By Alex Israel
The community came together to discuss opportunities for safer crosstown pedestrian and cyclist routes through Central Park during a January joint meeting between Community Board 7’s Transportation and Parks & Environment Committees.
The meeting was scheduled in part as a response to the death of Dr. Daniel Cammerman in late 2019. Cammerman was struck and killed by a school bus crossing Central Park on the 96th Street transverse after hitting a curb or a patch of ice and falling, according to police. Prior to Cammerman’s accident, Transportation Alternatives had set up a petition asking for protected lanes and pedestrian improvements at various cross-park roads, including the 96th Street Transverse.
Currently, the only direct way for cyclists to cross the park is via the Park Drive at 72nd Street, using a path shared by pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles. Cyclists can also enter or exit the park at the West side via 96th Street to use a path shared by bicyclists and pedestrians—though all methods of entering or exiting the park on the East side are marked as pedestrian-only. A Park Drive that runs between 100th and 102nd Streets also allows bicycle access from the West side, but again changes to pedestrian-only distinction on the East side.
No one city agency or organization is singularly responsible for Central Park; when it comes to issues regarding transportation within the park, the jurisdiction is split between several stakeholders.
Representatives from each introduced themselves at the beginning of the CB7 meeting, including: Colleen Chatergoon, Community Coordinator for the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT); Caroline Greenleaf, Director, Community and Government Relations at Central Park Conservancy (CPC); and Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi of the New York Police Department (NYPD) Central Park Precinct. Steve Simon, Chief of Staff to the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Manhattan Borough Commissioner was unable to attend the meeting.
Each city representative said they were in attendance to listen to community feedback and take it back to their respective agency. Greenleaf added that CPC, a private non-profit,”doesn’t make decisions about things like this,” but was working closely with DOT and DPR following the “horrible and tragic accident.”
Several community members — primarily cyclists who frequent Central Park — showed up to share their experiences and call for action from the city.
Andy Rosenthal, an Upper West Side resident for 30 years, kicked off the testimony. “I’m thankful that you’re here tonight,” he said, addressing Chattergoon and Greenleaf. “But I’m angry,” he followed. He said he was present for a Community Board 7 meeting around 10 years ago where upgrades to the 96th Street bike path—that he believed would have “saved” Cammerman—were discussed. This time around, “let’s do something,” he urged.
Others echoed his complaints with the quality of the path. “I wish CPC would restore that path so that it looked as good in reality as it does on a map,” said one local cyclist.
One woman, who commutes from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side for work, said she has been yelled at by pedestrians while biking the path because of unclear signage. “We need more and better options,” she said.
Lisa Orman, a representative for Streetopia Upper West Side, clarified that there are two separate issues to address within the park. “We need paths through the park and transverses to be safe.”
Greenleaf acknowledged that the the park was not designed for cross-commuting—but that CPC was open to hearing all options put forth by city agencies. “[Central Park] is a scenic and wonderful place that is a sanctuary for everyone that goes into it,” she said, “but was never designed for what people are demanding as a current use.”
“I don’t know what the thinking was at the time,” answered Chattergoon, when asked about DOT plans, past or present, for incorporating cyclist paths into the park and its transverses. But given the citywide growth in cycling, “it’s something that we have to reevaluate,” she said. “There is a clear need to start thinking about it.”
Transportation Committee member and avid cyclist Ken Coughlin lamented DOT’s reactive approach. The city’s boom in bike ridership happened because of city agencies’ efforts to install safe cycling paths, he said—but their lack of action in the park is concerning. “It’s incredible to me that city officials up until now have not considered the danger of crossing Central Park [by bike],” he said.
Following a suggestion that existing sidewalks within transverses be converted into bike lanes, Parks & Environment Committee co-chair Klari Neuwelt warned against the idea. “I am very skeptical about any conceivable safe use of the transverses for cyclists and pedestrians,” she said. While she said she was open to hearing the agencies’ recommendations, she reiterated a more urgent need to determine whether or not there is a way to add safe cyclist and pedestrian crossings at the park’s surface level.
“Like Central Park West, it takes someone dying for this conversation to have any traction,” said Transportation Committee member Richard Robbins, in reference to the protected bike lane approved by CB7 and partially installed last year along Central Park West following the death of Madison Jane Lyden in 2018. Between DOT, DPR, NYPD, and CPC, there’s no one owner of this issue, he said. “And we need someone to own this issue.”
Ultimately, the committees decided to draft a joint resolution to compel the city to act. The resolution, proposed and outlined by Robbins, calls for: “short term action,” including the implementation of clear signage of where wheeled vehicles (e.g. bicycles) are allowed within the park; “stricter enforcement of motor vehicle speeding on the transverses,” including the addition of ‘Your Speed’ signs; the creation of a cross-agency task force with representatives from each city agency; and a request for that task force to return to CB7 as soon as possible (no later than March) with proposed solutions.
The resolution passed, receiving majority support from both Transportation and Parks & Environment Committees, and will be up for a vote during the next full board meeting on February 4, 2020.