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 asked if officers might focus on serious infractions — rather than targeting cyclists who roll through red lights when no pedestrians are present, for instance — Wishnia “dismissed that idea as selective enforcement.”

City Council Member Gale Brewer has concerns too. In a letter to Ray Kelly and Janette Sadik-Khan, Brewer wrote that “to concentrate enforcement within Central Park, when there is no vehicular traffic in the park, does seem to be a misuse of police resources and impose unreasonable restrictions on cyclists in an environment intended for exercise and enjoyment. For example, forcing bikes to stop at every light contradicts the goal of opening the park drives to bikes and pedestrians and closing them to automobiles.”

But let’s assume the bike crackdown is a sincere strategy to reduce conflicts and injuries, and represents the precinct’s best effort to improve safety for all park users. NYPD is still operating under a clear double-standard when it comes to enforcing traffic laws in Central Park. As shown in this video from the Transportation Alternatives East Side Committee, motorists on the park’s Loop Drive not only exceed the 25-mph speed limit as a matter of course, they do so in the company of police officers themselves. This blatantly dangerous behavior puts park users at risk, and the city has allowed it to continue for years. Writes committee member Steve Vaccaro:

Cyclists are wondering whether NYPD will ever launch an “Operation Safe Motorist” to protect park users from speeding cars, or whether NYPD’s current “Operation Safe Cycle” will remain the sole focus of Central Park Precinct’s traffic law enforcement.

Selective enforcement promises to be a topic of discussion at the next Central Park Precinct Council meeting, to be held at 7 p.m. on March 14 at 160 Central Park West.

  • If the law applies equally to cars and bikes and both are considered vehicles, but the Central Park precinct is only ticketing cyclists, then that is the very definition of selective enforcement.

  • Ken Coughlin

    Things haven’t changed much since TA’s 2005 study that found that 99.9 percent of cars at the same location were exceeding the speed limit, with speeds averaging 37 mph — 12 mph over the posted limit of 25. Out of 694 cars clocked, only one was traveling at a legal speed. Nevertheless, at the CB7 committee meeting, precinct officers declared that the speed limit is zealously enforced in the park.

  • Daphna

    Selective enforcement is illegal, right? Can an officer doing that be reported to internal affairs or to the Civilian Complaint Review Board?

    The police action in Central Park is selectively targeting only certain road users (cyclists) for traffic infractions while witnessing but ignoring the more serious and dangerous traffic infractions by other road users (motorists).

    Secondly, even within their supposed zero tolerance for traffic infractions by cyclists, there is a second layer of selective enforcement going on. Only certain cyclists are stopped.

    I have heard in person from people and read on streetsblog about all the tickets being given. I have noticed a much heavier than usual police presence in the park for the last two months. I go up and talk to the officers and they act like it is normal and they are not up to anything different. I roll through red lights while in the park in full view of those police interlopers and am not given tickets. This represents more selective enforcement and possible profiling.

    This situation is such a waste of police resources and is wrong in every way.

  • Glenn

    I would call it misappropriation of city resources to produce an artificially high number tickets to satisfy the increasingly irrational fears of a misinformed yet well connected and wealthy segment of residents. Or “selective”

  • Nxt

    Glad TA did this. Thank you. Next time, tape a nice clear sign above the speed read-out that says Central Park Speed Limit 25Mph. That will make the video more effective at emphasizing the blatant lawbreaking going on here.

  • Joe R.

    Too bad Central Park isn’t nearby or I would try something fun just for kicks. Basically, I would find a downhill manned by police officers where I can go well in excess of the 25 mph limit, then see if I get ticketed. If so, then that makes a great case for selective enforcement of the speed limit. Besides, it ultimately shouldn’t result in a fine. Legally, I’m sure a cyclist can beat any speeding ticket anywhere in New York State since a speedometer isn’t required equipment. No intention of trying this of course, and I can’t ethically suggest anyone else try it either. Just an idea.

  • BicyclesOnly

    The speed limit for bikes in Central Park is 15 MPH.

    That’s because they’re so much more dangerous at that speed than cars are at 40.

  • Richard Rosenthal

    Let me amplify in Daphna’s remark: It is the “lycra” who are ticketed for going through red lights, not pedicabs and not tourists on rental bikes. Not that I favor their being ticketed.

    For seven years, if not longer, and including this year, I’ve sought to learn from the police the number of tickets issued to drivers for being in Central Park when it is closed to cars, for speeding in the park, and for going through red lights in the park. The Central Park precinct always refers me to the NYPD Public Information Bureau. The NYPD Public Information Bureau has stonewalled me. Every year. Including this year.

    I’m a bit behind in documenting the unprofessional police work, et al., in the park but invite you to see where I’ve left off at: http://newyorkbike.com/Central_Park.html

  • Omri

    Mr. Rosenthal, maybe it’s time for some FOIA action>?

