CB 8 Votes For Car-Free Park Trial, Declares All Cyclists Scofflaws

Manhattan Community Board 8 voted Wednesday night in favor of a car-free Central Park trial this summer, joining an increasingly long list of community boards in support of the proposal. My unofficial tally of the roll call had the final vote at 36-8 in favor.

The car-free park trial has picked up committee votes at no fewer than seven community boards, as well as full board votes from CB 7, CB 5, and CB 9 (we’ll have more on the CB 9 vote later today). So far, the proposal seems to be on track to pick up an overwhelming show of public support from the districts surrounding the park, which will be needed to have a shot at overcoming Mayor Bloomberg’s opposition.

The CB 8 vote, which comes from a district bordering the park on the Upper East Side, is notable because the board has reverted to displaying one of the more virulently anti-bike stances in the city, and any proposal perceived to benefit cyclists must overcome a certain level of ingrained resistance.

Board member Michelle Birnbaum is probably the most consistently vocal opponent of bike and pedestrian improvements on CB 8. At a recent transportation committee meeting, she objected to the installation of marked crosswalks and pedestrian signals at an approach to the East River esplanade that crosses underneath the FDR Drive at 96th Street, saying that devices like advance-stop bars would cause traffic to back up too far on the highway service road, and that the city can’t put “plazas and umbrellas” everywhere.

Birnbaum was the only CB 8 member to speak against the car-free park proposal Wednesday night, which was introduced by transportation committee co-chair Jonathan Horn as “another proposal about Central Park and bicycles,” following the board’s vote against shared bike-ped paths across the park (more on that below).

Some highlights from Birnbaum’s unsuccessful attempt to sway the board against the car-free trial:

  • She dismissed the 100,000 signatures gathered in favor of a permanently car-free park between 2000 and 2005, which car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin mentioned at a recent committee meeting. “They neglected to mention that the 100,000 signatures were being gathered since 2003, which preceded the current car-free hours,” she said, asserting that collecting so many signatures is easy if you stand on the loop drive and flag down cyclists. Birnbaum neglected to mention that all those signatures were in favor of a permanent, 24/7 car-free Central Park, and that the people who collected them will tell you that the vast majority came from pedestrians, who are much more likely to stop and sign something than cyclists.
  • The lengthening of the car-free hours in the park in recent years “has been devastating to traffic,” she said, citing no evidence.
  • Birnbaum believes “it’s important that there’s a quick way for traffic to cut through local streets.”
  • “The philosophy [behind the car-free park proposal] is based on a Danish engineer who believes that if you eliminate roadways, you eliminate cars. I don’t buy that philosophy,” she said. In reality there is a wealth of empirical evidence that people consolidate trips, shift to different modes, and otherwise alter their behavior in response to reductions in road space, and it doesn’t come from Copenhagen and Jan Gehl.

While those arguments were unpersuasive to most board members Wednesday night, the full board did sign on to a rather virulent declaration of anti-cyclist sentiment, passing a motion opposed to the establishment of shared bike-ped paths across Central Park.

The Central Park Conservancy has been working on a plan to establish four east-west routes that would give cyclists a safe and legal path across the park. While the two routes that the Conservancy is currently considering do not border CB 8, the board took it upon themselves to forcefully denounce the idea of demarcating shared crosstown bike-ped paths inside the park.

The resolution, which took a few minutes for board member Elizabeth Ashby to finish reading aloud, is essentially a lengthy condemnation of people who bike in Central Park. (Sample clause: “Whereas virtually all bicyclists ignore the laws, rules, and regulations in Central Park.”) The full board passed it 33-10 by my unofficial tally. Streetsblog has a request in with CB 8 for the official text of the resolution.

  • MR

    While I realize that Streetsblog never represents the side of the pedestrian when bikes and walkers come into tension, it should have been mentioned that there are legitimate pedestrian safety concerns related to dangerous cycling in Central Park that are connected with all of these issues.

