Red Lights and Green Lights in Central Park

Red Lights and Green Lights in Central Park

Cyclist vs. pedestrians in Central Park. Photo: Tom Stoelker/ Architect's Newspaper
Cyclist vs. pedestrians in Central Park. Photo: Tom Stoelker/ The Architect's Newspaper

Captain Philip Wishnia, commander of the Central Park Precinct, went before the CB7’s Parks and Environment Committee on Monday night to explain the rash of speeding tickets being given to bicyclists in Central Park. Wishna said that the spike in ticketing is part of a larger citywide initiative to crack down on bikers before the weather warms up. Cyclists can expect tickets for speeding, going the wrong way, riding bikes on pathways and not coming to a complete stop at red lights. The captain pointed out that in 2008 there were 60 bike accidents, but in 2010 there were 122.  The ticket is a criminal court summons that can affect points on the biker’s drivers license and cost at least $270.

At the moment, traffic lights in the park are timed for car traffic. Members of the board asked if there was any possibility to re-time the lights for off hours when cars are not permitted in the park, thereby allowing bikers a less interrupted ride. Doug Blonsky, president of the Central Park Conservancy, was on hand for the meeting. He said re-timing the lights was not possible, pointing out that it would require re-programming every traffic light individually before and after rush hour, when  streets are opened to cars.  (The lights in Central Park are not controlled through one master panel). Another board member pressed for ticketing only the bicyclists that don’t yield at the light, rather than requiring them to come to a complete stop. But Wishna argued that constitutes selective enforcement, which was not an option.

In other news, the folks at CB7 initially invited Blonsky along with Park Department representatives to discuss the future of Tavern on the Green. After the last RFP for running the famed restaurant fell through over union disputes, Parks called in the gourmet food trucks and turned the building into a temporary visitors center. The next round of RFPs will not begin until the summer season is well under way, which means the trucks and souped up t-shirt shop will stay through next October when their lease is up.  The parking lot will feature bike rental and riding lessons for the young ones.

In any case, the community made one point clear: they don’t want the new place to become a high-end catering hall. Big, noisy events are out. Keeping a visitors center didn’t generate intense opposition.  But the majority of speakers, both on the board and in the crowd, envisioned a more democratic cafe where neighbors of all income levels could join tourists for a bite during the day or night. Blonsky pulled out historic photos and intrigued the audience with another possibility: an entrance opening onto Central Park West. Bringing it back this entryway would help link the restaurant to the neighborhood.