective, or course, would be the people who are having all this food delivered to them using the leverage they have as paying customers (and tippers) to force a change in habits among their delivery cyclists. Without these take-out patrons, we wouldn’t have 1/10 of the delivery cyclists we now have on the streets. Instead of grumbling and tipping less when the food arrives late, patrons could try to encourage better cycling behavior, by using TA’s multilingual materials to convey to delivery cyclists the importance of safe and civic cycling. Unfortunately, it seems that many of these people are oblivious to their own role in encouraging unsafe delivery cycling, and look to the police and community boards to deal with the problem.

    I and other activists do these things not because we feel personally responsible for the actions of other cyclists–we are no more responsible for them than you are Marco, for the actions of other drivers or pedestrians–but because we recognize that discourteous and unsafe riding fuels anti-cyclist sentiment. That is plain. But the question remains how to deal with the problem. You can disagree with our chosen methods, but it’s just not accurate to say that we ignore that the problem exists.

  • Joe R.

    “Far more effective, or course, would be the people who are having all this food delivered to them using the leverage they have as paying customers (and tippers) to force a change in habits among their delivery cyclists. Without these take-out patrons, we wouldn’t have 1/10 of the delivery cyclists we now have on the streets. Instead of grumbling and tipping less when the food arrives late, patrons could try to encourage better cycling behavior, by using TA’s multilingual materials to convey to delivery cyclists the importance of safe and civic cycling.”

    Steve, a far better way of changing the behavior of the delivery cyclists, who seem to be the source of 99% of the complaints, is to take away their economic incentive to make as many deliveries as possible. Require food establishments to pay their delivery cyclists an hourly living wage. Specifically say on food menus that tipping is prohibited. Moreover, make the establishment owners, not the delivery cyclists, responsible for any tickets. All these things will totally take away any incentive to ride dangerously in order to make as many deliveries as possible. You may even finally have food establishments getting rid of the “free” delivery policy, which in my opinion never should have existed in the first place. Right now delivery really isn’t free. Rather, the cost is passed on to those who pick up their food, and also by the delivery cyclists themselves who put themselves at risk solely to make a buck. Either way my suggestions will solve the problem. If the end result isn’t delivery cyclists riding more sanely, then it we be because there will no longer be any economic reason for them to exist any more. My guess is the former will occur. Other countries manage to have decently-paid delivery cyclists who can do thier rounds without risking life and limb of all those around them. We can do likewise here. Fact is delivery is a service for which the customer should be willing to pay a fair market value for if it’s that important to them.

  • Ian Turner

    Steve, this is an interesting idea. I wonder if there is a way to bring consumer pressure into an area where the government has failed, in the same vein as fair trade pricing or certified organic agriculture. A certification body could provide “safe-cycling” certification to restaurants and encourage customers to buy only from certified restaurants, then follow up with spot checks to ensure compliance. Uncompliant restaurants would lose their certification.

    I think the compliance check is the most difficult part of this. I can imagine requiring delivery cyclists to wear some kind of certification badge, so that if you see someone cycling the wrong way or on the sidewalk while wearing the badge, you know they should be stopped. But the whole thing seems rather expensive to enforce. Thoughts?

  • How about complaining to restaurant review sites like Yelp, Citysearch, Google Places and Chowhound?

  • Marco

    I think the off-leash litigation in question was started with the suit against the city by (the anti-dog) Juniper Park Civic Association, but that’s kind of a digression.

    Steve and others, I appreciate your replies, but it still doesn’t change a couple of things.

    TA has been loud and proud about distinctive marking for bike lanes. We all know that any further initiative to reinforce “bikes only” signage or markings in the street bike lanes would be seen as important and necessary. Depending on one-on-one “self-policing” by drivers rather than having road markings would be silly. Frankly, I agree with those arguments.

    For a true “livable streets” advocacy group, the pedestrian-only sidewalk decals would seem to be just as simple. TA, unfortunately, does not act in this evenhanded way. It’s really not complicated. It’s the exact same process with opposite results from TA. It’s *really* hypocritical.

    And I don’t get the argument that the decals “don’t work.” If we’re seeing no results with decals, aren’t we seeing no results with Biking Rules? How can one of these be characterized as successful if the argument is that there are no results at all? On the entirety of the Upper West Side, there is only one(!) business that is a “Biking Rules for Business” member, and I struggle to think how much worse delivery cyclist behavior could have been in 2004 than it is after 7 years of “Biking Rules” efforts.

    Fundamentally, when it comes to pedestrian interests, TA will only promote solutions that demand no compromise from cyclists. TA doesn’t speak out about any of the millions of pointless things the city spends money on, but this one particular pedestrian-friendly decal expense required outspoken action and condemnation as “wasteful.” It’s like the bizarro world of livable streets advocacy. It’s crazy. And they wonder why there’s a backlash.

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