  • Another crazy “whereas” clause in the reso that passed on the Central park paths went something like this: “Whereas, those responsible for enforcing the rules and regulations regarding bicycling in the park rarely, if ever, enforce them, even when the bicyclists commit violations right in front of them…”

    After reading that whereas clause, Ashby launched into a lengthy anecdote about how she once saw a bicyclist commit a violation in the park when an officer was present, and the officer refused to issue the summonses to the bicyclist that she demanded.

    The sense of entitlement of some of the Community Board 8 members is unbelievable.

    I have personally seen Ashby walking her dog in Central Park on a retractable leash longer than 6 feet, in violation of the law.  I’ve also seen her enter the crosswalk while the light is flashing “don’t walk,” which is a violation for pedestrians (peds may only enter the roadway when the white “walk” signal is showing, see below). 

    Do cranks like this ever think about what life would be like if everybody went around citing everybody else for every violation of every rule?  That’s not the world I want, I refuse to get involved in a tit-for-tat of calling others on non-serious rulebreaking, but seriously, people in glass houses…

    VTL § 1112. Pedestrian-control signal indications. Whenever pedestrians
    are controlled by pedestrian-control signals exhibiting the words “WALK”
    or “DON’T WALK”, or exhibiting symbols of a walking person or upraised
    hand, such signals shall indicate and apply to pedestrians as follows:
    (a) Steady WALK or walking person. Pedestrians facing such signal may
    proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be
    given the right of way by other traffic.
    (b) Flashing DON’T WALK or upraised hand. No pedestrian shall start to
    cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, but any pedestrians
    who have partially completed their crossing on the WALK or walking
    person signal shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the
    flashing DON’T WALK or upraised hand signal is showing.
    (c) Steady DON’T WALK or upraised hand. No pedestrians shall start to
    cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, but any pedestrians
    who have partially completed their crossing on the WALK or flashing
    DON’T WALK signal shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the
    steady DON’T WALK signal is showing.

  • MR, I can’t asses your criticism of Streetsblog’s coverage until you articulate what the “pedestrian’s side” is in a case of pedestrian-cyclist tension.  For instance, is the “pedestrian’s side” a demand to prohibit cycling in the spaces where the pedestrians are?  Then I’d say you’re right, Streetsblog takes that side rarely if ever.  If the “pedestrian’s side” is to call for measures that allow cyclists and pedestrians to safely co-exist subject to reasonable enforcement, then you’re wrong.

    But I do agree with you that there are real safety and quality of life issues at stake in the cross park paths.  The answer is not to ignore the legitimate needs of commuter cyclists to safely and legally cross the park, with gratuitous generalized condemnations of all cyclists thrown into the bargain.  The answer is to volunteer,  get active, and help make the shared path a success.  Let’s see if we get any of that from the CB8 members who voted for this hateful resolution.

  • J

    I tend to agree about ped concerns with bikes on the Central Park paths, and think this is a case of fighting over scraps. There are perfectly good transverse roads, and that is where the bike paths crossing the park should be located. They could be made simply using Jersey barriers.

    For example, the 96th St transverse is around 31ft in most sections, you could make 11ft travel lanes, and an 8ft 2-way bike path separated by jersey barriers. There are issues where the road crosses under bridges, but those can be designed around (bike path on the sidewalk, perhaps). Even if you have to dismount twice and use a narrow bike path, it’d still be much much better than the terrifying existing trip on the transverse or dodging pedestrians on the proposed “shared-use paths”.

  • Joe R.

    “Do cranks like this ever think about what life would be like if everybody went around citing everybody else for every violation of every rule?”

    I agree wholeheartedly.  I’m a life-long NYer and I’m getting sick of people (many of them transplants) trying to turn this into Seattle.  Bikes and pedestrians can operate perfectly well on a see and be seen basis.  We just don’t need a bunch of stupid lights to tell us what to do.  Even worse is that segment of the population who only wants the laws enforced when they pertain to groups they don’t particularly like.   For heaven’s sake, this is a PARK.  People come here for fun.  We don’t need to make it like a video game with a gazillion silly rules.  Get the cars out of the park for good, get rid of the traffic signals, let people get used to looking out for one another.  It’ll work just fine.  It continually amazes me listening to all these morons harping on “the rules”.  Yeah, the rules are fine when they don’t apply to you.  I’ll bet some of these pedestrians who will have a party if they see a cyclist ticketed will throw a hissy fit it they received a summons for crossing against the light.  Even worse, in many cases NYC can’t even agree on what the rules are, like when they were enforcing a 15 mph limit on cyclists.  Please, put a stop to this Orwellian nonsense!

