By Lisa Kava
A cyclist slammed into a four-year-old in Riverside Park on Monday, sending the girl to the hospital with a head injury. It’s the latest in what some locals say has been an ongoing safety problem in the park. There may be a solution coming, however, at least in some areas: the city is creating separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians between 72nd and 83rd Street.
The crash occurred on Monday afternoon. Upper West Side mom Adrienne Rivetti Jensen was walking home from the area by the Boat Basin Café after one of her children’s soccer practices around 5:30 p.m. “I was already on high alert because several cyclists had gone by really fast and they were shouting at people to move,” she said.
Jensen told West Side Rag that she and her children had walked over to the railing to look at the water and take photos but as they walked back across the promenade a speeding cyclist screamed to “look out, look out!” Moments later he crashed into her daughter, who fell to the ground and rolled over. The bicyclist stopped and apologized, Jensen said, before she took her daughter to the emergency room for stitches to her forehead. Jensen said that she met two other parents in the ER who had dealt with a similar injury to their children. The first was a mother whose child had been hit by a cyclist in the same spot last year by the Boat Basin Café.
The other parent then came in to the ER after his child was also hit by a cyclist. “A couple hours later, another man came in with a toddler who had been hit by a cyclist (while in his stroller) at Central Park (wife was also getting x-rays at the same time),” she wrote on Facebook. “The triage nurse says she has seen older people die from these collisions.”
We wrote about one collision where a toddler was hit by a cyclist around 73rd Street last May. Other locals have raised similar concerns about cyclists creating a hazard for pedestrians in the park. Ellen Jacobs recently reached out to West Side Rag to forward an email she sent to Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office.
“For the past few years Riverside Park, most especially the stretch between 59th Street and 96th Street, has become increasingly dangerous because of the rising numbers seeing bicycles as a means of exercise and of transportation. So bicycles, and now motorized bikes, flying along the path at recklessly high speeds have become the norm. Cyclists often ride two to four abreast. It is intimidating. Try taking a morning walk. A stroll on the West Side Highway is potentially less risky. And yes! The cyclists’ language is another thing. They spew curses at pedestrians who might thoughtlessly be in their way, or God forbid comment on their entitled behavior.”
Jacobs said that she first contacted Rosenthal’s office in 2017 about this issue and that she followed up in both 2018 and 2019 but has only received “robotic responses.”
Rosenthal’s office responded that “we try very hard to respond to everyone who sends messages to our general email. Because of the huge volume of emails, our automatic response message urges people to call one of our offices if there is anything timely or urgent.”
Brad Kurkowski, who lives nearby, said that he simply avoids Riverside Park altogether because it is so dangerous. “North of 71st Street the bikers are going by at 30 mph and will pass you within inches of your body. If I have my small dog next to me the dog will not survive” said Kurkowski.
Sgt. Felicia Montgomery of the 20th Precinct sent the following statistics when we asked about the number of pedestrian/biker collisions in Riverside Park over the past few years. (These statistics have been updated from the initial publication of this article due to a miscommunication with police. The stats we first published were for the entire precinct, not just Riverside Park.)
2019 – none so far
2018 – none reported but child was hit and father declined to make a report
2017 – 2
Jensen, the mom of the injured child, said that she initially did not call the police department after the accident both because she was distracted with taking care of her daughter, and also because she didn’t consider it a crime. However, when she did ultimately call to report the collision she said she was told that unless the crash involves a motor vehicle the police department does not make a report. “The officer I spoke with said the only thing to do is seek medical attention” said Jensen.
Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, Commanding Officer of the 20th precinct, says that the information that Jensen received is wrong. Police officers should take information on crashes even if they don’t involve a motor vehicle. He says he does think people often don’t report collisions with cyclists to police because they likely believe it’s not a police matter.
Jensen says she is rattled. “We should be able to enjoy the park and not be on high alert every single second and feel high-strung because our kids might get mowed down by a speeding biker. The problem is this idea that you are trying to mix high speed cycling with narrow pedestrian walkways. It’s a ridiculous idea. The bikers who are going at a casual speed are not threatening but the commuters are using it as a freeway. I acknowledge that pedestrians have responsibilities too, but I also think there is no safe way for a cyclist to pass through a crowded pedestrian area at a vehicular speed. That is a recipe for a lot of injuries.”
Jensen’s wish to separate cyclists and pedestrians may soon come to fruition, at least in one particular area of Riverside Park. A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office told West Side Rag that a completely separate path for cyclists between 72nd and 83rd Streets is currently in the works. We wrote about that plan in 2016.
“Pedestrian safety is an issue that has been of huge concern to Councilmember Rosenthal since she took office-particularly in Riverside Park. We have some good news on this front- the Parks Department is about to complete a separate pathway for cyclists in Riverside Park between 72nd and 83rd Streets. Cyclists will no longer be able to travel on the pedestrian path.”
The spokesperson did not have an exact date for the opening of the new path which she said will be closer to the wooded area of the park, but said that the work should be done “very soon.”
It’s one of several such projects included in the Riverside Park capital plan, which also includes changes in the West 90’s to separate cyclists and pedestrians. A slide from the plan detailing those changes is below.
Daniel Garodnick, the President and CEO of the Riverside Park Conservancy supports the change. “The best solution is to separate cyclists and pedestrians wherever we can and reduce the conflicts that we see out there every day. While the park’s design prevents that from happening in all spots, that is exactly what the Parks Department is doing between 72nd and 83rd Streets and it is happening right now.”
A spokesperson from the Parks Department reported that in the past they have put “posted signage” in areas throughout the park and that they put “traffic calming devices in place along the path to slow riders.”
Correction, 2:50 p.m. Wednesday: The initial stats for collisions in Riverside Park were incorrect, and have been updated.