Parks Commissioner: ‘No One Ever Asked Me About Safe Cycling in Central Park’

This is the reality for many cyclists trying to go crosstown through Central Park. File photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
This is the reality for many cyclists trying to go crosstown through Central Park. File photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Well if you don’t know, Commissioner, now you know.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver
Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver

City Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver told Streetsblog on Wednesday that he had never been asked about creating safe routes for cyclists across Central Park — an astounding answer given that advocates have been working on the very topic for more than a decade, and renewed the effort in 2020 after a beloved pediatrician was killed while riding a Citi Bike on a Central Park transverse configured only for cars and buses.

Streetsblog had questioned Silver at the otherwise unrelated opening of two gorgeous new entrances to Prospect Park, asking for an update on his department’s efforts to encourage safe cycling in the car-free Central Park, which currently has only one dedicated cross-town route for bike riders between 59th and 110th streets.

“This is the first I have been asked that question,” Silver said. “I am very open to looking at a way that we can create those safe passages. … When I get back [to the office] today, I’ll take a look at the map to see if there is a way to do it safely across the park.”

As a point of fact, this is not the first time Silver has been informed of advocates’ demand for safety in Central Park:

  • Even before the death of Dr. Daniel Cammerman in December, 2019, former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe told Streetsblog that the configuration of Central Park is too dangerous for cyclists. “It’s the Wild, Wild West,” Benepe said.
  • Two weeks after Cammerman’s death, advocates started their latest push. On Jan. 6, StreetopiaUWS wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio (Silver’s boss)
  •  Streetsblog reported on Jan. 9, 2020. The Parks Department was asked for comment and declined.
  • Also in January, 2020, the Community Board 7 transportation and parks committees voted unanimously on a resolution demanding that city officials immediately draw up plans for safe east-west routes for cyclists through the greensward.
  • Daniel Cammerman was killed on his bike on Dec. 18, 2019 in Central Park.
    Daniel Cammerman was killed on his bike on Dec. 18, 2019 in Central Park.

    On Feb. 4, 2020, StreetopiaUWS sent an email to Sam Biederman, senior adviser and assistant commissioner, reminding him that in the decade since advocates first met with the Parks Department to discuss six to eight possible locations for cross-park paths, only one dedicated route was ever created — the existing roadway at 72nd Street. (There is a second way across the park — at 96th Street — but it is a shared path with pedestrians that is not safe for either user. It also has stairs, which are a deal-breaker for cyclists.) “I don’t think we should need resolutions [from community boards] for city agencies to come together [to fix problems],” the group’s director, Lisa Orman, told Biederman. “That should just be how [city agencies] work.”

  • Hours later on that same day, CB7’s full board unanimously passed a resolution asking for the creation of a task force to present solutions for direct, safe cross-park routes. This task force would include the Parks Department.
  • On March 4, StreetopiaUWS, the civic group, sent an email to Biederman that sought more information about his agency’s efforts on “cross-park paths.” That email also included a list of ideas that the group and other advocates had created.
  • On April 8, StreetopiaUWS again wrote to Biederman to complain that the shared path for cyclists and pedestrians on 96th Street is unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians, who must share a narrow path that is so badly labeled that pedestrians do not realize it is a shared roadway.
  • On April 9, Streetsblog emailed the Parks Department for an update on safe routes through Central Park. The agency did not respond.
  • On April 22, CB8 on the Upper East Side followed the CB7 request with its own 41-1 vote.
  • On April 23, Streetsblog again asked about safe routes. The Parks Department did not respond.
  • Sometime in the summer of 2020, Bike NY, the city’s main bike-only advocacy group, reached out to the Parks Department “to recommended an easy approach to formalizing the 102nd cross-park route,” said the group’s advocacy director, Jon Orcutt. “We never received an answer/response.”
  • On July 17, StreetopiaUWS again wrote to Biederman to share a new report by Central Park Advocates and several Streetfilm mini-documentaries on the difficulty cyclists have in the park.
  • On Nov. 5, StreetopiaUWS wrote directly to Silver urging him to take action in light of all the previous activity and the failure of the task force to even meet: “This task force had one charge: to propose safe, direct cross-park bike routes through Central Park. From our understanding, the task force has never met.”

Taken together, Silver’s words on Wednesday are sort of preposterous, advocates said.

“I have a hard time believing nobody’s asked him about safe routes through the park, especially in light of the crash that killed Dr. Cammerman,” said Joe Cutrufo, former spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, who recently took a new job in Houston, a Texas city.

Regardless of Silver’s hard-to-believe answer to Streetsblog on Wednesday, the commissioner affably said he was open to fixing the problem.

“Clearly, cities are layers of history,” he said. “And when the Central Park was designed, it wanted to separate pedestrians from vehicles. We are now in the reality of the 21st century, where transportation is very different, whether it is walking or biking. So I don’t mind taking a look. … And it is a landmarked park, so [when] introducing new paths, you have to proceed with caution. But I have no problem reaching out to the DOT commissioner to have a conversation with them about the transverses. But I honestly never been asked the question before.”

Update: An earlier version of this story suggested that Streetsblog “confronted” Silver. There was no “confrontation” and we did not mean to suggest there was. The commissioner graciously answered all our questions in his usual polite and professional manner.

SIDEBAR: Eyes on the Street: The New Prospect Park Entrances

Given that Silver was on hand at an event celebrating delightful new public space in Prospect Park, it’s ironic that the question he was asked about Central Park may someday be asked about Prospect Park. Generally speaking, Parks Department policies have put cyclists last in ways great (like how cyclists are made to feel unwelcome in Central and car-choked Flushing Meadows Corona Park) and small (like how the Parks Department created a substandard, hilly detour in Riverside Park in 2019 to discourage cycling or how it did not see the need to create a safe alternative path for cyclists when repairs were being done last year on the Cherry Walk segment of the Hudson River Greenway).

The small ways were on display at the Parks Department ribbon-cutting on Wednesday. Thanks to a brand new protected bike lane on Flatbush Avenue between Grand Army Plaza and Empire Boulevard, many more visitors will likely get to Prospect Park via bikes.

Here’s how they’ll be greeted (notice there’s neither curb cuts nor bike racks to encourage cyclists to enter Prospect Park or bike to it in the first place):

Notice there's no curb cut to encourage cyclists to enter Prospect Park. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

 

And when cyclists lift their bike and enter the park in this location, they are not directed towards any bike path because, indeed, there is none, as the slideshow below shows:

Certainly no one wants cyclists whizzing along narrow park paths where there might be children playing, but it is very clear that whenever the Parks Department has an opportunity to encourage cycling by widening paths or creating dedicated space, it chooses not to do so.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Central Park Above 72nd Street Is Now Car-Free Forever

|
Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot […]