By Amy Zimmer
DNAinfo News Editor
UPPER EAST SIDE — It is illegal to bike on Central Park's paths — and many members of the Community Board 8 want to keep it that way.
A Central Park Conservancy plan to designate two paths in the northern part of the park as shared routes for cyclists and pedestrians by mid-July has been met with objection by some members of the Upper East Side community board.
Cyclists have been calling for access to the paths — one between E. 97th and West 96th streets and the other between East 102nd and West 106th or West 100th streets — so they have a safe way to cross the park.
They're now relegated to riding on the transverse roads with cars or breaking the rules by going on the paths.
But many members of CB8's parks committee, who were briefed on the conservancy's plan on Thursday, worry the shared paths will be dangerous for pedestrians. They blasted the conservancy for trying to accommodate the cyclists and voted against the plan — though their role is only advisory.
"I see my city, the way I travel and how I get around being revamped to accommodate a very small percentage of the population," said CB8 member Michele Birnbaum. "It really isn't a right to travel the park on a bicycle."
Caroline Greenleaf, of the Central Park Conservancy, told the CB8 committee the plan will serve as a trial run to see if this will help balance the needs of the park's 38 million annual users.
"We are really looking at this as an experiment," she said. "It means a lot of give and take on everybody's part."
"We owe it to the communities of all users who want to be in the park for different reasons to at least try this."
The shared path's success, she said, will depend on "people who have civility." The paths' speed limit will be clearly marked for 5 mph, "which for us is one of the most important elements."
"It's not a speed track," Greenleaf said. "And dogs must be on leashes, not one that's six-feet long. We recognize there will be all sorts of users."
Not only does the conservancy not want riders racing by at 10 or 15 mph, they are also hoping to encourage cyclists to yield to pedestrians and walk their bikes through crowds.
Greenleaf acknowledged that "enforcement is really tricky," but said she hoped park users would feel enough of a sense of "ownership" of the space to call out cyclists' bad behavior.
Steve Vaccaro, who chairs Transportation Alternatives' East Side Committee, said he would also volunteer to counsel cyclists on being respectful.
Greenleaf also said the conversancy planned to host a bicycle education day on July 2 in advance of officially launching the shared paths.
"We need the police to pay attention to the spike in violent crime we've seen in the park," Vaccaro said, rather than cyclists.
He told the board members that the paths would help families like his.
He and his seventh grade son have spent the last two years commuting from their Upper East Side apartment to his Upper West Side private school by bike, riding with cars often speeding more than 40 mph.
"You also have bad pedestrians. You have bad drivers," said CB8 member Judy Schneider, one of two committee members who supported the shared paths. "Yes, you have bad bicyclists… It doesn't mean we shouldn't give this a chance to see if it works."
Barbara Rudder, co-chair of the parks committee — who said that the shared path in Carl Schurz park was full of cyclists interrupting walkers with grating "out of the way" shouts — gave her fellow members a homework assignment.
"We'll go to these paths and see what's happening," she said.