NYPD: Riding Faster Than 15 MPH in Central Park Now Illegal

NYPD resources at work: Police in Central Park during the early morning ticket blitz that nabbed cyclists for riding faster than 15 mph. Photo: Dave Chomowitz via Gothamist

NYPD’s apparent bid to criminalize recreational cycling in Central Park took another surreal turn this morning. One week after hundreds of people asked police to stop the irrational barrage of red light tickets for cyclists in the park, NYPD has apparently doubled down on its bike enforcement blitz. Cycling message boards lit up today with stories from an early morning sweep that caught about half a dozen people training in the park, where cops dished out hefty fines (reportedly as high as $350) for going faster than 15 mph.

The NYPD habit of picking off easy traffic enforcement targets under dubious pretenses, while leaving real problems unaddressed, seems to be holding steady. Gothamist’s John del Signore has some highlights:

Dave Jordan of the Century Road Club Association tells us that at least six or seven cyclists received speeding tickets this morning for biking over 15 mph (not the actual speed limit), and cyclist Dave Chomowicz, who took this photo, says, “They had a radar gun out. One or two riders in the picture and two of my teammates were ticketed, and some triathletes got tickets. I believe one of the cyclists was going 20 mph. I took the picture at 6:45 this morning and came back to the park for a while, after cars started coming in and the speed trap was gone. Cars were going far in excess of 15 mph. I saw cars going through red lights.”

Jordan believes six or seven cyclists were ticketed for speeding, and tells us one was slapped with fines totaling $350. “These are athletes and responsible people,” says Jordan. “The people they want are people who are doing this in the middle of the day on the weekends when the park is crowded and you want to do something with your kids and there’s some guy f-bombing as he’s biking around. The law states that we should yield to pedestrians. To enforce lights that have no purpose when there are no cars in the park just doesn’t make sense.”

The 15 mph rule, which doesn’t hold on city streets and apparently applies only to bikes inside the park, has been especially bewildering. The Central Park Conservancy website says the official speed limit for bikes and cars in the park is 25 mph. Some signs inside the park, impossible to read from the roadway, do indicate a 15 mph cap for cyclists. (Athletes can easily run faster than 15 mph, by the way, which is slower than the average speed of every Olympic medalist in the men’s 1,500 meter race going back to 1960.) The same signs imply that bicyclists don’t have to stop for full red light cycles, but should simply yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Regardless, the rules only seem to apply if you’re on two wheels and you’re an easy mark. Central Park’s red light-running cabbies and speeding drivers can carry on.

In other news, NYPD issued no charges to either of the two drivers involved in yesterday’s noon-time Jackson Heights smash-up, in which one car careened into 82-year-old bystander Margaret Choborka, inflicting fatal head trauma.

  • lic lovr

    is there some kind of petition against this yet? i mean, what the…

  • Albert

    When all of these tickets get thrown out in court, will the officers who wrote up these baseless citations be penalized in some way for wasting the time & resources of the court? (and of the city and of the police and of the hapless citizen cyclist taxpayers)?

    The same way a DA’s job or reputation would be in jeopardy, I assume, after bringing a series of baseless cases to court.

  • SGreenberg

    Apparently these tickets have been nullified by NYPD, after complaints from NYCC. See their message board for more details.

  • Agree with Albert. The City needs to deal with officers and their superiors who repeatedly issue tickets for acts which don’t violate the law, whether it’s cycling at 15 mph, adults riding without helmets, patrol cars blocking bike lanes, etc. If police don’t know or understand the laws they’re paid to enforce they should be sent back to the academy for re-training

  • Ken

    It appears the CP Precinct has officially launched its “Bike-Free Central Park” campaign. How many layers of cobwebs did they have to scrape off that speed gun?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Will someone please — please — do a class action suit against the NYPD already?

  • JamesR

    Update: the NYPD has apparently backed down on the 15mph ticketing –

    http://nyvelocity.com/content/features/2011/central-park-speedtrap

  • Dale Peterson

    This would all be a little easier to take if there was real enforcement by the PD of motor vehicle speed limits in the park. Anyone who rides a bike there knows that cars are speeding on the drives. Where is the enforcement? It is cars — especially in the park — that are the real danger.

