Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Battle of Central Park

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Taken July 2009.

I have a confession to make. I have no freaking clue what is going on in Central Park anymore. Maybe I'm just dumb and don't understand the complex decisions that go into allocating resources in a police precinct in Central Park. Maybe someone out there in the ether can explain to me why cyclists are now being abused by the NYPD. Maybe I'll have a "Eureka!" moment and will realize that cyclists are evil people and should be physically removed from Gotham. Permanently.

Just so I can get my head around the situation, let me just review what's been going on in the past few months.

About 2 months ago, the NYPD suddenly decided that that cyclists riding through red lights posed a serious danger to all living beings in Central Park. Regardless of the time of day or whether there were any pedestrians in the vicinity of a red light, all cyclists should be ticketed. I expressed my annoyance and opinions about this in a previous blog but it came down to two major points.
  • If you are going to ticket cyclists, then ticket other "offenders" equally. In Central Park in all of 2010, the NYPD issued 160 tickets to motor vehicles. In the first 2 months of 2011, they've issued more than 230 to cyclists. Is that fair?
  • The traffic lights in Central Park should be turned into blinking yellows when vehicular traffic is not allowed. Pedestrians do not look at the traffic light when there aren't any cars in the park nor do they only cross at the lights so what is the point of enforcing the lights so strictly? 
The irritation of the cycling community led to a meeting a couple of weeks ago where Captain Wishnia (who leads the precinct in charge of Central Park) simply said that he was doing his job and enforcing the laws. He failed to explain why the application of laws was being targeted only at cyclists. It was a very passive-aggressive approach with him essentially saying "I get to hit you with a big stick because the law lets me. And I'm only going to hit you and nobody else. But I can't help it... blame the law for making me hit you."

Last week, the NYPD then decided that they were going to set up a speed trap specifically for cyclists at 5:45am. At 5:45am, there are no pedestrians in the park. At 5:45am, there is no traffic in the park. In fact, the park is essentially deserted except for a few runners and cyclists. But some smart cookie at the precinct headquarters thought this would be a great idea. And even better, they thought it would be a good idea to ticket cyclists going 18mph in a 25mph zone. Wait, what?

Speed trap on the west side of Central Park. 5:45am.

Now there are a couple of points about this whole fiasco.
  1. The speed limit is actually 25mph. I'm not great at math, but I'm pretty sure that 18mph < 25mph. And I'm fairly sure that you aren't supposed to issue tickets for not breaking the law.
  2. Subsequently, the NYPD then dispatched officers to "officially" apologize for improperly issuing a ticket. Now that's a nice gesture and all... but I'd prefer them to just cancel the ticket and not waste police manpower to go to someone's house to apologize. That officer should be out patrolling the street.
  3. After this rather idiotic mistake, the NYPD decided to salvage a little bit of their honor by saying that they would continue to strictly enforce the 25mph speed limit in the park. Again, according to Captain Wishnia, they have no choice. It is the law.
  4. Of course, "strict enforcement" of the law doesn't apply to any car in Central Park. In fact, feel free to go at 40mph in the park with an NYPD van right behind you (see the video below at 1:10 and 2:54). You'll never get a speeding ticket. 

Wait, so let me get this straight. Cyclists are dangerous and are a threat to the safety of the city. Because of this, they should be targeted for ticketing, moreso than speeding cars on the same road. (The fact that it makes the city money is just a happy coincidence.) It's actually so important to keep cyclists in check that the NYPD should be focusing their scarce resources on this scourge.

It's also probably worth noting that violent crimes in Central Park rose by an average of 44% in 2010. Note that the crimes listed below are those that were reported, not arrests made (so the increase in numbers is not related to police officers making more arrests).

Rape - 7 (2010) vs 0 (2009)
Grand Larceny - 63 vs. 40 up 57.5%
Robbery - 23 vs. 20 up 15%
Burglary - 2 vs. 3
Grand Larceny Auto - 1 vs. 0
Felony Assault - 6 vs. 6
Murder - 0 vs. 0

Hmmm. So it's more important for the NYPD to be expending valuable resources to ticket cyclists than to be patrolling the park more aggressively for violent crime? How does that make any sense? Call me crazy, but I'd prefer the NYPD prevent one rape than give 100 tickets to cyclists for rolling slowly through a red light like this.

Can someone please explain this whole situation to me?


  1. Don't like it? Nor do I.

    Solution: Don't ride in CP.

    Easy. Especially considering that at 5:45am, Manhattan is pretty quiet - and on weekends, its a ghost-town. I like going 20-30mph, but I don't like looking behind me worrying about cops. I rode home thru the park today and had a cop start following me after I had just made the green light going down Harlem Hill. I hit the red light down below, but the cop was still following me, so I clipped out, walked across the crosswalk, and clipped back in again.
    What a waste of time and effort (for both the NYPD and for me)

    But again - if you don't like it, don't ride there.

  2. The problem is that many of us don't have any other place that's easily accessible to work out. If you live near somewhere other than Central Park that lets you do effective workouts, then more power to you. But not everyone has that option. And to cede Central Park without expressing displeasure would be to roll over and play dead. And it's not time for that yet.