Making the World Better for New York Cyclists—One Complaint at a Time:
A Website (mostly) of constructive bitching

What's bad about riding in Central Park.

If you think I'm going to say the park is too crowded and there are too many runners and walkers and you can't get the speed work you want...
you're wrong. The park is for everyone and we cyclists are a small part of the mix.

The park is gorgeous, a true oasis, a respite from the city. But it's easy to make it better. Here's how: get cyclists out of the running lane,
runners out of the cycling lane, and slacker cops and cars out of the park.


CENTRAL PARK SLACKERS:
Police Who Don't Police.

You must understand, in the mind of the Central Park police, their primary commitment is to have as enjoyable a tour of duty as possible—and that conflicts with patrolling conscientiously.

Example: From at least 7:44PM (when I came upon them), to at least 8:16PM (when I left), an officer in his 3-wheel enclosed scooter and two officers in a compact SUV police vehicle enjoyed an amiable chat with periodic laughter at the junction of the West Drive and the 72nd St. Transverse. That's three men, at least half an hour. There's no telling how long they were there before I came or after I left.

(The SUV may be the same one I approached parked on the Transverse, just west of the East Side Drive. I asked one of the officers would it be OK if  I closed the gate to the park (unstated: since the police hadn't)? He said I could. And I did. Understandably they left it to me: they were, after all, a full twenty seconds (:20) from it.)
But at least they were there. The fact is, you can go around and around the park, lap after lap after lap and never see a patrol car or uniformed officer on foot. It may be they are  there, patrolling in unmarked cars and plainclothes; but, if so, a marked car or two (or more) would be a deterrent—as would uniformed officers throughout the park.

As I said, most likely you won't see a single cop as you ride around the park; however, if you do see one, you're likely to see a cluster of them: three-four-or-five. Chatting with each other. A group having fun. And when you come around again after another lap (in my geriatric case, 20 minutes later) they're likely to still be there, still chatting. At least that's been true in the past twenty or more years. Are they, at least, looking outwards? No. But if they're in groups of three-four-five-and more in their chat groups, doesn't that leave the rest of the park without their presence? Uh, yeah. Interesting deployment. Good deterrent. Not.

Of course their work day isn't spent solely in chat groups. Their personal cell phones/smart phones command their attention for great swaths of their on-duty hours, too.


I publish these pictures only because they depict the mindset of officers who patrol in Central Park.
Here two officers chatted as they slowly rode around the park, chatting up one another.

Officers' chat circles sometimes contain four, five, and six and go on and on. It not only says something about their
lack of commitment to doing their job conscientiously, but also the same of their supervisors.





The three officers in these vehicles were having a wonderful (and lengthy) chat. Moments before I got this shot,
a third police vehicle, a 3-wheeled scooter such as is pictured here that was parked at angle to the road, its officer
having been in the group chat, pulled away. He pulled out without looking and NARROWLY missed hitting a cyclist.
The response of the two officers in the police car. A wide, wide grin.

This was on the West Drive, just north of the 72nd St. Transverse. Later, Alan R. happened to mention that around 12:45PM
officers on two such scooters and in a patrol car were engaged in a lengthy chat just south of the transverse on the West Drive.
You don't suppose they were the same ones, do you?


Three officers discussing police matters. Yeah, right. Ya think?





This is  on the side road, just past the top of the Harlem hill. 
The laughter 
of the officers, heard 20 yards away on the main road,
suggests a certain pleasant sociability to their otherwise arduous tour of duty.




These officers were patrolling (i.e. chatting) here, just
as you see them 
from at least 1:40PM (no idea how
long before) 
to at least 2:25PM (no idea how long after).



Have you ever once seen a driver ticketed for speeding in the park? I haven't. Have you ever once seen a driver ticketed for being in the park
when it is closed to cars? I haven't. That's in thirty years of riding in the park.

True story: Park is closed to cars. Car is in park. Driver is exiting at 90th St. and Fifth Ave. He waits for light to change. Next to him, a cop on a scooter. Cop does nothing. 
Me: Why didn't you ticket him? He's not supposed to be in the park now.
Cop: Ah, he knew what he was doing was wrong.
Have you ever known the response of police to outside criticism, even constructive criticism, to be anything other than punitive? I haven't. Several years ago
I was riding in the park in the evening when cars were not permitted in the park. Out of the semi-darkness came a car at speed and headed in the wrong direction,
i.e. towards me. It was a police car. No lights. No siren. As it sped past me, I yelled, "Lights!"


Wa
s the officer who was driving intent on apprehending some malefactor? If so, engaged though he was in hot pursuit, he, nevertheless, found he could take out time
out to harrass me. A few moments later I heard a car behind me. I cut into the bike lane (where bikes are not supposed to be when cars are not permitted in the park).
He comes upon me, buzzes me as he passes within inches of me. It is the same cop car. Whee! Police having fun!

(For an example of how graciously NYPD officers accept a cyclist telling them to be careful when they are endangering cyclists by their own illegal behavior, read of an
arrest (April, 2011)
by Sgt. Santiago of the Central Park precinct of a petite, young woman commuter cyclist, with as many as four police cars and ten officers as back-up: http://gothamist.com/2011/04/06/cop_nearly_doors_cyclist_then_chase.php# ).

 

(I've not (yet) raged on this Website at the failure of the police to even ticket drivers who kill cyclists when there have been multiple legitimate reasons to do so.
Go to
http://www.cars-suck.org/ and spend time with that entire Website.)



The NYPD's use of statistics has been commented on in the press with admiration. In past years I've sought to learn from the police department and the City how many tickets,
ideally broken down by months and infractions, have been issued in Central Park to drivers. I've gotten the runaround, being passed from precinct to headquarters to public
information bureau. I've been promised "they" would get back to me. "They" never did. Ever. Not once. The one variation on this gavotte was from an Officer Burns who,
when I reached him after he failed to get back to me as he said he would, then said, "We don't keep such records." Yeah, right. Not.

I asked and wrote the Public Information bureau of the NYPD January 31, 2011, asking this same thing (after the Central Park precinct community affairs officer said that
information would have to come from his commander, Capt. Wishnia—who, again, didn't return my call.


Central Park Precinct Capt. Philip Wishnia addressed a meeting March 15, 2011 at the Universalist Church on CPW and 76th St. that was well attended by cyclists indignant
at the ticketing of cyclists for going through red lights in the park when it is largely deserted and closed to cars. He was asked about the number of tickets issued by his precinct
to drivers for being in the park when it is closed to cars, for going through red lights, and for speeding. He said to ask, you guessed it, the Public Information Bureau at the NYPD.
He was unfazed when told they don't respond.


The captain was soooo proud that his precinct had vastly increased the number of radar-supported tickets to drivers for speeding last year...to, uh, 160 for the entire year!
(That compares with 230 tickets issued to cyclists in Central Park in the eleven weeks between Jan. 1 and March 14, 2011—in the dead of winter when the park was largely
deserted and often at times when cars weren't even allowed in the park. How's that for equal enforcement of the laws?) But let's go back to the 160 a year issued drivers in
the park. Let's see: that works out to fewer than one every two days, and in a precinct with, I would guess, ca. thirty officers. Wow, that sure is vigorous enforcement! Not.
(See Ken Couglin's/TA's brilliant videos documenting the frequency [as in 100%] of cars exceeding the speed limit in the park:

 http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/03/03/nypds-selective-approach-to-selective-enforcement-in-central-park/ 
http://gothamist.com/2011/02/25/cops_ticket_cyclists_in_central_par.php )
Furthermore, the captain gave us to understand the overwhelming number of them were on the transverse...where, it might be noted, cyclists and most runners do not do laps.
Feel more protected already, don't you?
When I think of police enforcement of the laws in Central Park, I think of Ed R. One evening, several years ago, he was stopped and simultaneously issued FIVE tickets. Why?
What was he doing? Well, nothing. That is, nothing at the time he was stopped. But, the officer explained, it was for his actions the preceding night during the course of some
demonstration ride. Such as changing lanes without signaling. The problem was Ed wasn't even in the park the preceding night. But he was recognized by the officer as a bike
activist. Reason enough.

