Car-Free Parks? Not During This Hudson River Greenway Drive-In Picnic

Driving over a mile on a car-free greenway for that perfect picnic spot? No problem. Photo: Katty Van Itallie

New York City’s parks are supposed to be a respite from the noise and stress of the city. It seems a few people haven’t got the message — and are using the Hudson River Greenway bicycle and pedestrian path as their personal driveway to the Upper Manhattan waterfront.

Reader Katty Van Itallie tells Streetsblog that she was biking on the greenway at about 6:30 p.m. yesterday when she came across a couple of SUVs parked on the grass near the Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park. The drivers and passengers had set up a sunset picnic nearby. When she snapped some photos, one of the members of the group approached her, telling her not to take pictures of their cars and that they had a permit for the drive-in.

“There would certainly be a permit for a picnic. I can’t speak to the driving,” said Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson. UPDATE: “No permits were issued for any kind of event at this park,” Abramson said in an e-mail to Streetsblog.

Van Itallie said she spoke with security guards in the area, contracted by the Port Authority to monitor the George Washington Bridge, who told her that while the cars were not supposed to be there, it was outside their jurisdiction to take action. Earlier on her ride, south of the picnic, Van Itallie passed a police car that had pulled over a driver on the greenway path.

In order to drive to the Little Red Lighthouse, which sits at approximately 178th Street, the drivers most likely would have had to come from the south, since the path to the north is curving, steep and narrow. The nearest auto access point is 155th Street, meaning the drivers must have covered about 23 blocks — more than a mile — on a car-free path during rush hour to reach their destination.

Crews have been rebuilding the park entrance at 158th Street since last year, and there is a gate at 155th Street where construction vehicles can access the park. When Van Itallie passed the gate, it was left open. “It has been left open consistently since they started construction,” Van Itallie told Streetsblog via e-mail.

Automobile drivers illegally using the Hudson River Greenway can pose a serious danger. In 2006, a drunk driver speeding down the greenway in Chelsea killed Eric Ng, who was riding a bike on his way to meet friends.

  • Anonymous

    SUVs parked near the George Washington Bridge, and security guards not worried about terrorism? Call Marcia Kramer at CBS News!

  • Ari

    DIY solution: lock the gate.

  • Mark Walker

    I’ve lost track of the number of cars I’ve seen driving down the Hudson River Promenade (part of the Greenway in the 90s) over the years. That includes one yesterday. Cops who drive their patrol cars on the Greenway are maybe not the most likely types to enforce the law. The horrible irony is that Robert Moses cut off much of the riverfront from West Side residents when he built the Henry Hudson Parkway, and the purpose of the Greenway is to restore pedestrian and bike access. The cars also contribute to subsidence along the railing, causing potholes that could injure an ankle or damage a bike. They are actually damaging the Greenway and apparently no one is bothering to stop them.

  • truthinparking

    It’s great when drivers yell at people for taking pictures of their cars when doing something they know is illegal. Likewise, does Streetsblog really need to hide the license plate number? Doing this seems to perpetuate the idea that whatever a driver does is their “private business” unless caught by the police.

  • BkBiker

    Really, the Parks Department can give tickets to bicyclists riding after hours, but can do nothing about drivers illegally driving on park land? I suspect their “outside their jurisdiction” means “couldn’t be bothered”.

  • You can blame the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, which has gotten us into hot water for posting license plates before.'s_Privacy_Protection_Act

  • Doesn’t this mean the DMV and other agencies that collect such info can’t release such records? It doesn’t say anything about members of the public, newspapers, etc. This is freaking insane. What if I record a reckless driver on a go-pro that caught the license plate? Could Streetsblog not post that? And what about section 2.1, which notes questions of safety as an exception?

  • I can’t decide if it’s weirder that NYPD patrols the most heavily used bikeway in the country with squad cars or horses.

  • Anonymous

    Shouldn’t this be characterized as “reckless” behavior, like driving on a sidewalk? Pedestrians and cyclists have no reason to expect motorists on the path, and the vehicles don’t have emergency lights.

  • PARK, BIKE, WALK, are all 4 letter words. BAD.

    CAR, PARKING, are not 4 letter words. GOOD.

    Now you understand, yes?

  • The trouble for us comes from the threat of litigation more than the literal application of the law. If it’s critical to the story to include the license plate, we will do that. If it’s not, I’d rather not risk any portion of our budget on legal expenses we could have avoided.

  • Anonymous

    Your under arrest! Now sit quietly on the back of the horse while we ride to the precinct. Oh and try not to spook it.

  • More pointing out how stupid the law is (or at least, how stupid the unintended consequences of the law are) than questioning the decision. And so in addition to the long de facto bill of rights that car ownership grants drivers, we add prior restraint.

  • Anonymous

    Boom nailed it!

  • Anonymous

    Boom nailed it!

  • Anonymous

    Boom nailed it!

  • vnm

    Actually it was the Port Authority officers who said it was out of their jurisdiction, which is correct. The Port Authority is responsible for the George Washington Bridge overhead, not for the parkland.

  • vnm

    Actually it was the Port Authority officers who said it was out of their jurisdiction, which is correct. The Port Authority is responsible for the George Washington Bridge overhead, not for the parkland.

  • vnm

    Actually it was the Port Authority officers who said it was out of their jurisdiction, which is correct. The Port Authority is responsible for the George Washington Bridge overhead, not for the parkland.

  • In my experience, that particular stretch of the greenway is impassable on any weekend afternoon or evening when the weather is nice. Lots of illegal grills, lots of unattended children playing in the middle of the greenway, and more litter than you can shake a stick at. It’s one of those “this is why we can’t have nice things” scenarios.

  • Andrew

    It’s absurd that anyone would even suggest that publicizing a photograph of a car in a public area, plainly visible to passers-by, could possibly be illegal. A license plate is no less public than a bumper sticker.

  • I live in Brooklyn and work between 53rd and 54th streets, so mainly ride the portion of the Greenway between 55th and Chambers streets. But I am constantly surprised by the frequency with which I encounter motorized vehicles of various kinds. I can (kind of) understand the number of parks department golf buggies I come across (though I can’t work out why single parks department employees can’t just ride bikes). But it’s not uncommon to find vehicles belonging to contractors, parks police and just plain lost taxis and other vehicles driving along it.
    This, of course, is the kind of behavior one should expect in a city where most traffic rules for motorists are essentially unenforced.

  • Ian Turner

    There are several circumstances where publishing a photograph taken in public can be illegal. Some examples:

    – It is illegal to use the image of a living person for a commercial purpose without their consent.

    – It is illegal to publish pictures whose primary subject is a copyrighted work, without consent from the copyright owner.

    – Photographing a person after being asked to stop could be a violation of stalking laws in some states.

    It is plausible to me to think that license plates could be in the same category, although I don’t see any statutes that would make it so.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I have repeatedly been threatened by blowhards who find my photos on Flickr of them in their cars doing illegal things. I actually tag the pictures with the plate numbers, in addition to showing the plates in the photos.

    To nobody’s surprise, these idiots disappear after I have my attorney send them a strongly worded letter. I assume that OpenPlans is adequately represented, so I’m surprised you guys find this to be a problem.

  • killmoto

    Apparently you can drive over a boy’s chest on a NYC sidewalk and cite the “spilled milk” defense, then drive home scot free.

  • KillMoto

    Ninja rocks.

  • Bastards


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