  • MR

    Well, the “pedestrian’s side” certainly relates to the cross-park routes in this case.  There are legitimate safety issues, and always non-compliance issues in “dismount” and “slow” cycling zones.  In those cases, Streetsblog doesn’t cover the pedestrian safety side at all – it’s always advocacy for greater cyclist access or condemnation of straightforward enforcement.  You’re never going to see any commentary supporting pedestrian safety at the expense of cyclist freedoms.  And while the cross-park routes seem like a really sensible idea, there’s a general lawlessness by cyclists in the Park that suggests that a presumption of cyclist compliance is not reasonable, and pedestrian safety needs to be thought about more creatively.

    In the particular case of the loop, there is also a really interesting impact of cars on the loop road in the Park that reduces pedestrian injuries on the road to zero.  It’s truly amazing.  When it’s bicycles only, that’s when the pedestrian injury rates skyrocket.  It would be great for Streetsblog to acknowledge this datapoint.  Personally, I think the park should be car-free as well, but it needs to be concurrent with structural changes to calm the behavior of rogue cyclists and enhanced enforcement activity.  That’s the only way to reduce a growing, disturbing pedestrian (v. cyclist) injury rate that needs to be checked.

  • MR

    Well, the “pedestrian’s side” certainly relates to the cross-park routes in this case.  There are legitimate safety issues, and always non-compliance issues in “dismount” and “slow” cycling zones.  In those cases, Streetsblog doesn’t cover the pedestrian safety side at all – it’s always advocacy for greater cyclist access or condemnation of straightforward enforcement.  You’re never going to see any commentary supporting pedestrian safety at the expense of cyclist freedoms.  And while the cross-park routes seem like a really sensible idea, there’s a general lawlessness by cyclists in the Park that suggests that a presumption of cyclist compliance is not reasonable, and pedestrian safety needs to be thought about more creatively.

    In the particular case of the loop, there is also a really interesting impact of cars on the loop road in the Park that reduces pedestrian injuries on the road to zero.  It’s truly amazing.  When it’s bicycles only, that’s when the pedestrian injury rates skyrocket.  It would be great for Streetsblog to acknowledge this datapoint.  Personally, I think the park should be car-free as well, but it needs to be concurrent with structural changes to calm the behavior of rogue cyclists and enhanced enforcement activity.  That’s the only way to reduce a growing, disturbing pedestrian (v. cyclist) injury rate that needs to be checked.

  • J.:  While personally I would favor having both the shared pathway and the transverse made safe for cyclists, I am aware of extensive efforts to get DoT to make the transverses safe, such as the approach you describe with the jersey barriers. DoT’s response was that it would not redesign the transverses to make them safe for cyclists because these pathways were going to be created in the park.

  • J.:  While personally I would favor having both the shared pathway and the transverse made safe for cyclists, I am aware of extensive efforts to get DoT to make the transverses safe, such as the approach you describe with the jersey barriers. DoT’s response was that it would not redesign the transverses to make them safe for cyclists because these pathways were going to be created in the park.

  • J.:  While personally I would favor having both the shared pathway and the transverse made safe for cyclists, I am aware of extensive efforts to get DoT to make the transverses safe, such as the approach you describe with the jersey barriers. DoT’s response was that it would not redesign the transverses to make them safe for cyclists because these pathways were going to be created in the park.

  • MR

    See, I think this is what cyclists don’t get.  You guys are operating at a higher level of attention, precision and anxiety in order to operate a small machine at a decent speed.  That’s great – that’s what you should do.  However, obligating pedestrians to employ that same level of attention and stress just isn’t fair.  We do our best not to get hit, but have in no way bought into some bargain under which we expect to need to defend ourselves against cyclists breaking the law.  We don’t want that imposed on us any more than you want muggers hiding in the bushes along the greenway.

