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Panel Unanimously Backs Safe Routes for Cyclists Through Central Park

11:42 AM EST on January 15, 2020

Ever notice how there are plenty of north-south protected bike lanes in and around Central Park, but no real protected route for cyclists between the East and West sides?

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Enough listening — it's time for action.

Residents of the Upper West and Upper East sides demanded that city officials and the Central Park Conservancy immediately draw up plans for safe east-west routes for cyclists through the greensward — perhaps even mimicking plans that were devised a decade ago but shelved.

The heightened resolve — in the form of a unanimously passed resolution by the Community Board 7 transportation and parks committees — comes less than a month after cyclist and beloved local pediatrician Daniel Cammerman was run down and killed by a bus driver as he rode a Citi Bike on the 96th Street Transverse.

Representatives from city DOT, the Conservancy and the NYPD were on hand (the Parks Department was not) — with all reps saying they were there to listen. That wasn't good enough for locals, who are fed up with road violence.

“I’m thankful that you’re here tonight but I’m angry," said Upper West Sider and longtime advocate Andy Rosenthal. "I’m hearing that you’re here to listen, but I have a picture of a meeting that happened at the Parks Department over 10 years ago ... proposing a path that would have saved a man’s life if we had done something. But we chose to do nothing."

Rosenthal was referring to Cammerman, but he might also have been talking about scores of people injured because of cars whizzing along the four east-west roadways through Central Park — roadways set aside entirely for cars.

Since January, 2018, there have been 491 reported crashes on and along the 96th, 86th, 79th and 65th street tranverses, injuring 46 cyclists (and killing two) and 21 pedestrians. That's a phenomenal amount of carnage inside a park, Rosenthal pointed out.

"So it’s nice that we’re all here, but let’s not screw up like we did the last time, before someone else — or somebody elses — die," he said. Let’s do something this time.”

Upper East Sider Ryan Smith also supported the measure on the table, which requires city officials to return no later than March with a concrete plan.

“There’s a tremendous appetite on the East Side as well for safe routes through and to and from Central Park,” he said.

There is also an appetite for cyclists to feel that they are welcome in Central Park, where the Conservancy has put out signboards demanding that cyclists dismount along park pathways — a perhaps reasonable precaution, given the number of pedestrians, but not satisfactory given the poor signage instructing cyclists how to get across the park at all.

"You'd have to be Ace Ventura, pet detective to find this cross-park shared path," tweeted StreetopiaUWS hours after the meeting, with pictures showing the sorry state of the official route.

Many experienced cyclists at the meeting said they were completely unaware of how the Conservancy wants them to get through the park because the signage is so unclear. And the “Cyclists Must Dismount” signs were deployed throughout the park because of an increase in scooters and skateboards on pedestrian paths, said Caroline Greenleaf of the Conservancy.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not welcome," she said. It means, ‘Please come in and proceed to the places cyclists can ride.’”

Cyclists and their supporters on the board weren't buying it. Multiple regular cyclists said they currently they take a car or bus when traveling east-west but would bike across the park if they felt safe. And Ken Coughlin, a member of both the parks and transportation committees, reminded Greenleaf that proper routes for cyclists are an essential feature of any welcome wagon.

“The cycling boom in the city didn't happen on its own," he said. "It started because the city created safe bike infrastructure. ... It’s incredible to me that city officials up until now have apparently not considered the danger of crossing Central Park and they’re right now still in listening mode.”

The park treats cyclists like tourists, added Reed Rubey.

“We need a bike facility — a transportation facility — that is just like a street," he said. "Bikes are a transportation tool. It’s not a toy, it’s not a recreation thing.”

Though unified in support of better cycling infrastructure, attendees were divided on whether protected bike lanes belonged on the transverses or in the park itself, with some expressing concern that the tranverses are filled with cars and buses, and also have infrastructure problems such as potholes and drainage issues that may have caused that icy conditions that police say may have contributed to Cammerman's death. But support for some form safe east-west passage for cyclists was unanimous.

“It takes someone dying for this conversation to have any traction and that’s really unfortunate," said CB7 member Rich Robbins. "This is not something that we can wait and plan and think about. This is still a ticking time bomb. This can easily happen again. ... I’m seeing a lot of finger pointing with a lot of different city agencies — DOT, Parks, the Conservancy, the precinct. ... We need someone to own this issue. “

Greenleaf promised that it is "working with" the DOT and that both organizations are "exploring options."

The clock is ticking.

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