  • Joe Chonto

    NYC is anti-bicycle, pure and simple. There are few safe bicycling areas and those are overrun with people walking, skating, etc. The city needs to implement serious bicycle initiatives and promote such as a healthy, “green” transportation option. Just like in Europe. I used to live in Berlin and bicycled everywhere — in the city and on the highways. It was safe and thoroughly enjoyable — drivers and pedestrians (mainly) respect one’s rights to the road and everybody gets along just fine. NYC could use some of that progressive, civilized sensibility. And then there’s the subway/bus system — when I lived in Europe. . . .

  • Marcia Kramer’s Lechuga

    Gotta say, the worst thing about this NYPD selective enforcement of cyclists in Central Park: these are the worst tickets imaginable for so many reasons. Why are they doing it? Easy: if police brass want their officers to write however-many tickets for the month they can easily just sit in the park and nab rider after rider (many just out trying to get exercise or move around) and easily meet whatever quota and make it look like they are doing their job and writing those tickets.

    It’s harder – but really not THAT much harder – to go out and ticket wrong way cyclists and those riding on the sidewalk. Like thismuch harder. And those tickets would actually make a difference in the mindset of riders and at least be harder to argue against. Again NYPD – write some tickets that will change behavior for unlawful riding, not someone riding in a park. Sheesh!

  • Larry Littlefield

    From the video, it seems as if the pack travels at whatever speed the car in front is going.

    Most people drive a few miles over the speed limit, but if the car in front is pushing 40 everyone else does too.

  • Mrbadexample

    In Prospect Park, the West Lake downhill on the Southwest quadrant (in front of the circle for Coney Island Avenue) allows cyclists to get up to speeds of 25+ miles per hour. when cars are on that road during afternoon/evening rush hour, it’s guaranteed that nobody in a motor vehicle is going less than 30.

    I’m dreading the day when Marty convinces the police to get all zero-tolerance-ey on cyclists in Prospect Park. Or has the Beep figured out this is a no-win proposition?

  • While banning cars from the park is the best option, posting a 25 mph speed limit sign along a roadway designed for much higher speeds is at the root of this problem.

  • mike green

    If Doug Blonsky is right that the current light infrastructure will not support flashing yellow lights, we need the NYPD to treat hard red as flashing yellow when the park is quiet. Police are capable of using proper discretion and they can make this work for all park users if they want to. Hopefully Councilwoman Brewer and Boro Pres. Stringer can help NYPD and CPC find a workable solution.

  • eveostay

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but motor vehicles did not exist when the roadways in the park were designed.

  • mike green

    Neither bicycles nor motor vehicles existed when the roadways were designed. The park roads were designed for pedestrians, equestrians and horse drawn carriages or teams as they were called. Issues with accommodating cycling in the park started at the time the modern bicycle was developed in the 1890’s. A cycling boom developed with millions of bikes being sold. Conflict between cyclists and other Central Park users started immediately. Cyclists proposed a separate cycling path inside the park perimeter.

    Interesting account at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9900E4DF153BEE33A25753C1A9639C94679ED7CF gives some

  • TKO

    Why can’t cars “roll through red lights when no pedestrians are present” too if cyclist need to do it so badly. Cyclist deem it safe thing to do so why not every one. Is it really that difficult to wait for a light to turn green. What is the hurry? Are you late for an important date white rabbit?

  • eveostay

    For the same reason cars require licenses, registration, and insurance: they are several orders of magnitude more dangerous.

  • Joe R.


    We’re talking about requiring cyclists to stop at red lights when no cars are in the park. The only reason the lights are even installed is because cars are sometimes allowed in the park during certain hours. When they’re not, the lights should be turned off, or at the very least the blanket rule should be yield to pedestrians on red.

    As for why cars can’t roll through red lights when no pedestrians are present, in a word it’s their speed and lack of visibility. A person on a bike is moving slow enough, with great enough visibility, to assess if an intersection is clear well in advance, or to stop if it isn’t. Try that in a car. In fact, that’s the reason traffic lights were invented. It’s impossible for a motorist to reliably assess if they can safely cross an intersection when traveling at 30 mph, so the traffic light does it for them.

  • J:Lai

    Joe R, this seems somewhat hypocritical, especially given your usual stance toward traffic signals.
    It is a red herring to talk about cars travelling through unsignalled intersections at 30mph … that is equivalent behavior to bikers “burning” through red lights, which I think we all would agree is neither safe nor desirable.

    A driver treating a red light as a stop, or even yield, sign is not inherently more dangerous than a bike rider doing the same. You are typically a proponent of removing traffic signals, as I recall, so I am surprised you do not conced this point.

    This is not an issue of the relative size and speed of the car vs. bicycle. It is an issue of how we want to optimize traffic flow in our streets.

    The real conflict arises from traffic lights that are engineered to move the maximum amount of car traffic through the streets. Obeying these signals is very inconvenient for a biker, a situation which is exacerbated when there is little or no cross traffic at the intersection. Allowing bikes to proceed through red lights is a compromise which let bikers travel more efficiently while retaining signals optimized for car drivers.

