Monday, February 21, 2011

The 46 lights of Central Park

There are 46 traffic lights on the 6.1 mile loop in Central Park. And the NYPD continues to dole out tickets for cyclists at the red lights. I had written an entry about this before but I wanted to revisit the issue a little bit. Mainly because I had a close call recently where I almost crashed after riding through a yellow light and had a police car pull up behind me and blast me with the siren... to tell me that I came close to getting a $270 ticket.

According to the NYPD, there were 127 accidents in Central Park last year that involved a cyclist. We've never been provided the specifics of what happened in these accidents... so for all I know, all 127 could have been from a cyclist running over a pedestrian full bore while the pedestrian had the right-of-way at a traffic light. Or all 127 could have been from a cyclist falling off a bike all by himself. But I'm assuming that neither of these are true. If I go through the various scenarios where a cyclist might get into an accident in the park, I end up with 7 possibilities:

  1. Cyclist hits pedestrian in crosswalk (cyclist's fault)
  2. Cyclist hits pedestrian in crosswalk (pedestrian's fault)
  3. Cyclist hits pedestrian not in crosswalk (cyclist's fault)
  4. Cyclist hits pedestrian not in crosswalk (pedestrian's fault)
  5. Cyclist hits runner who cuts into the road from the running lane (usually runner's fault but not always)
  6. Cyclist falls off bike alone (break out the training wheels!)
  7. Crash during bike races (also read as: Cat 5 racing)
Aggressively ticketing cyclists at every red light only addresses issue #1. And I won't argue that #1 constitutes many of the accidents that occur in the park. But not all of them. In fact, if the video suggests something, it's that many accidents probably fall in the #2-4 categories as well.

So why focus on cyclists alone? Is it because they are easy targets? You can't ticket all jaywalkers. That would be a little ridiculous. You can't only ticket those jaywalkers who are destined to eventually cause an accident (e.g. the ones crossing the road without looking while listening to their iPods). That would seem arbitrary and discriminatory. But focusing the ticketing efforts specifically on cyclists seems to imply that cyclists are presumed to be the guilty party for accidents in the park. Why selectively enforce laws that affect only a specific group of people? Because you've profiled them as a high-risk population. But I would disagree with that.

If I get ticketed at a red light, so be it. But then ticket the guy who just jaywalked across that same traffic light. Don't assume that I would be the guilty party and not him. Personally, I've seen far more crashes happen when a pedestrian runs out onto the road without looking than when a cyclist hits a pedestrian when it's a red light.


One of my friends suggested modifying cyclocross for Central Park. Arrive at red light, get off bike, walk across red light (like all the walkers and runners), get back on bike, and ride off. Brilliant idea.


  1. A great piece of video. It elegantly makes the additional point that bikes might better be seen as analogous to runners.

  2. When car free hours are not in effect, cyclists must use the recreation lane in Central Park; so in effect they are being treated as runners when cars use the drive, and as vehicles when they do not.

  3. As part of an agreement for a fully carfree park, someone should do a cost estimate for turning off and removing all the lights and hiring some crossing guards/information people/helpers.

    1. This is a great idea. And perhaps they could at least turn the lights off on weekends. The ticketing of cyclists has made it almost impossible to ride the loop for meaningful exercise. I'm curious as to whether the new monitoring has lowered the number of accidents and why don't they ticket the pedestrians who walk against the light while the police stand by watching?

  4. That's what profiling is. You take a population, assume they're guilty, single them out, and decide to target them. Not as bad as racial profiling but still an unfair application of the law.

  5. Thanks Randy. I'm not really trying to be an activist... just irritated that I have to feel like I'm already a guilty party as soon as I enter the park.

    And Green Idea Factory, the ideal of having a car-free park would be awesome but I suspect that those days are still far off in the future. One could always hope though...

  6. Many are already using the dismount technique while on the grid to get around or through reds.
    Here's more vid showing the failure to recognize the dangers caused by runners: . But the real question is how NYPD can ignore the danger to cyclists caused by rampant unchecked speeding on the sub-grade transverses, while spending its time writing "gotcha" summonses in car-free Central Park.

