In case it wasn't crystal clear, the NYPD is serious about the bicycling crackdown. And, fittingly, Central Park seems to be at the heart of the so-called "enhanced enforcement" of traffic laws that bike riders have routinely flouted since forever. We previously broke the story about a cyclist who was shocked to find cops pulling him over for running a red light. He wasn't alone; we continue to get e-mails about the Central Park crackdown—earlier this week, one jogger told us:
I've seen four cyclists getting tickets in Central Park. Both times it was two cyclists pulled at the same time, same place. Around four officers involved. Once there was an NYPD van with multiple officers sitting inside, radioing ahead to another group...
Last time there was just one guy radioing ahead. I saw this while jogging down West Drive. They were running the trap on the light that comes from the Theater near 77th St. This occurred each of the last two Saturdays—which are the last two times I've been in the park. For what it's worth, that's a bad intersection on weekends but I'd prefer my tax dollars be put to work on more dangerous crime. Hell, I'd prefer they spend the money on keeping dog shit off the sidewalks.
An NYPD source previously told the Post that the crackdown will last "from now until forever." The Wall Street Journal recently attended a meeting [paywall] held by the Central Park Conservancy, where "riders and rider organizations expressed concern about the crackdown and pushed for a compromise that would suspend the red-light rules for bikers during specified hours." Michael Green, the president of Century Road Club Association, said, "If you have to stop at every red light, you really can't ride in the park. The problem is when people try to train when they shouldn't, like at one in the afternoon on a Saturday in May." (If you've ever been screamed at by an aggro pack of cyclists who think they're training for the Tour de France in Central Park, congratulations—you've survived the Spandex Mafia.)
So far this year, officers have handed out 123 tickets to bikers for traffic infractions in the park. The Journal reports that most tickets have been issued for running red lights on the East and West drives, which are closed to cars on weekends and during most weekday hours. The ticket blitz represents a tenfold increase over 2010, and each red light ticket comes with a $270 price tag—the same as running a red light behind the wheel of a car. That price is giving some cyclists sticker shock.
"$270 is almost three-months' worth of MetroCards," says Alec Hall, the ticketed cyclist whom we first reported on last month. "I can't see how running a light in the park on a bike is a comparable offense to running a light on the street in a car." But Central Park police Captain Philip Wishnia tells the Journal, "I'd rather do it now to get the message out, than in April and May when the Park is more crowded and we stand a better chance of having an injury. We've seen a large volume of people in the park over the last two years. Times have changed."
Update: Responding to a request for comment, Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternative’s director of bicycle advocacy, says, "Police enforcement of the most dangerous behaviors on the loop drive is important. However, reports to Transportation Alternatives in recent weeks all sound like the NYPD is undertaking a ticket blitz, targeting bicyclists only, rather than targeting the most reckless behaviors that endanger walkers and fellow riders. This lack of discretion undermines the type of enforcement needed to make our streets safer.
"At a recent meeting to discuss the loop drive in Central Park, safe cycling advocates proposed flashing yellow traffic signals during car-free hours. The park is open to car traffic for only a handful of hours each day, but the rules for cars are in effect 24/7. It’s time to institute more rational regulations that serve the safety, exercise and transportation needs of the supermajority of people who use the park on foot and bicycle."