When Will the Central Park Bike Blitz Be Over? “Ask the Mayor”

When NYPD announced that it was going to step up its bike enforcement at the beginning of the year, the best-case scenario went like this: Police would give out more tickets for risky, anti-social behavior like wrong-way biking, and the streets would seem a little more orderly as cycling continues its upward trajectory in NYC.

Photo: adf/Flickr via ##http://gothamist.com/2011/02/11/is_270_a_reasonable_fine_for_bicycl.php##Gothamist##

But the Wall Street Journal reported this week that a big hotspot in the bike crackdown isn’t “the streets” at all, really, but rather Central Park. NYPD has handed out ten times the number of bike tickets in the park this year compared to all of 2010. And the policy doesn’t seem to be singling out riders who are racing full tilt past pedestrians with the right of way. Cyclists whose only transgression is not sitting for the full red cycle at traffic lights in the park — even when the crossing is clear and car-free hours are in effect — are getting hit with $270 fines.

The ticket blitz has upended a longstanding social compact between cyclists, pedestrians, and cops in the park, which applied a common sense “yield to peds” rule during car-free hours. Now, with traffic-control devices designed for cars setting the enforcement agenda, riding in the park doesn’t seem so relaxing or recreational.

Why the sudden change? Randy Cohen, author of the Ethicist column in the Times (and star of a few Streetfilms), reports on an enlightening conversation he recently had with a Central Park police officer:

I just returned from riding in the (blissfully warm, if swampy) park, where I had an amiable chat with a police officer who couldn’t have been friendlier. When I asked about the current bikes and lights policy, he smiled ruefully — with what I took to be professional embarrassment — and said that the policy is to enforce the traffic laws. When I asked if the long established practice — during car free hours, yield to pedestrians who have the light, but if there are none, roll one — wasn’t better, he agreed that, in his words “there’s a difference between law and common sense.” I asked when, if ever, things would return to how they’d been for the past thirty years, he smiled and said: “You’ll have to ask the mayor next time you see him.” Again, this officer was entirely reasonable and courteous. But there you have it, the further impression that the mayor created this situation and only he can change it.

  • Zulu

    I seriously doubt Bloomberg had anything to do with this blitz. It sounds to me like a pre-rehearsed answer an officer would have for a question he doesn’t care to entertain.

  • So has anyone asked the mayor yet?

  • Larry Littlefield

    What the exchange says is that the officer doesn’t want to be doing this, sees it as a waste of time, and has been told not to use his discretion.

    Which is why I said the right way to do it is to have one or more bicycle enforcement crews with the officers on bicycles at least part of the day, taking turns riding. So they gain some understanding.

    And if bicycle riding officers are selected for the program, they would see the point to the enforcement — to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.

  • JK

    Has anyone challenged these car-free time red light tickets? Odds are the cops are giving them out under the Vehicle and Traffic Laws. Yet, it could very well be that the Park Drives are subject to Park Rules (and penalties), not Vehicle and Traffic Laws during car-free periods.

    1. The Central Park Conservancy website has rules for car-free and car hour use of the recreation lane, and there is nothing about that use in V&T or city law. Either those Conservancy/Parks rules have no authority, or Parks has authority during car-free hours. So, if Park rules are in effect and being broken, Parks summonses should be given out, not V@T. Shouldn’t that void any V@T tickets?

    2. During the 1990’s a court held that the Parks Dept had the authority to establish a 15mph bike speed limit in Central Park drive during car-free hours. Since Parks does not have the authority to set limits on streets under VTL and city law, this suggests that car-free periods.

  • BicyclesOnly


    That makes sense. Definitely worth a try.

  • Ask the Mayor? Yes, indeedee. The buck always stops with the mayor. If people say good things about the mayor when JSK does something good, then they gotta do the same when the NYPD or other agency does something bad. It is only fair, and mature, and should not depend on who on the city payroll is a Facebook friend of yours.