 Several years ago Stevan Baron, now deceased but then in his mid-60s, was riding across the park to his drawing class at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. It was very early in the
morning. A bitterly, bitterly cold, winter morning. The park was deserted. Not a soul. He was dressed very much like the non-serious cyclist and retired professional he was,
slogging slowly across the frigid park with his drawing tablet and pens and pencils on his beater bike. When I report the park was completely deserted, that's not quite right.
There was a police officer in a patrol car on one of the paths. He stopped Steve, irrelevantly asked him whether he was employed, then asked whether he was a bike messenger.
He said he was going to give Steve a warning, then returned to his car—perhaps to warm up. When he emerged, it wasn't to give Steve a warning, as he said; he gave him a ticket
for being on the path. Steve should have biked north to 110th St. or south to where west meets east just above 59th St.—and not to the 72nd St. Transverse which is one-way east-to-west.


W
hat puts me in mind of this is there is currently a ticketing blitz against cyclists in Central Park. It is, again, the dead of winter. Freezing. Actually wayyy below freezing. The
park is all but deserted, with few to no pedestrians. And yet, even when cars are not permitted in the park, officers of the NYPD have been issuing $270 tickets to cyclists for
going through red lights—when no one else is on the road.

 

I can imagine the police saying,"This'll teach 'em respect for the law." I suggest quite the contrary: I suggest, if anything, it teaches "'em" disrespect for the law. Well, if not for
the law itself, for the un-evenhanded or, more precisely, mindless enforcement and enforcers of the law.

So what's behind this? Certainly not making the park safer. Not in an all-but-deserted park in the dead of winter. Why are cyclists ticketed when there is no issue of pedestrian
safety or exercise of their right-of-way? Well, let's face it: ticketing cyclists is a helluva lot easier and a helluva lot safer than ticketing drivers, isn't it, officer? And a lot more satisfying
.


Putting the lie to police claims their enforcement is for the sake of safety is the fact ten cyclists were issued tickets on the West Drive on March 22, 2011 for—get this—exceeding
15MPH. The speed limit is 25MPH. What we're talking about here is mere harassment, plain and simple.

Greg Lowdermilk posted a video of the speed trap (unmarked police car and I hope to hell that's not a DPL plate on it) and the ticketing of cyclists at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGNeXxKFnJk  The video isn't visually interesting, but it is a good piece of work by Mr. Lowdermilk and is an important addition to the literature of poor police supervision.

Within the day, nine of the ten tickets were voided by Chief Morris, head of Midtown North. (The tenth remains in effect because the rider was caught—yes, a radar gun was used;
I suppose better a radar one than a real one—riding 28MPH. This would be a radar gun such as noted above that clocked every car exceeding the speed limit...without there being
an officer to stop them.)

Pedestrian safety is an issue. So put cops on the roadway around the park. If a cyclist violates the right-of-way of a crossing pedestrian cite the cyclist for reckless or unsafe operation
of a vehicle. I absolutely support that. Let me state here what I repeat below, and elsewhere, including before every group ride I lead: Violating the right-of-way of any pedestrian anywhere is wrong. Always. If you so much as intimidate or merely make apprehensive a pedestrian who has the right-of-way, you are a bike bully. I have contempt for you for doing that. And I hope to hell you get a super-expensive ticket. Every time you do it. You deserve it.

...But $270 for going through a red light in the park when there is no one crossing or looking to cross the road?! That breeds disrespect for the law.


Inept precinct commander Philip Wishnia has been replaced by Capt. Jessica Corey. Her number: (212) 570-4820. Feel free to call...but don't expect to have the phone answered.
For example, after ca. 25 or more rings today (7/17/12), it auto-disconnected.




