Blind lawyer Richard Bernstein was hit by a bicyclist last week, fracturing his pelvis and hip, bloodying his face, and causing him to have to drop out of the New York City marathon. He had been walking in the park at East 90th Street wearing a bright yellow shirt and holding a cane when a cyclist who police said was traveling 35 miles per hour slammed into him.
The story, first reported in the Daily News, has caused quite a buzz, and now it looks like the NYPD is going to crack down on bicyclists breaking laws in the park. We talked to an officer who said that the NYPD will be stepping up enforcement of bike laws starting this weekend after complaints about cyclists and the high-profile accident.
Last year, police began increasing enforcement of laws dealing with bikes in the park, handing out tickets for $270 to cyclists who did things like run red lights or speed. The police acknowledged then that they hadn’t enforced the laws much for the past few decades. The speed limit in the park is 25 miles per hour and bikes are supposed to stop at the same red lights used by cars. After months of back-and-forth and political pressure last year, the NYPD relented on its crackdown (the police also apparently apologized for the speeding tickets). But clearly the issue hasn’t gone away, and could get heated again n the coming weeks.
Bicyclists argue that making them stop at every red light in the park ruins their ability to enjoy the park. Cyclists also note that pedestrians also walk in bike lanes or against Don’t Walk signals. Clearly, a very strict interpretations of the rules could make it difficult for bicyclists to maintain much momentum through the loop road’s 47 lights, even if they’re not attempting to break a Lance Armstrong record. At the same time, it’s also clear that folks are busting through red lights even when there are lots of pedestrians around. (Don’t believe us? Check out a brief video below of bicyclists coasting and even accelerating through a red light on the west side around 72nd street during a busy day on Saturday. At the start of the video, pedestrians are also seen walking against the light. We only shot video for one random red light; we didn’t stick around and wait for the most egregious offenses.)
The city has designated more and more space for bicyclists alone to use, including an increasing number of lanes in Central Park. In fact, there have been numerous new lanes painted on the ground in just the past few weeks, particularly around 72nd Street. With the new lanes and programs like bike-sharing meant to promote bike use, it’s not entirely clear whether bicyclists are more like auto drivers or more like enhanced pedestrians. The lanes and other programs seem to tip the balance more toward viewing bikes as full-fledged vehicles — if taxpayers are going to pay for us to have a special place to ride, then isn’t it even more important that we follow the rules?
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Photos by bijoubaby and Avi.