  • kevd

    “When all of these tickets get thrown out in court, will the officers who wrote up these baseless citations be penalized in some way for wasting the time & resources of the court?”

    Ummm…… no. Most of these operation Cycle-Ops tickets are already being thrown out by judges who laugh when you show up in court. But that doesn’t matter, because the NYPD cites the number of tickets it issues in its statistics, not the number that hold up.

    And, if officers don’t get in trouble for shooting unarmed people carrying wallets, why on earth would they get in trouble for writing incorrect tickets?

  • Surely theres a way to sue NYPD for forcing people to waste time in court fighting frivolous charges right?

    Or are cops allowed to ticket you for whatever they want forcing you to take a day off work just to get it repealed?

  • kevd

    “Or are cops allowed to ticket you for whatever they want forcing you to take a day off work just to get it repealed?”

    Pretty much. Its been going on for years. The system is the punishment.
    Be thankful you aren’t a young black male getting stopped and frisked every other day.
    (of course, maybe you are)

    But, good luck with that lawsuit!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Who knows, maybe they got the idea here. It was suggested, and I think a good suggestion, to eliminate the red lights but limit the speed limit to 15 mph during busy times, with lights when cars were present and faster speed allowed in the off hours.

    But according to Gothamist they were ticketing in the off hours.

    The rules seem to be pretty much a mess, so they are making them up, but that doesn’t seem to work either.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr

    I mean come on….I roll down gentle hills on my Dutch bike faster than 20 mph. So do young kids.

  • Ray Kelly is at the top of this farce. His next career move seems to be either Director of the FBI or Mayor of NYC.

    We are boned.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr

    One extremely weird note to add: I was interviewing someone from Lenny’s on the UWS today about how the bike lane on Columbus is effecting their business. Afterwards some customer remarked to me that he overheard some NYPD cops talking about a really bad bicycling crash this morning in the park loop at 430 am where someone got badly hurt not wearing a helmet and had no light and crashed (solo). I wonder if 1) this is true and 2) if true if the ticketing sting was in response to that?

  • Joe R.

    My two cents on all this:

    1) I’m not sure you can legally ticket cyclists at all for violating ANY speed limit, let alone a 15 mph one. Bicycles aren’t required by law to have speedometers. If you’re never ridden a bike with a speedometer, then you really haven’t a clue what 10 mph, or 15 mph, etc. feels like.

    2) The usual standard “defacto” standard used for issuing speeding tickets is 10% plus 4 mph to account for radar gun/speedometer error. For motorists on city streets then a ticket issued for less than 37 mph generally won’t hold up in court. For a 15 mph limit, the magic number would be 20.5 mph. Since most radar guns don’t have tenths of an mph (but ironically most bike computers do), then the defacto limit is 21 mph. If that 20 mph cyclist was among the ticketed, it wouldn’t hold up had the NYPD decided to pursue the matter.

    3) Putting aside what I wrote in 1) for the purposes of discussion, there is absolutely no rationale for having a LOWER speed limit for bikes than for cars. If anything, you could rationalize a higher one given the better visibility, lower mass, greater manuverability of bicycles. In practice though, barring hills, most cyclists couldn’t go much over the 25 mph limit anyway, so the point is moot, and 25 mph is just fine. A 25 mph limit, which is actually defacto 31.5 = 32 mph, is for all intents and purposes no speed limit at all for a cyclist.

    4) I actually was pulled over for speeding once back in college in 1980 (Princeton, NJ). A NJ cop claimed he had me on radar at 47 in a 25 school zone (school wasn’t in session, the road was completely empty). He was probably right-my old-style 50 mph Stewart-Warner dial speedometer was just about pinned. He let me go with a warning, saying I just gave him a great story to tell back at the station house. Seemed like a nice guy actually.

    All that said, in the interests of public relations/common sense, it’s better for anyone “training”, or just wishing to go hard, to ride at times when fewer pedestrians are in the park. Early mornings, or late nights, seem to be the best times.