THERE ARE RULES OF THE ROAD. DO YOU KNOW THEM? NO? NOT YOUR FAULT.
Get on it, Conservancy!

There are rules governing the use of Central Park's lanes and roadway by runners/joggers/walkers/cyclists. They were devised by the Central Park Conservancy, the private foundation retained by the city (in what seems to me an odd arrangement: a private foundation operating and maintaining a public space; nevertheless they do it exceptionally well...with at least one exception). Their rules make good sense. Not that many people follow them...or even know them.

Do you know what they are? No? That's not your fault. The Conservancy's effort at informing recreational users of the rules is pitiful to non-existent and the markings on the road aren't very helpful. Example: I asked the Conservancy to send me  the link to its pamphlet on lane use in the park so I could include it here. Do you see it? No, you don't. Why not? Because it wasn't sent.

You have to really hunt on their Website for their rules-of-the-road: http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/things-to-do/sports/bicycle-riding.html

I asked the Conservancy to require the concessionaire who rents bikes in the park to hand out a flyer with each rental instructing the renters in correct lane use. Did they? Probably not. You see bike renters en masse in the wrong lanes, the running/jogging/walking lanes, riding there without a clue. Idea: Make it a condition of getting the bike rental concession that s/he hand out rules of the road. In fact, make that a requirement of all bike rental places near the park.

NOTE TO CITY AGENCY THAT AWARDS CONCESSIONS
Please immediately revoke the contract the city has with the concessionaire who rents bicycles in Central Park. He makes no effort to inform renters of the prescribed lane usage. He could tell them. He could give them a palm card. He could have a poster. He does nothing.  This has been the case for years. Result: You see renters by the score riding in the recreation lane when that lane is for runners and cyclists are supposed to be in the roadway (when  cars are not in the park). The renters don't know better. The concessionaire does. He doesn't care.






A digression into kindness: The park is gorgeous and kept gorgeous, and that is all the doing of the Conservancy. And I will say the one time I spoke to Doug Blonsky, head of the Conservancy, with a complaint, he quickly remedied the problem pictured below.

July 16, 2008: This photo shows the way the barricade at Fifth Ave. and 72nd St. was usually set. Notice anything wrong with it?

The above photo was taken after 7PM, at which time the park is closed to cars, which is why there are no cars in the picture. But imagine you're riding into the park when cars are allowed on the East Drive as far as 72nd St. They are streaming out of the park in the two left lanes and you have to ride around the barricade to enter the park...right into the oncoming cars in their lane as they exit. So much for the consideration of cyclists by the police and park rangers who put out the  barricades. I pointed this out to Central Park Conservancy president, Doug Blonsky, and he asked the barricades be positioned sensibly. They were. For awhile.  And still are. From time to time.

(Did you ever have the initiative to move the barricade back yourself? No? Why not? That would have helped other cyclists.)





September, 2010
How considerate and safety-minded of the park ranger or police officer who set up the barricade.




February 17, 2011.
Want to ride into the park? Fine, go around the barricades...into the opposing lane, head-on into oncoming traffic.





April 6, 2011
Good luck to the child negotiating his way out of the park or a cyclist entering the park.


(BIG QUESTION: Why are cars permitted in the park as far as 72nd Street when the (rest of the) park is closed to them? If it makes sense to close the upper three-quarters of the park to cars—and it does—it doesn't make any more sense to permit them to traduce the lower quarter. Is it the wealth of Upper Eastside residents and tony UES shops that accounts for this?)
T

This is the exceedingly odd icon of a cyclist—let's call him Mushroom Man—that marks bike lanes in
Central Park and throughout the city. Since this
was the winning design, imagine how wretched were the losing ones.


This is the Conservancy's/Parks Department's sign(s) informing park users of correct lane usage as you circle the park.

Notice the runner on the sign is running counter-clockwise. In fact, not 1 in 300  do.

Surely you've seen these signs. What's that? You haven't? Of course you haven't. They're designed and placed so as not to be seen. Even if you're looking for them, you're not likely to see them.