    As you said – it’s a PARK.  “People come here for fun.”  Most of them come there to wander around, 3% to ride their bicycle.  If there’s a sacrifice to be made, I think almost everyone would agree that it should be yours.

  • Joe R.

    MR, I don’t ride in Central Park (or Manhattan for that matter), so I really have no vested interest in what happens there. Yes, I certainly agree it should be cyclists looking out for and avoiding pedestrians, not the other way around.  That said, this can work perfectly well WITHOUT idiotic traffic signals.  A cyclist sees someone crossing, they slow down as needed so that they pass behind that person (and at a safe distance of at least a few feet, not 6 inches).  If there’s a lot of people crossing at once, then you slow to a crawl until they pass, or even stop.  Chances are good you’ll probably only need to do these things a few times in your ride, so I’m not getting why it seems so hard for some cyclists to do this.

    So yes, I agree with you in principal, if by “sacrifice” you mean that cyclists should be the ones looking out for and avoiding pedestrians.  I vehemently disagree though if you mean continuing the retarded system where cyclists have to stop and wait at every single red light in the park for the full cycle, even when nothing is crossing.  That’s not a minor sacrifice, but something which pretty much makes riding in the park totally pointless.

  •  “trying to turn this into Seattle” – have you been to Seattle? They probably live and let live more than you guys do, from what I seem to be reading about the “Battle of NYC” lately…

  • MR

    Joe R. – you’ve said “I vehemently disagree though if you mean continuing the retarded system where cyclists have to stop and wait at every single red light in the park for the full cycle, even when nothing is crossing.”

    That’s not the current system.  The current system is that cyclists are obligated to stop at red lights when pedestrians are at the crosswalk.

  • MR

    Joe R. – you’ve said “I vehemently disagree though if you mean continuing the retarded system where cyclists have to stop and wait at every single red light in the park for the full cycle, even when nothing is crossing.”

    That’s not the current system.  The current system is that cyclists are obligated to stop at red lights when pedestrians are at the crosswalk.

  • Joe R.

    MR-if the current standard is “stop on red only if pedestrians are crossing”, then to me that seems reasonable.  I was under the impression they still had a zero tolerance policy regarding passing red lights.

    murphstahoe-My comment about “Seattle” refers to their practice of ticketing for every petty violation to the point that pedestrians are afraid to cross against the light at 3AM when it’s 10 degrees.  NYers prefer to live by common sense, which is if a street is clear, you cross.  I don’t want NYC to become like Seattle because frankly that would bring it to a standstill (and make life highly unpleasant).  I don’t need to take 20 minutes to do a 10 minute walk on account of draconian enforcement which doesn’t really add anything to safety.  It’s the difference between being a slave to the law, versus following the spirit of it. 

  • Cars out of Parks

    I’d argue that advocating for getting cars out of the park is one example of Streetsblog representing the “side of the pedestrian.”

  • Anonymous

    Haha-I HALF agree with you Joe. I was actually just in Seattle this past week, and rode bikes, jogged and drove around a lot while I was there.  I was completely blown away by the amount of sensible, robust bike infrastructure, and even more blown away by the fact that no one’s panties are in a twist about it and everyone gets along swimmingly.  Pedestrians and bikes even coexist on the same trails, and–gasp of all gasps–bikes are even allowed ON THE SIDEWALK as long as they yield to peds!!! 

    New York is the current gold standard for uber-busy-body, someone elses’s-gain-is-my-loss, every-single-law-should-be-followed-no-exceptions, hyperbolic-antics-at-community-board-meetings behavior at this point, but don’t put that on other cities.  Too many people fall into the trap that if an idea has ever been tried somewhere else it couldn’t possibly be good enough for NYC, and it leads to a certain kind of urban parochialism that contradicts our rightful status as the Global Capital of Everything.