    Full disclosure: Although I’ve gotten slower as I’ve gotten older, I still generally exceed 30 mph for short periods of time at some points in most of my rides, always on downhills. Even though this is on public roads with at least a 30 mph speed limit (40 mph on the LIE service road, which I’ve exceeded by a few mph at times), I make a point to only go fast in places I know there is zero chance of a pedestrian crossing, both for my own preservation and any hypothetical pedestrian’s. The rest of the time, I’m typically between about 16 and 23 mph unless conditions dictate a lower speed. Fast riding is a trip, but please keep it safe, and slow down around peds.

  • Hey friends, I got my first ever ticket in over 16 years of bike riding today. Not in Central Park, but in Harlem at 116th St. The reason? Supposedly making a right turn on red on my bicycle after stopping briefly for the light. The cop said that they were going after “jaywalkers and bikers” today. (And yet I’ve never seen anyone on the Macombs Damn Bridge get a ticket for muscling peds out of the crosswalk while honking at them…)

    The officer said I should follow “all of the rules cars do.” So, from now on I’m taking up a whole lane! (To be honest the officer was sort of sheepish about the whole thing. It felt like he was meeting a quota.) I also saw an elderly man in a tweed hat on an old Schwinn pulled over for something on my way home just south of 125th.

    I’m so relived the police department is finally doing something about menacing old men on bicycles and renegade right turners! They are clearly the #1 crime problem in NYC. Thank God.

    I’m so not impressed with this. But, it’s working. I’m now scared to ride. I guess that’s what they want.

  • And for the record I was going about 10mph. As always. If it’s not one thing is another.

  • Suzanne

    “Surely theres a way to sue NYPD for forcing people to waste time in court fighting frivolous charges right?”

    What kevd said.

    That’s a great way to get the crap harassed out of you. Ask the people who oppose police brutality. Or even those guys who post pictures of cop cars parking illegally. The NYPD are, to put it bluntly, corrupt thugs. If you start down this path they’re going to make what they’re doing now look like proverbial child’s play.

    It’s infuriating, but welcome to the world activists, black people and other people of color get to live with. Then again, cyclists are the new black (person) so I guess it’s to be expected. We even get to experience the same media lies and useless political non-support. Go us.

    If we really want to do something about this police harassment, maybe we should join forces with those who are already fighting.

  • Dale, I’m with you. I’ll live with tickets if it means they do something about the cell-phone using, speeding, red-light and crosswalk ignoring, drivers in the park and all over the city.

  • Chris

    Susan,

    I’ve already altered my behavior:

    Whenever I approach an intersection / traffic light where there isn’t traffic I’ll look around for the police. If there are police I’ll wait at the light, otherwise I’ll let my instincts determine the best course of action to maximize my safety.

    In any case police or not, I always slow down when approaching a traffic junction (cross walk, signal, stop sign, intersection or whatever) again for the purposes of maximizing my own safety.

  • Glenn

    More reason not to ride through Central Park, even despite the retraction. The police are obviously under some orders to harass cyclists and issue large numbers of tickets to them.

    Bloomberg needs to intervene at this point.

  • Suzanne, maybe that would be some positive fall out from all of this. If it made more folks in the environmental/livable streets communities aware of of the ongoing program of low grade harassment of mostly minority men in some neighborhoods.

    Though I fear, most folks will fail to see the connection.

  • Ken

    @Susan Donovan Be sure to report your ticket to TA:
    http://www.transalt.org/campaigns/bike/ticket

    This is harassment of people who choose to bike, pure and simple. If you think they are ticketing jaywalkers, think again. Despite it all, Susan, I hope you keep riding.

  • Glenn, it’s not just CP. Trust me.

    Chris, that sounds like a plan. Though, to be honest there have been some ticket-worthy moment in my time biking– this was NOT one of them in any shape or form. I was riding extra slow since my chain is a bit loose. I was being super-duper cautious.

    I almost feel like I was pulled over BECAUSE I was going slow. I was easy to catch. I saw a fellow biker on the way home and said “Watch out they’re giving everyone on bikes tickets for everything” the young man did a u-turn in the middle of the street and looped by me shouting “I KNOW! But they won’t catch me cus’ I’m too slick!”

