Breaking the East-West Divide

Written by Megan Finnegan on . Posted in Our Town, Posts, West Side Spirit.


Cyclists may soon gain three ways to legally cross Central Park without dismounting and walking their bikes.

The Central Park Conservancy, the Department of Transportation and the Parks Department have been working jointly on an initiative to open several east-west pedestrian paths to cyclists, similar to the changes made recently that allow cyclists to bike at walking speeds on nearby Riverside Park paths.

The initial routes likely to be converted to shared paths, possibly by this spring or summer, are the paths on either side of the 96th Street Transverse, which run near the North Meadow Recreation Center, and the path at 102nd Street. Later, the Conservancy will work with DOT to consider adding shared routes along the 72nd Street Transverse.

Currently, to cross from the West Side to the East Side, cyclists can either use the 96th Street transverse—a notoriously risky route—or take the bottom part of the loop, which is a long detour for those who want to get to the northern areas of the Upper East Side. Cyclists are not allowed on pedestrian paths.

Peter Frishauf is on the Recreation Committee for the Central Park Conservancy, and he’s been involved in this effort since January 2010, when the question of how cyclists can safely and easily get across the park arose from a meeting with Upper West Side Streets Renaissance.

“For all practical purposes right now, there is no safe and sanctioned way to get across the park at all,” Frishauf says. “The only legal way is a treacherously dangerous way where cyclists have been killed,” referring to a woman on a bike who was struck by a vehicle on the 66th Street Transverse in 2006 and later died from her injuries.

Frishauf and several others met with the Conservancy president, Doug Blonsky, who is also the Central Park Administrator, and they decided to figure out ways to create shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

“There’s a lot of people that commute to work by bike, and they go through the park,” Blonsky says.

Steve Vaccaro works with Transportation Alternatives and bikes with his son to school every morning across the park, from their Upper East Side home to his son’s school on the Upper West Side. When his son was younger, he biked on pathways, but was often chastised by pedestrians telling him to dismount. Children up to 12 years old are allowed to bike on New York City sidewalks, which are the jurisdiction of the DOT, but the rules are fuzzier in Central Park, where the Conservancy governs the pathways.

Recently, Vaccaro and his son started using the Transverse to get from east to west, but that’s not without its problems.

“As the cars and the bikes are headed into the tunnels, suddenly the road gets a lot narrower,” Vaccaro says. “It also gets really dark. It’s sort of a confluence of bad conditions.”

“This would be an enormous safety improvement as well as improve the quality of life for thousands of people,” Frishauf says. “No one should be forced into a dangerous situation just trying to get to work or use the park.”

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