Where's Waldo? Do you see the signs indicating the correct lane use? They're there.

When I asked the Conservancy why it didn't use more visible, electric colors rather than the mundane black and white on their small signs and why they weren't placed in more visible locations, I was told the signs shouldn't interfere with the natural beauty of the park. Beauty vs. Safety. The winner is ...Beauty!

THE HAUGHTY, INCONSIDERATE NYRR
It's not just the lack of judicious and conscientious enforcement by the police and the Conservancy
that makes riding in the park
less than a wholly pleasant experience: it's also the runners.
There is little to no effort by the senior people at the New York Road Runners to mitigate this.
Oh, how we don't miss you, Mary Wittenberg. (Your successors learned well from you.)
The New York Road Runners conducts no campaign I'm aware of to instruct runners in the proper use of lanes. How's this for an idea? Have marshals,
in identifiable NYRR kit, motion errant runners to use the running lane. God knows, with their multi-million dollar operational budget and vast cadre of
employees and volunteers, they could do this.

Here's something else the NYRR should do, something that's just too darn obvious for them to not have done—all the moreso given their
multi-million dollar operating budget and their sophisticated communications division. Post on the message boards of the area's few
cycling organizations and clubs the dates and times the NYRR is commandeering the park for their races so cyclists know to avoid the
park. They don't; instead they continue to leave it to the several thousand discrete (if not always discreet) cyclists to go to their Website
rather than their posting a notice on the three or four message boards that are read by a multitude of area cyclists as a matter of course.
Have I mentioned this to the NYRR? Yeah. Several times. Over a period of years. To no effect whatsoever. Before writing (multiple
times) Mary Wittenberg, the former overpaid head of the NYRR, I was told there was no way in the world she would respond, that, in her
haughtiness and elevated sense of superiority, she doesn't even respond to her own membership. Those who told me I wouldn't even get
so much as the courtesy of any reply were right. But, hey, the NYRR can behave as though they are the Masters of the Park and the
Controlling Power—and they do...because they are. (See: The Bully Effect, below.)

The New York Times ran an article about Wittenberg when she left the NYRR for another job. I published this comment in the Times online:


This would seem to summarize the situation quite well:



How concerned, how conscientious is the NYRR in cooperating with others on everyone's of the park. This concerned, and this conscientious: for years there have been meetings throughout the year attended by representatives of groups whose members use the park and otherwise have an interest in its use; the word I don't much like is stakeholders. The police have a representative. The parks department has a representative. A pedestrian group has a representative. Several cycling clubs send representatives.  Noteworthy is the fact the NYRR, although explicitly invited, month after month, year after year has declined to show up. Clearly, they're too important to have to do that, to have to act in cooperation with other park users.
 
The Conservancy, as stand-in for the Parks Department, should also send weekly postings to the message boards of the area's few bike clubs, reporting on the schedule of events that would make the park, if not unrideable, at least crowded for events. I called both the Parks Dept. and the Conservancy the day before the huge Revlon Walk-a-Thon. I wanted to learn what time it was scheduled to start so I could make arrangements to meet those joining my NYCC ride where we wouldn't interfere with the walkers...and them with us. Neither the Parks Department nor the Conservancy knew!


THE PARK'S NEWEST MENACE: LOOK QUICK IF YOU WANT TO SEE 'EM

The Conservancy seems to have a knack for hiring irresponsible, mindless, uncaring, inconsiderate, thoughtless, unsafe men and giving them the keys, if not to the realm, at least to the Conservancy's SUVs. Speeding, swerving in and out of lanes, including the jogging/pedestrian lane, even going the wrong way: nothing seems beyond these irresponsible, mindless, uncaring, inconsiderate, thoughtless, and unsafe men. But...wheeeeee! What fun it is to bomb through the park!! And, hey, get paid for it, too!!!