    *sigh*

    I wish I was slick!

  • Joe R.

    Chris,

    I’ve been doing exactly that for a long time, well before the crackdown, for my own peace of mind. Police cruisers are relatively easy to spot anyway. I’d say on average I end up waiting out a light because of a police car which I might otherwise have passed about 5 times a year. I’ll take those few minutes any day in exchange for hours in court. Most of the other times when I’m at the intersection at the same as a police car, the cross traffic is too heavy to even think of passing the light, so police car or not I’ll be waiting for it to go green.

  • Does Ray Kelly listen to anyone?

  • Joe R.

    Susan,

    Sorry to hear about what happened to you. I got my first (and so far only) cycling ticket in 1999 for sidewalk cycling. Like you, I was probably ticketed because I was an easy mark. I had just dropped a tape in the slot at Blockbuster and was just on the sidewalk for about 100 feet to get to the curb cut on the corner. 10 PM, no pedestrians, for that matter no cars other than the police van. The cop actually said he would have let it go had his supervisor not been riding with him.

  • John

    Since when riding above 15mph is illegal if the NYPD says so?? The NYPD cannot make laws, only the legislative branch ( NYC council ) can do so.

    Just like the US President cannot make laws, Only the legislative branch ( Congress and/or Senate ) can do so..

  • Blind Boy Grunt

    Why do we have a Central Park Precinct anyway? Think about it: CP is the only park with its own precinct. It has the lowest crime rate in the city. Its 843 acres, including its one “street,” officially close at 1 am and don’t reopen until 6 am. Perhaps because the Parks Enforcement Patrol does a lot of the actual patrolling of the park’s interior, precinct officers have had enough time on their hands to engage in an escalating pattern of harassment of cyclists on the loop. And despite the fact that 99 percent of the cars on the loop are speeding, last year the precinct managed to mete out a grand total of 160 speeding tickets, or one every two and a half days or so. When not stopping cyclists, officers drive around the loop or idle their engines endlessly, and the precinct has turned a bridle path next to the reservoir into its personal parking lot. Do we really need this???

  • Ken

    Chris and Joe R: A young woman told me she was recently ticketed for rolling through a light near Columbia U. by a cop in an unmarked car.

  • Greg

    It’s going to be interesting when the city’s new bike rental program puts 10x more bike riders into Central Park. I bet the numbers overwhelm any attempt at regulation.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    If we really want to do something about this police harassment, maybe we should join forces with those who are already fighting.

    I think Suzanne is on to something with her comment above.

    Al Sharpton? Norman Siegel? Eric Adams? Who would stand with us against this NYPD harassment campaign?

  • Eric Adams did not put up much of a fight for cyclists who wanted to hold a memorial ride for Jasmine Herron around his district. The multiple NYPD precincts couldn’t muster enough manpower to “permit” or “escort” a dozen or so cyclists. Adams, for all his talk, let that slide and withdrew his participation. And what is the story with his driver’s ed legislation???

    Tish James is potentially an ally, as is Brad Lander. But honestly, direct action by groups such as Time’s Up and political pushing by TA are the best existent ways to push back.

    Don’t forget this Friday at 7pm Union Square North you can address NYPD Transportation Chief James Tuller or some other of Kelly’s “top” brass at CRITICAL MASS.

    Know your rights!

    Short of regime change in the NYPD, go to your local precinct, make some noise, ask some questions, and try to find any bike-friendly officers. Or maybe we should just appeal to the cadets…

  • Joe R.

    I agree Marty. A second possible course of action is pursue a case against the media. What they have done is to incite hatred against cyclists to the point that it’s only a matter of time before either a motorist intentionally runs down a cyclist, or a cyclist stopped for a moving violation winds up dead at the hands of police. They’ve also given a platform for the anti-bike crowd to spew their vitriol in the comments sections of their “news” articles. First amendment rights don’t include doing what amounts to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. And making up news isn’t reporting news.

    Also, it should be very interesting if violent crime stats are sharply up this year. If so, Ray Kelly has a lot of questions to answer about his policing priorities.

