LONG OVERDUE: Mayor Acknowledges His Failure to Provide Safe Cycling Routes through Central Park

Cyclists in Central Park. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Cyclists in Central Park. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Mayor de Blasio gets it — he needs to protect cyclists and pedestrians in Central Park.

Hizzoner admitted the obvious in response to a listener question on Friday morning’s Brian Lehrer show about his administration’s failure to provide safe routes for cyclists through the greenspace, a question that was connected to this week’s killing of a cyclist by a truck driver on Central Park West at the 86th Street Transverse.

“We’ve long known this intersection is dangerous. What are your plans to improve safety here?” the listener asked. “Do you have a plan for safe cross-town bike passage through Central Park?”

The mayor answered the first part specifically, but only addressed the second part of the question generally.

“We need to do more immediately,” he said. “I’m waiting to hear back on a plan for the next steps we need to take. There are too many places in this city that still need a lot of work. I’m not going to mince words on that. Vision Zero as a strategy works … and we will redouble our efforts as we come out of COVID. Many many places need to be profoundly changed. … I’m looking forward to hearing from DOT for getting a plan for this site and then we’ll talk about taking the next steps.”

Signs like these are all over Central Park, indicating that cyclists and pedestrians must share a narrow path. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Signs like these are all over Central Park, indicating that cyclists and pedestrians must share a narrow path. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The Department of Transportation is not the main impediment to change inside Central Park. Cyclists have pushed the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy for years for dedicated safe infrastructure to get through Central Park without having to share space with pedestrians, who justifiably hate sharing narrow park paths with faster-moving vehicles. The advocacy intensified after the death of a beloved pediatrician on the 96th Street transverse, which he likely took to go from the West Side to the East Side because there is no easy way across the park.

In the time since that late 2019 death, advocates sent a letter to the mayor, produced a series of Streetfilms videos highlighting the needs and solutions, followed up repeatedly on social media and the web, and assisted local media coverage, culminating with another letter, this one to the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy in November that reminded the agencies, “New York City bicyclists are regular people: we pay taxes, donate to parks and volunteer in Central Park. We would like to be encouraged, not discouraged, from using our parks.” (Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver told Streetsblog early this year that he was unaware of all these efforts, but did promise to help.)

Streetopia UWS finally got a meeting with parks officials earlier this year, but was left disappointed.

“[Central Park Conservancy] told us by email that they are working on solutions with Parks … but, when we met with Parks, they came to the meeting ‘to listen,’ as if they hadn’t been hearing us all along and as if they hadn’t thought of any solutions,” said Lisa Orman of Streetopia UWS. “Parks did agree that there was some low-hanging fruit such as creating better signage for the 96th Street shared path and formally announcing and placing signs on the south side of the reservoir allowing bikers to use that path, but, we need so much more: direct access across the park, with the same convenience and frequency as motor vehicles have.

“From our perspective, we are done with the ‘listening,'” Orman continued. “We are done with the inaction from the city and the Central Park Conservancy. We are done with the finger-pointing between Parks and CPC. We know that people need to cross Central Park by bike. We know that the transverses are deadly and need safe bike infrastructure, but that will take more time. We want action now — in the park — and not after the next death. The empty promises need to stop.”

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