Sanity Prevails as Advocates and Officials Discuss Central Park Safety Issues

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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 Skate Patrol, and various bike clubs and bike racing organizations.

Responding to the tragic killing of Jill Tarlov, the group worked to build on education and enforcement programs for users of the Central Park loop. In contrast to the overheated rhetoric in the tabloids and local TV newscasts, sanity prevailed. Some of the more radical proposals that have surfaced of late — such as closing the loop to bikes — were not even mentioned. Lowering the speed limit in the park did not come up either. It appears that, at least in the short term, cyclists’ use of the park will continue as it has before, albeit with a continuation of the increased level of enforcement already seen for most of 2014.

Inspector Corey started with some statistics: Year to date, there have been 168 crashes involving cyclists in the park, with six involving motor vehicles, 98 involving cyclists crashing on their own, 27 involving two or more cyclists, and 37 involving pedestrians. In addition with the two recent pedestrian fatalities, she mentioned three cases involving pedestrian skull fractures, including one which occurred during the early morning hours when training bicyclists are supposed to use the park loop.

Corey also reported nearly 700 moving violations and 100 criminal citations issued to cyclists year-to-date — a nearly six-fold increase over the first nine months of 2013. Most of these summonses were for failure to yield to pedestrians, although she indicated that there has been an increase in red light tickets as well following the two recent fatalities and other serious crashes.

I raised the issue of criminal summonses, since I’ve received several reports of cyclists on the loop going slowly through red lights, while no pedestrians were in the crosswalk, receiving summonses for “reckless driving” — a misdemeanor charge that applies only to motor vehicle operators and is used only for the most serious misconduct by motorists. The recipients of these summons will be forced to appear in criminal court — there is no way to resolve the summons by mail — but will have the charges dismissed (because they are not motor vehicle operators) after wasting half a day at court. I explained that this kind of criminal summonsing is not only completely improper, but breeds contempt, rather than respect, for the law. Inspector Corey promised to investigate these criminal summonses.

Corey also explained a common misunderstanding she has experienced with cyclists, when she or precinct officers are present in uniform “in control” of an intersection. This often occurs during concerts in the park but also at other times. The officers will insist that all traffic follow their instructions, which may include waiting at a light when (at least from a cyclist’s perspective) there is no apparent reason to do so. She explained that cyclists disobeying orders to stop at intersections that police are “in control” of are subject to summonses, and that pointed, disrespectful complaints to officers from cyclists are not uncommon and are counterproductive. She did add that she was not assigning officers to do early-morning red-light enforcement on cyclists, and that enforcement of the “two earphone” rule (listening to one earphone is allowed, but not two) had recently begun.

Update: Deputy Inspector Corey called me on Saturday to confirm that the criminal summons for reckless driving issued to a cyclist would be voided, and that she and her staff are undertaking a review of the approximately 700 summonses issued to cyclists this year to confirm that they were properly coded so that surcharges and license penalty points would not be applied.

For their part, the cycling and other advocacy organizations present at the meeting condemned training rides and other “fast cycling” during the afternoon and evening when the recent fatalities occurred. It was noted that some bike/ped crashes involved runners who unexpectedly turned into the cycling lane, and that education with runners and pedestrians should be a continued priority. The need to publicize the rule that the outer lane of the loop is forbidden to cyclists and pedestrians except for incidental use (e.g., passing congestion in the bike lane) was also discussed.

Several people who bike in the park (including myself) expressed the view that cyclists who ride alone — and are not getting the peer reinforcement of safe riding behavior and safety messaging that club/group riding can often provide — accounted for much of the problem, and these individuals should be the subject of targeted education and enforcement efforts, including pursuit, if safe, of cyclists who deliberately disregard direct orders from police.

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