  • Joe R.

    station44025-I agree about NYC’ parochialism sometimes being its worst enemy.  I guess I stereotyped Seattle based on stuff I read (never been there) the same way many have stereotyped NYC as a crime-infested lawless hellhole based solely on watching the evening news.  So they let bikes and sidewalks in Seattle?  Cool-we should do it here with the proviso that you yield to peds.  I’ve been saying for years that our blanket no sidewalk cycling policy is silly, especially in the outer boroughs.  The sidewalks where I live could serve the same function as protected bike lanes.  There just isn’t much ped traffic, but many won’t ride along certain arterials with fast motor traffic.  And I absolutely love the “All Traffic Stop Here On Red Except Bikes”.  It’s a shame NYC can’t adopt some enlightened solutions like this.

    Anyway, my apologizes to any Seattle residents for my short-sighted comments.  It seems things aren’t quite as I read.  Sounds like NYC could learn a few things from Seattle.

  • dporpentine

    @3766193b804fcb929bf31f0ca7521ebb:disqus “That’s not the current system.  The current system is that cyclists
    are obligated to stop at red lights when pedestrians are at the
    crosswalk.”
    No, that’s not the current system. Joe R. was right: the current system is that all vehicles–bicycles included–are obliged to stop at red lights for the entire cycle, whether there are pedestrians there or not.
    I’m always terrified by how ignorant people are of the laws that should be governing their behavior on the road.

  • MR,

    You make some good points.  I agree that pedestrians have not “bought into” the same need cyclists have of maintaining a high degree of vigilance and care.  And as the faster and more maneuverable ones, cyclists have to work harder to avoid pedestrians than vice versa. 

    The reason there are more collisions when motor vehicles aren’t in the park is because the motor vehicles organize the bike and running traffic. Vulnerable users are relatively careful to act predictably when they know they can be killed by a motorist for riding or “stepping out of line.”  I suppose the park could be made yet “safer” by allowing cars on the loop 24/7?

    This obviously doesn’t mean that cyclists are the primary source of danger in the park or that things will become more dangerous if cars are removed.  It just means people need to be more careful, even when there aren’t cars.  According to Doug Blonksy, head of the Central Park Conservancy, there are a number of safety measures that could be taken to address cyclist-pedestrian conflicts if the cars were removed from the equation.

  • MR

    I agree with you completely, and appreciate your response. 

    I guess we diverge at points when I get annoyed at Streetsblog and the hardcore cycling advocates approach these situations with a “punchlist” perspective, and refuse to think holistically about all street (and park users).  They’re just revved up to conquer the next political battle for cycling without paying much mind to pedestrian danger or other unintended consequences.

    Just as an example, it would be so much more useful for Streetsblog to articulate Doug Blonsky’s recommended safety measures rather than trying to belittle those people who have concerns (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) about traffic flow or pedestrian safety.

  • MR

    @c661ddb94bcffdc2c6124e349eafdc77:disqus – you’re actually wrong.  Ask your preferred member of the Central Park traffic light/cycling working group.  They can clue you in. 

    I’ll give you a pass on being “ignorant,” as the decision wasn’t super publicized. 🙂

  • dporpentine

    @3766193b804fcb929bf31f0ca7521ebb:disqus No, you’re still wrong. They’ve signaled (ha! ha! I’m so funny!) that they won’t necessarily ticket people for that, but it’s still illegal.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

CB 10 Committee Latest Unanimous Vote For Car-Free Central Park Trial

|
Another day, another unanimous show of support for a summertime trial of a car-free Central Park. Last night, the transportation committee of Manhattan Community Board 10, representing central Harlem, voted seven to zero in favor of the car-free trial, with one abstention. The list of Manhattan community board votes supporting the trial period has grown […]

Upper East Side Joins Chorus of Car-Free Central Park Supporters

|
The momentum is growing for a summer-long trial of a car-free Central Park. Two weeks ago, the transportation and parks committees of Manhattan Community Board 7, representing the Upper West Side, voted unanimously to support such a trial. Last week, the proposal passed the transportation committee of Midtown’s CB 5, again unanimously. And last night, […]