  • butters

    I’m sorry, but there’s not a “longstanding social compact” between pedestrians and cyclists in the park. There’s a longstanding tradition of some riders treating it like their own private cycle track, and make zero effort to let pedestrians cross. The crackdown is dumb–even ‘bike doesn’t yield’ shouldn’t be treated like ‘car runs red light,’ and they’re ticketing many people who *are* riding safely and respectfully–but this is a backlash, and the minority of cyclists who are rude to pedestrians bear some of the responsibility.

  • zach

    They’re pushing the envelope to show the absurdity of having car-oriented laws in a park rarely used by cars. The police department is sick of having to choose between enforcing laws and enforcing common sense (I would be, too), and they’re enforcing these laws to show how ridiculous they are, in order to help push for a totally car-free park. That way we can put in signage and lights that only have to do with cyclists and pedestrians. What would that be? Yield to pedestrian signs at every crosswalk and no lights? Lights with faster signals? Lights with short green and red and long yellow cycles?

  • My honest take on this is that cracking down on cyclists in the park is just a matter of abundant and low hanging fruit to get quick and easy enforcement numbers. Yes there are plenty of real jerks racing through the park on their “carbon fiber bike of the month” but does enforcement in the park really change the everyday dangerous behavior of bad cyclists on NYC Streets? I’d say not at all.

  • Zulu

    What do you rhink will happen if I stop at the red light, get off my bike, push it through the crosswalk and remount on the other side? Will I get a ticket for jay walking or a beating?

  • Ken Coughlin

    Zulu, I just tried that an hour ago — twice, right in front of an NYPD vehicle behind me. No peep from the cops. I’d like to see them try to ticket that — you’d have a wonderful selective enforcement case, since jaywalking has never been enforced, to my knowledge, save for a couple of crazy days during the Giuliani administration. That said, I think JK may be right and anyone who has received a ticket should consider challenging it on that basis.

    As for why this is happening now in CP, I don’t think it’s that complicated or that CP cyclists should take it especially personally. A zero-tolerance directive against cyclist infractions has come down from One Police Plaza, and it came to the CP Precinct along with all the others. And to the cops, laws are laws and when someone says enforce them, they enforce them, whether it’s on Broadway or on the loop drive in Central Park. But it makes you wonder — if they have the resources to be this zealous when it comes to ticketing cyclists, wow, think of how much safer our streets would be if the same zeal were applied to drivers! The possibilities are dizzying — speeding! red-light running! failure to yield to peds in crosswalks!

  • Hi Everyone,

    I’m an avid cyclist that uses the park responsibly and safely and think that we can work out a great compromise that everyone can live with. I propose setting traffic lights to “blinking yellow” during early morning weekday hours. If you’d like to support this, please join our facebook page and spread the word. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Concerned-Cyclists-of-Central-Park/127003104038320#!/pages/Concerned-Cyclists-of-Central-Park/127003104038320

  • Ken

    Why just those hours? Why not all the time? The loop road is a recreational space and blinking yellow means caution and yield. I’m not signing.

  • I’m not feeling very avid about this compromise.

  • Joe R.

    Best solutions in my opinion:

    Short term-set lights to blinking yellow whenever cars are not allowed in the park

    Long term-prohibit car access entirely, remove the lights.

    If it turns out that bike traffic is too heavy for peds to cross at certain times during car-free hours, perhaps pedestrian bridges should be considered. They already exist elsewhere in the park. Once motor traffic is forbidden, such bridges can be lower ( much cheaper to build ) than would otherwise be the case.

  • Joe R: Pedestrian bridges are expensive, hell in icy conditions and nonsense when there is no contour issue to complemenent/fix because most of the time they would not be needed. To fulfil ADA requirements the ramps would need to be very long even to get over the supposedly lower cyclist requirement (recumbants? – and I would assume service and emergency vehicles would still be justified in using this route). If there is really a problem with crossing some request-only full-stop signalization could be tried in a few places to see if it helps and does not bother people cycling too much.

  • Joe R.

    “If there is really a problem with crossing some request-only full-stop signalization could be tried in a few places to see if it helps and does not bother people cycling too much.”

