Many cyclists who frequent Central Park don’t look twice at any of its 46 stoplights, speeding through red lights when pedestrians aren’t present. But police are cracking down on the practice—and some cyclists aren’t pleased.
Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who represents cyclists accused of breaking traffic laws, said that bikers have complained about an increase in ticketing for running red lights.
“Many cyclists feel that it is unfair, particularly in the early morning, to make them stop when there are very few pedestrians,” said Vaccaro, an avid cyclist himself. “It’s extremely disruptive to stop at 12 or so red lights.”
Biking advocate Lisa Sladkus, a leader of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance group, said that police are “not adhering to what we thought was general recognition of courtesy … where if there are no pedestrians in the intersection, cyclists can roll through.”
“Police are doing a really wonderful job of discouraging people from biking in the park,” Sladkus said.
But police say that they have a duty to maintain traffic safety, and that enforcing the red light law is nothing new.
“The law is the law, and the red lights are to be enforced,” Central Park Precinct commanding officer Captain Jessica Corey said at a meeting last week, Gothamist reported.
Corey said that police have been working to educate cyclists, handing out informational brochures and installing digital signs warning cyclists to ride safely.
But Brooklyn native Andrew Leese, who was taking a break from biking by a Central Park turtle pond on Friday, said that the police department’s education campaign wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“Most cyclists don’t give a damn,” he said with a grin. “They are just having a good time … Pedestrians just have to watch out.”
Pedestrians, though, said that some bikers are overly aggressive and dangerous.
“Central Park belongs to pedestrians—that’s who it’s there for,” Chris Quinn, a Manhattan attorney, said. “The fact that the bikers go through, that’s just a small part of the park.”
Paul Mills, GS ’90, who has been walking his dog Molly in Central Park every day for the past five years, said that “you’ve got to watch out for cyclists … they are a hazard.” The New York Daily News reported recently that there were 65 biking accidents in Central Park during the first seven months of 2012.
“You don’t want to make trouble for them, by having the dog get in their way,” Mills said. “You have to be careful that they don’t plow into you, which has happened.”
Although Mills said he has worried about his own and Molly’s safety in the park, he thinks police should be focused on more serious crimes.
“It’s too minor a problem to get people with guns involved,” he said. “I think that a program of educating them would be way more useful.”
Melike Yavis, a Turkish tourist visiting New York, said that she wasn’t sure whether to stop at red lights or follow the lead of other bikers.
“We were actually confused because we stopped at a red light,” Yavis said. “People looked at us strangely.”
Ultimately, Yavis said, she worked out the same compromise that most bikers have reached—“not stopping if no one was crossing, but we stopped if someone was crossing.”