  • As is well-documented by Streetsblog, the NYPD has more control over the loop drives than the DOT or the Parks Department.

  • Ray Kelly listens to the PBA. Something tells me they’re not going to be very supportive of cyclists.

  • > The officer said I should follow “all of the rules cars do.”

    Every morning now I hop up onto the sidewalk at Bowery instead of turning “right on red” and walk half a block with my bike, thereby inconveniencing pedestrians and workers at the restaurant supply stores. Then I can’t make the lights on Prince, so I hop off the bike and “jaywalk” twice, walking the block between because the reds are so long there. It’s really dumb.

    I can’t even tell what “all the rules” are that automobile drivers are supposedly following. Keeping it below 60 mph? Accelerating through traffic signals to make it within the blessed 5 seconds after it is red? Our vaunted “rules of the road” are morally corrupt, and even the inadequate standards that they set to keep motorists from killing are routinely ignored. I don’t get how any pedestrians/cyclists/humans can approve of rules so deliberately stacked against them. The problem is not that it’s a police priority to ticket people for illegally but safely crossing streets; the problem is that it’s illegal in the first place.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Susan – Sadly, I have altered my behavior too. The last month I have had to make four trips to the UWS from Queens. I used to just enter the Park to get there and ride the loop. Now I just ride the transverses with the cars. It’s more dangerous but it’s faster too – and there is not a chance of NYPD sitting down there to write tickets to bikes or cars.

  • EP

    Last nite while riding home around 930pm, a commercial garbage truck was blocking the 8th Ave bike lane, near 36th street. I asked the truck drivers to not block the lane. Their response was it was too much work for them to haul garbage the extra 3 feet and I should call the cops. There happened to be a police van across the street, so I went to ask them to get the truck to move out of the lane. Their response was “They can block the lane, b/c they have to collect the garbage”. When I informed them it was illegal for a vehicle to block a bike lane, they responded that b/c it was a commercial vehicle, it could block the lane b/c it HAD to pick up the garbage and the blocked bike lane fine only applied to private vehicles. I asked them didn’t they care, about my safety. Their response “You can get off your bike and walk it”.

    Thanks NYPD.

    Checked DOT laws this morning…and

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/parking/park_tickets_violations.shtml

    see #48

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/parktruck.shtml

    see “Parking and Standing Near Bike Lanes”

  • zach

    Can’t JSK and Ray Kelly just duke it out with fisticuffs? Seems clear to me that he’s miffed about new ped/bike infrastructure, and this is his way to get even.

  • momos

    Susan,

    The whole situation is so nuts. I live in Harlem and ride through Harlem all the time. The worst problem is the speeding cars on the wide north-south routes. Bikes are so not worthy of NYPD crackdowns. A lot of times you have kids playing on stoops and riding their bikes around. That’s what we need MORE of. And I always love to see folks from downtown or other boroughs riding out of Central Park at 110th and heading uptown to find a new coffee shop or explore a corner of Harlem that’s new to them. The NYPD make the whole trip a lot harder.

  • Judd S

    You have to be strategic and safe…I was ticketed for sidewalk riding a few months ago, but after hearing all these stories it seems like that’s the way to go. You can’t get a right on red ticket if you are on the sidewalk, and it’s only a $50 fine and no moving violation points. But actually, like many others, I have become freaked out enough that I have changed behavior as well. It is easy enough to walk the bike to a rack, down the “wrong way” of a block, or across a red signalled intersection, and nearly as fast. I can’t wait for the day someone gets a ticket for walking the wrong way.

  • Momos, I agree. Harlem is a residential area. There are more important things going on on Harlem streets than speeding cars through to midtown. Kids on bikes are one of the important things.

  • I was thinking about all of the things we cyclists do to accommodate cars. When passing trucks that block the bike lane I’m always careful to tuck myself back in front of the truck quickly. I turn my bike sideways when waiting for lights to take up less space. I loop behind cars making turns to avoid cutting them off. (They cannot be bothered to do the same for me it seems.) I use the superior maneuverability if the bicycle and common courtesy to share the rode in a way that cars, due to their size and chunkiness cannot. I never use a full lane of traffic, hence: I DO NOT and CANNOT use the rode like a car, so why should I have to follow the same rules that cars do? I want rules that are tailored to my vehicle.