  • @mike green – There was a velocipede craze several decades before the 1890s bicycle craze. It wasn’t nearly as big, but it was big in New York City, to the point where horse stables in Central Park were repurposed for these wooden steeds. It died out and was largely forgotten by the 1890s, though.

  • Joe R.

    “A driver treating a red light as a stop, or even yield, sign is not inherently more dangerous than a bike rider doing the same. You are typically a proponent of removing traffic signals, as I recall, so I am surprised you do not conced this point.”

    I agree, provided the driver slows down enough to really see if it is clear, the same as I do on my bike when I pass reds. You could easily just have “yield to peds” for everyone on the Central Park loop but NYC drivers would likely never yield. Push to cross would really be the ideal solution when cars are present in Central Park, perhaps even when they’re not. Yes, I’m generally a proponent of removing traffic lights when possible. I’ll also admit a good part of the reason why I generally loathe them is the poor way they’re implemented in NYC. Properly done, traffic signals can be a good tool to move motor traffic safely and efficiently. And no user should ever get a red when there’s nothing crossing the intersection. That’s really one of my biggest beefs about traffic lights. We’ve had the technology to prevent that for a while.

    Thanks also for pointing out that red herring. I’m feeling a little ill today, just wasn’t thinking clearly. Great explanation in your last paragraph regarding why cyclists should be allowed to proceed through reds(provided there’s no peds crossing or cross traffic).

  • Chris

    I think this is becoming a battle of minds and hearts at this point. Decided to go for an early morning bike ride (ok 7am is early for me) on the Loop in CP to avoid running into police later in the day and risking a ticket. Apparently the CRCA does racing in the morning when there isn’t too much bicycle or ped traffic on the loop. If these guys want to race I have no problem being in the recreation lane when the pass as a group, however I won’t compromise my own safety or the safety of runners/joggers by merging into the rec lane when there are already people in it. The cyclists in the race apparently don’t like when I don’t merge and I’m bombarded with screams “get of the way”, “GTFO” etc. from both the marshals and cyclists themselves.

    I consider myself a pretty reasonable person (I bike commute regularly and participate in bike rides such as the five boro, tour de bronx etc) but this behavior is truly disappointing and it almost makes me think that the sport-cycling community has no interest in reducing ped-cyclist or conflict. In short, I think they think own the road, and when reasonable people like myself are angered by the self-righteous and arrogant behavior lord knows what it does to the NBBL type crowd (well enough to mobilize themselves in threatening lawsuits). Who’s to say NBBLers weren’t threatened with this type of behavior in Prospect Park and it’s just coming out in another, easier target (the bike lane).

    Obviously not every single racing cyclist is arrogant, but a large number seem to be and well, perception is everything – again a battle of hearts and minds.

    No, I won’t be throwing my support to the anti-bike opposition, but it’s something to think about. I think something has to be done with the racing community’s interactions. They get hyper-sensitised and focused when in a race, but if they can’t be civil maybe the should take their racing to a closed velodrome or something. Again, not advocating a ban, but we need some way to bridge this divide.

  • Joe R.


    Unfortunately, the mentality you describe pretty much goes with any competitive sport, not just bike racing. Ironically, it’s exactly that which turned me off to the sport except as a spectator. Back in college, I rode a lot recreationally, and it was suggested by several friends that perhaps I should consider bike racing. As much as I loved riding 3000 ro 4000 miles a year, I wasn’t sure if I’d be up for riding 6000 to 10000 miles. However, the clincher (no pun intended) was the attitude of the a-holes I would be riding with. To put it kindly, the majority were the kind of people I really wouldn’t want to have anything to do with off the race track. That attitude seems to permeate the sport at its lower levels, although to be fair those at the highest levels seem to mellow out a bit (perhaps modestly realizing they’re not unbeatable?). Riding with some of these guys, it was unbelieveable the way they might fly through crowded crosswalks, then get pissed at me for not doing the same. My answer to that was I’m more interested in not killing someone than in keeping my heart rate up. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. Granted, being skilled cyclists, we could probably pull stunts like that 999 times out of 1000 in perfect safety. But to me, the problem wasn’t just that 1 time in 1000 when something would go wrong, but the fact that doing crap like that scared/pissed off pedestrians 1000 times out of 1000. Sad to hear that things really haven’t changed much in 30 years. This is why the more commuter and sane recreational cyclists we get out there to balance out public impressions, the better.

    All that said, it’s probably a better idea to just ride elsewhere if a race is in progress. Not worth the conflict even if you technically have as much right to be there as the racers. I’ll guess that some of their anger had to do more with the fact that there are very limited times/places where one can race in NYC. Honestly, we should build these guys decent places in each borough where they can race 24 hours a day without running into anyone else. It’ll make them happy, and also make the rest of the public who has to deal with them happy.


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