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Cyclists and Pedestrians Still Learning to Share Riverside Park Path

UPPER WEST SIDE — The city still hasn't figured out how to get cyclists and pedestrians to share Riverside Park peacefully.

It's been a year since complaints about speeding bikers prompted the Parks Department to post "Cyclists Must Dismount" signs on a heavily used path at West 72nd Street that connects Riverside Drive to the Hudson River Greenway.

But both cyclists and walkers say the route is still a problem area.

"We don’t go down there anymore," said Joyce, a woman in her 80s who's lived on West 72nd Street and West End Avenue for 45 years.

"It’s too dangerous. [Cyclists] come down the hill speeding, and it scares the life out of you."

Joyce and her husband, David, who didn't want their last names used, said they once took near-daily walks in Riverside Park, using the path at West 72nd Street to reach the greenway.

But recently they've become so afraid of cyclists who ignore the dismount signs that they've stopped going to the park altogether, Joyce said.

Instead, the couple takes the bus to Central Park.

"We've lived in this neighborhood a long time, and we can’t go to our own park? It’s not fair," Joyce said. "[Cyclists] shouldn’t be allowed to ride a bike on paths where people are walking. It doesn’t make any sense."

And she's not alone.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, says more and more seniors are complaining about near misses with cyclists in Riverside Park. One constituent was seriously injured when a speeding biker forced her off a path near the West 79th Street Boat Basin, according to Rosenthal.

The assemblywoman recently wrote to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, pleading for action to address the problem. Rosenthal has also been surveying seniors about their experiences in the park.

"For many seniors, a handful of renegade cyclists have transformed the park into a form of video game, whereby seniors are forced to dash out of the way of speeding cyclists," she said in a statement.

Marilyn Briskin, 73, who uses a cane, says she wants cyclists banned altogether from the 72nd Street path. She had a close call recently with a cyclist who almost knocked her down, and knows a pedestrian who was injured by a biker near the Pier I café.

"A park is meant for people to come enjoy the breeze, to sit on a bench and face the river, and if you can’t enjoy it, our park has been given away," Briskin said.

But banning bikers from the path doesn't make sense to cyclists. The 72nd Street route is a popular commuter path for those entering Riverside Park to cruise downtown on the Hudson River Greenway.

The path is even listed as a bike route on the city's official bike map, though Riverside Park administrator John Herrold said last year that the path's inclusion on the map was a "mistake."

Aside from cyclists, the path is also well traveled by dog-walkers headed to the 72nd Street dog run, nannies and moms with strollers, groups of kids from nearby schools, and joggers and in-line skaters.

When dismount signs went up without warning in June 2010, cyclists felt like they were being singled out and punished.

Bike commuter Sharon Kass was among them. A software engineer in her 40s, she said she was shocked when the dismount signs went up. She'd used the path every day for four years to bike to her job in lower Manhattan and had nothing but "friendly interactions" with the joggers and walkers she passed, she said.

Shortly after the dismount signs were posted, a park ranger spotted Kass riding her bike on the path. He let her off with a warning and suggested she start using West 59th Street to access the greenway instead.

Kass obeyed — but two weeks ago she was hit by a car there. She wasn't seriously injured, but the experience shook her. She'd like the dismount signs on the 72nd Street path to come down so she can start using it as a commuter route again.

"Pedestrians and cyclists just need to be respectful of each other," Kass said. "Cyclists need to go slow, and people need to not do things like walk their dogs on long leashes all the way across the path."

That idea will get a trial run soon.

The Parks Department is replacing the dismount signs on the West 72nd Street path with new signs warning bikers to yield to pedestrians "at all times," a spokesman said.

They'll be posted as soon as department officials explain how to enforce the new rules to Parks Enforcement Patrol officers, the spokesman said.

Cyclists have been clamoring for new signs for the past year, but the Parks Department was delayed in part because it couldn't decide how to word the new placards, said Riverside Park administrator John Herrold at a recent Community Board 7 Parks Committee meeting.

"What I'm still trying to figure out is how to make cyclists slow down," Herrold told Community Board 7. Parks puts up signs, Herrold said, "but cyclists just whiz past them and ring their bell."

When the new signs go up, cycling groups plan a public outreach campaign to remind bikers to follow the rules, said Lisa Sladkus of Upper West Side Streets Renaissance.

"There needs to be a behavior adjustment on both sides," Sladkus said, noting that dog-walkers who let extra-long leashes cross the entire path create hazards for cyclists.

"You need to hone in on the people that are creating the problem, and not punish everyone that goes through there."