    Furthermore, inconsistent enforcement really irks me. We all know that this “bust” will last a few days then be gone for months until the next time… for whatever reason… someone decides it’s time to “crack down” again. The enforcement is random, capricious and totally detached from the mission of public safety.

  • Last comment: I welcome consistent well-thought-out enforcement of a few essential rules for bikes.

    I think it would be reasonable to ask cyclists to treat red lights at one-way intersections as stop signs, and stop fully, like cars at two way intersections.

    Bikes must yield to all pedestrians without exception including “jaywalkers” Cyclists must avoid passing in front of a a pedestrian, the cyclist should always go around behind.

    Cyclists should walk their bike if a sidewalk on a bridge (with no dedicated bike lane) is crowded. Cyclists should dismount walk past large groups of people and any untethered small children.

    We should not ride against traffic.

    We should probably not make whopping noises like police sirens to scare cabbies and livery cars making illegal pick-ups out of our way. (I knew a messenger who was quite good at doing this… it was very effective!)

    When I stop at a one way intersection and wait for the light pedestrains ask me if I’m OK. “Are you OK? Is something wrong?”

  • kevd

    This is entirely about picking the low hanging fruit and bolstering statistics.
    The NYPD brass’ main goal is to improve the numbers, and right now part of that is giving out as many tickets to cyclists. Then they can respond to NBBL type complainers “we’re doing everything we can. See all these tickets we wrote?”

    It has nothing to do with safety.

  • Suzanne

    “Al Sharpton? Norman Siegel? Eric Adams? Who would stand with us against this NYPD harassment campaign?”

    All you have to do is wait until the next time the cops shoot some unarmed immigrant, elderly grandmother or retarded person. It won’t be long – this *is* the NYPD we’re talking about.

    October 22 is the organization I know about. This year, maybe a bike coalition should be there.

    http://www.october22.org/

  • Kaja

    #36 EP: Haven’t you learned yet? Don’t talk to the police!

    I’m surprised the cops you strolled over & bothered didn’t ticket you, say for jaywalking on the way to get their attention.

    You’re always committing /some/ crime. Everyone’s a criminal. That’s how the system’s designed; to let them get you for /something/, when they decide they want to get you. So don’t give them an excuse.

    Just memorize names and faces, for later.

  • To say nothing about stopping distances,

    The impact forces at 20 mph:

    3042 lb car (prius): 20.4 tons of impact force
    4500 lb SUV: 30.1 tons
    175 lb bicycle-rider combo: 1.2 tons

    at 30 mph, respectively:

    Car 45.8 tons.
    SUV 67.7 tons
    Cyclist 2.6 tons

    anyone want to guess how fast a cyclist has to go to attain the equivalent impact force of a car or SUV traveling 30 mph?

    you can use this to find the answer: http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/carcr.html#cc3

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

NYPD Ticketing Cyclists in Prospect Park and Central Park

|
As dangerous drivers continue to injure and kill with impunity, NYPD is targeting cyclists in parks. Joanna Oltman Smith tweeted the above photo this afternoon. Police were ticketing cyclists on the loop of Prospect Park, Smith wrote, “mere feet” from the raging torrent of speeding traffic that is Flatbush Avenue. Motorists have killed at least […]

Reason Makes a Comeback in Central Park

|
It may now be safe for cyclists who want to get some exercise — as opposed to waiting for lights to turn green or for officers to finish writing $270 tickets — to return to Central Park. At a meeting Wednesday night with representatives of groups that use the park’s loop road, the Central Park […]

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 […]

Sanity Prevails as Advocates and Officials Discuss Central Park Safety Issues

|
Monday night, Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, the commanding officer of NYPD’s Central Park Precinct, led a discussion of street safety in Central Park. Convened by the Central Park Conservancy, it drew representatives of most major advocates and organizations of recreational users of the park, including NY Road Runners, Transportation Alternatives, Asphalt Green Triathalon, Central Park […]