AND NOW A HEARTFELT, UNKIND WORD FOR YOU, TOO, DEAR CYCLIST

If I get pissed off at the failure of runners to abide the prescribed lane usage, and I do,
then I'm obliged to get equally pissed off at cyclists who incur on runners' space. I do.



There's one other part of the equation I've omitted thus far that makes riding in the park the sometimes less than salubrious experience it is for all park users. If there is any near universal truth in this city it is the near total inconsideration of everyone for everyone else. If the lack of enforcement by the cop of  traffic laws pisses me off—and it does—so does the lack of enforcement of the law against cyclists when they bomb through a red light or a crosswalk where those crossing have the right-of-way, making those crossing apprehensive.

Here's an easily followed dictum: If you so much as put a runner, skater, or walker who is trying to cross the road on his/her green light or in a non-lighted crosswalk in mere apprehension, you're a bully. You're violating the rights (right-of-way) of others.You're no better and no different than others who violate your right-of-way: drivers who cut you off, go through red lights, turn in front of you from a lane next to you, etc., or pedestrians who step out in front of you from between parked cars without looking or cross on red in front of you as you ride through a green light. I have contempt for them. And I have the same contempt for you.

So, what are you doing to improve cycling in the city?

The likely answer: Nothing. Most likely you're content to just enjoy the benefits of others' work. Shame on you. A single cyclist can make a difference.

You want examples? The curb cut onto the sidewalk leading to the ramp. The repair of the pavement around the metal plates (photos above). The repaving of 177th St. between Ft. Washington and Cabrini, the road you take to the bridge, which had been a wave of asphalt uplifts and depressions interspersed with pot holes. The placement of the metal barricade at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street used to keep cars from entering the park but which was extended to the middle of the road forcing cyclists entering the park into the lane of cars exiting the park so that now cyclists can get around the barricade without crossing into oncoming cars.

What can a few people do together? Sue the city for its imposing a 15MPH speed limit on bikes in Central Park. Open River Road to cycling 24/7.

          Here's a starter kit for what you can do:

• Join TA (Transportation Alternatives ~ (212) 629-8080). http://www.transalt.org They lobby for you.

• Call the City Hotline at 311. Report pot holes and other hazardous pavement. Ask/tell the City to install sewer gratings with bars that run perpendicular to the street so your tire isn't snagged in them.

• Educate errant drivers in a civil manner...which, admittedly, is not necessarily the manner I have used on occasion. Start with those who don't use a turn signal. Move on to those who do use a turn signal but turn into you from a non-turning lane. Graduate to bus drivers who are out of their lane, then suddenly discover the only way to pull into a bus stop is through you. Ditto cab drivers. We all know this list could take up more bandwidth than Sousa ever dreamed of. And, of course, on the heels of drivers are jaywalkers.

• Challenge the failure of the police to enforce the law against drivers whose unlawful driving imperils cyclists and to conduct thorough investigations into collisions between cyclists and drivers.

• Respect the right-of-way of pedestrians...and, yes, even drivers. Don't cause them even so much as mere apprehension. If you do, then you have no right to complain when they do the same thing to you. Think of your considerate biking as your license to bitch.

Now that I've shamed you out of your parasitic lassitude, wherein you leave to others the activism
you should be engaged in to help your own cause, here are names and numbers to contact.

Central Park Conservancy president: Doug Blonsky. dblonsky@centralparknyc.org  (212) 310-6699.
NYC Commissioner of Parks: Mitchell Silver. mitchell.silver@parks.nyc.gov; (212) 360-1305.
Chair of the NYC City Council Committee on Parks: Mark D. Levine. (646) 582-1408.
Central Park Police Precinct Commander: Dep. Insp. Jessica Corey (212) 570-4820; (212) 570-4826.
New York Road Runners Chairman: George Hirsch
New York Road Runners President and CEO: Michael Capiraso
New York Road Runners Race Director and Events President: Peter Ciaccia
New York Road Runners Board of Directors listed here: http://www.nyrr.org/about-us/board-of-directors
New York Road Runners Vice President of Media and Public Relations: Chris Weiller media@nyrr.org