    That would probably work except NYC seems to be averse to this concept. On regular streets I see quite a few traffic lights which are pretty obviously for ped crossings because there’s either no cross street, or the cross street is one way away from the main road ( hence no possibility at all of intersecting motor vehicle traffic ). These lights should ALL be request only but I’ve yet to see one that is. Instead, they all go red on a regular cycle, usually causing cars to stop for absolutely nothing. I’d love to see DOT’s rationale for doing something this totally retarded. In every other city with ped-only lights they’re always by request-only.

  • Joe R: I don’t love pedrequestreds but I hope it can be tried here with only new programming. For more normal streets red lights in cycles can help regulate motor vehicle speed – e.g. I was under the impression that this was the case for Manhattan Avenues… e.g. for 30mph? It would make no sense to do this in the Park.

    In any case pedrequestreds need to be set-up quite smart so that they activate the amber and so on instantly. Even better the buttons would be set up a few paces back from the curb so that people would not break their stride (or roll). One nice thing in many parts of the EU is that lights go to amber before green on the other side of the red so that you know not to slow down. That would help, cyclists and fast in-inline skaters, yes?

  • Joe R.


    The ped-only lights I see here aren’t synchronized to anything, just like most of the other lights around here aren’t synchronized, so they’re not serving the purpose of regulating traffic speed. As such, they should be request only. The 30 mph “green wave” seems to be mostly a Manhattan thing. DOT made pretty much zero attempt to synchronize ANY lights, ped-only or otherwise, on the streets in the outer boroughs, at least based on the roads I travel. Maybe with arterials intersecting each other every 10 blocks synchronization wasn’t possible. Or perhaps they never tried.

    I pretty much agree with every else you said. What might be nice also ( and possible given today’s technology ), is to have sensors which detect when the pedestrian(s) finish crossing, so as to flip the light back to green as quickly as possible. I wasn’t aware of the amber before green being used in the EU but it’s a nice concept. I’m already doing something similar, actually, by watching both the pedestrian signals and ( if visible ) the traffic signals for the cross street. If I see the ped crossing flashing don’t walk, then there’s a good chance the light may change before I get there ( ten flashes before green seems to be about average ). The light on the cross street going yellow is of course even more useful, provided you can see it.

    I’m thinking, something like a countdown clock which lets you know how long before a signal goes green ( and also red ) would be incredibly useful for both motorists and cyclists, more so than an amber before green. Many cyclists would probably not even bother passing a red which was going green anyway in a few seconds if they had advance warning. The pedestrian countdown signals currently being installed can neatly serve both functions, actually. Only caveat is for countdown to green, you need to read the ped signal for the crosswalk in front of you sideways. This might not be possible from half a block away.

  • Joe: Remember that “EU” is almost as big a generalization as “Europe” and I am not sure signaling is totally standardized, though for “safety” technology German culture predominates. As you might know, Berlin is also known for its originally East Berlin crossing signal man: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/07/berlin_traffic.php (kind of sad if you ask me)

    If there were new stores or businesses in NYC named Stop, Go and Slow you could have all the signals you want and as big as you want, for free.

  • DOT and TA ordered/approved the crackdown, so this one is not on the cops, i agree with that.

    it struck me that this ‘crackdown’ must be like Heaven to the Law & Order Brigade — obedience porn.

    and the cop’s response was what we should be talking about and advocating for — he made the case for the modified Idaho Stop. i guess TA is too busy sucking up to motorists, tho, hoping they’ll eventually be taken seriously, if only they conduct themselves appropriately.

  • Amy

    It’s Saturday and there are hundreds of runners in the park today, but only a handful of cyclists.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Peter, if TA’s responsible for the crackdown, then why are all the TA members spending their evenings at Precinct Councils telling cops to stop it? I wish I could watch you sometime, to see a real cyclist show all the motorists and pedestrians who’s boss. Then maybe I’d stop sucking up all the time!

  • Since the NYPD and DOT have the same boss, why don’t people boycott the popular achievements of the latter in order to make a point about the former? What if it was JSK who was creating ridiculous infrastructure and Raymond Kelly who was an attractive “rock star” who was Facebook-friending the cyclists and inviting them to parties?

  • David

    I just saw a video that demonstrates why cyclists would be irritated. I can understand now….