  7. In your list of types of accidents, you forgot driver hits bicyclist, usually driver's fault. Also, all the newspapers got the stats reversed for 2009 & 2010. In 2010 there were only 122 incidents involving a bicycle (out of a total of 447 times an ambulance or police were called due to an injury), of which only 43 involved a pedestrian, 8 involved a car and bicycle, 17 were multiple bicycles and 54 a single bicycle (who knows if a dog or squirrel were involved in any of these). Out of the hundreds of thousands of bicycle rides and millions of pedestrians each year in Central Park, I think a total of 122 incidents involving a bicycle is miraculously low.

  8. Thank you guys for the comments.

    NYC Biker, thanks for the statistics. If only 43 accidents involved a pedestrian, that's actually a really low incidence. Granted, any accident is one too many but getting that number to zero is unfortunately impossible.

    And Joe, thanks for posting on your blog. Appreciate the support of someone who's both a cyclist and a runner!

  9. The traffic lights were installed in the park AFTER cars were allowed in, started using it in great numbers, and were mowing down their share of recreational users. The idea that cyclists are being ticketed for failing to conform to traffic rules put in place for car traffic is nothing short of insane. Much of New York City officialdom recognizes this but so far is powerless to override the NYPD. There are many other and better ways to keep the different park users out of each others' paths on the loop, they are impossible to implement until the cars are gone, forever. THAT should be the big push here because the final irony of allowing cars to desecrate this most famous of urban parks is now upon us.

  10. 8. Cyclist runs into dog off leash. (Dog owner's fault.)
    9. Dog runs into cyclist off leash. (Dog owner's fault.)
    10. Cyclist runs into dog on leash. (Cyclist's fault.)
    11. Cyclist runs into dog on leash. (Dog owner's fault.)
    12. Cyclist runs into cyclist.
    13. Cyclist runs into squirrel, raccoon, etc. (Mother Nature's fault)
    14. Cyclist runs into car or car runs into cyclist (City Council and Mayor's fault for not restricting park to pedestrians and bikes).

  11. I think the problem is that the drive is engineered for vehicle traffic and being enforced as such even during vehicle off-hours. If you were designing it just for jogging and cycling, you would have no traffic lights, probably no curbs, probably MUCH narrower paths, possibly with integrated walkways rather than separated sidewalks - more like the newest and broadest of the waterfront greenways in the city. #1 problem is that the crossings are way too wide for ped safety. Narrow the bikeway to 8-10 feet wide at the ped crossings and any danger would be totally minimized.

  12. #2 Cyclist hits pedestrian in crosswalk (pedestrian's fault)

    #4 Cyclist hits pedestrian not in crosswalk (pedestrian's fault)

    doesn't happen, AFAIK fault is found with the larger vehicle. If a car hit a biker it's not the biker's fault. If a truck hits a car. etc.

    This is Darwinism at work "You can't only ticket those jaywalkers who are destined to eventually cause an accident (e.g. the ones crossing the road without looking while listening to their iPods)"

    the cyclo-cross is genius.

  13. Campaign for flashing yellows (after the cars have been excluded). No crime then..

  14. Flashing yellow lights is what makes the most sense and practical for all. However this isn't about finding a solution to the problem but to fill the state's coffers.

  15. I agree, make it fair across the board.

  16. Valid points. Very frustrating to see for sure. While it might seem ridiculous by the police department to ticket jaywalkers, in this example if you're going to dole out tickets to the cyclists then fair is fair.

  17. Are there any Lawyers out there willing to represent me on 07/12/11 1pm for running a red light on bicycle in central park during the evening hours? contact me at

    I have been a daily bike commuter for more than twenty years and have yet to hit a pedestrian.

  18. Everyone on the road should be responsible. Be it a pedestrian, cyclist or car driver. If this could be possible, I believe road accidents would dramatically be reduced.

  19. I recently had to get a phoenix personal injury lawyer for a similar case. I didn't realize riding your bike could be such a dangerous thing.

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  25. Bicycles traveling at 35 mph, head down, weaving across the lanes including the runners lane are dangerous and should be ticketed and even have their bikes impounded. Many of the junior Lance Armstrongs are aggressive and expect that the Central Park roads will be cleared of obstructions: people, dogs and even slower riding bicyclists. The park, as a multi-use resource depends on the courtesy of all towards others. Bicyclists do not in my experience fit that mold. Imposing an absolute speed limit of 15mph, strict adherence to traffic lights so pedestrians can cross the roadways without fear is an absolute priority and petitions are being circulated in this regards.

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