STREET THIEVES: NYPD Seizes Park Paths, Hindering Access to Mayor de Blasio’s Ferry for No Reason

An NYPD SUV blocks open space inside Carl Schurz Park at around 90th Street, making it impossible for pedestrians and ferry riders to walk south. Photo: Steven Vago
An NYPD SUV blocks open space inside Carl Schurz Park at around 90th Street, making it impossible for pedestrians and ferry riders to walk south. Photo: Steven Vago

It’s a tale of two cities right in Hizzoner’s backyard.

The NYPD has barricaded off sections of Carl Schurz Park near the dock for the NYC Ferry at 90th Street, forcing an unnecessary walk for park goers and ferry riders — and raising the specter of racial bias, said ferry passengers.

“I witnessed what I would presume is white privilege going on here. They allowed a white woman [to pass] and escorted her up and let her walk around through,” said cyclist and ferry rider John Collado, referring to the south section of the park.

The NYPD’s move to seize large swaths of public space — covered by Streetsblog this week — began amid the citywide protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. At around 4:45 p.m. daily, three access points — the southeast side of John Finley Walk, the west side entrance at 87th and East End Avenue, and the north side at the 90th Street ferry — connecting Gracie Mansion to the NYC Ferry are closed off until around 9 a.m. Riders said no heads up was given from the ferry service and no signs in the park indicate closures — a claim denied by the Economic Development Corporation, which says it alerted riders via the ferry system’s Twitter page after the NYPD told the agency that it would seize public space.

Looking south, the NYPD barricades inside Carl Schurtz Park confused pedestrians and riders who had just exited the ferry and wanted to walk south. Photo: Steven Vago
Looking south, the NYPD barricades inside Carl Schurtz Park confused pedestrians and riders who had just exited the ferry and wanted to walk south. Photo: Steven Vago

In any event, many park-goers and riders told Streetsblog the protesters are rarely in the park, mostly just on East End Avenue closer to Gracie Mansion where the mayor resides. Recently, the protests have dwindled.

“I’m disgusted,” said a public servant who was waiting for a ferry but did not want to give his name. “It’s just taking space which can be used. The promenade can be opened up and they could have guards on the steps going up to Gracie Mansion.”

A central issue for commuters is the added hassle.

“The only way to access the dock is to go up to 96th Street, so if you’re commuting below 90th, that’s adding more than 12 blocks to your commute,” said Erik Hasenoehrl, who regularly picks up his wife, an essential worker, and baby from the ferry (the essential worker’s workplace provides child care).

ferry diagramThe ferry is a convenient way to commute with a stroller, Hasenoehrl said, but he’s figured out a work-around: he either pleads with the officer on duty or arrives each day before the cops close down the park path. He said he’s seen a ferry rider with a heart condition turned away.

Hasenoehrl said the seizure of the park path raises the possibility of racial bias.

“It’s not just because of who they are choosing to let through,” he said. “As a white person, I feel way more comfortable standing there and telling a cop, ‘Look I have to get through. You can’t stop me from getting through. My wife needs to do this job.’ I think if I was black, I would be a lot more worried about the consequences of that kind of persistence.”

On the barricades the other day, Streetsblog watched an officer let three older white women through. This reporter asked how the officer determines who can pass. The officer’s reply? “If you don’t need to go through, then that’s where my communication with you ends.”

A Latino mother walking with her 5-month-old newborn was turned away, forced to cross First Avenue at dangerous 96th Street, where there were 67 crashes last year, injuring five cyclists, according to CrashMapper. Overall, in the larger “walkaround” area, there were 148 crashes last year, injuring eight cyclists and four pedestrians.

“I have to go all the way up to 96th Street to cross over with my newborn. At least have some signs so that we are aware, that’s all that I ask,” she said.

As the amount of protesters dissipate around Gracie Mansion, the barricades remain, making the NYPD act as the usual public space gatekeepers, protecting Mayor de Blasio from an imagined evil: his own constituents.

“It’s indicative of his lack of respect for the people of the city. Despite any lack of real threat, he’s still disrupting the lives of people who are trying to get to work during the pandemic,” said Hasenoehrl. “There is without a doubt issues with white privilege and discrimination going on.”

The Economic Development Corporation, which runs the ferry lines, claims that the NYPD is now letting riders through the barricades, as long as they show a ferry ticket — but Streetsblog has not been able to verify that change in policy, which appears to have come about only because we asked about it.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

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