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Police Tougher on Central Park Cyclists Than Cars, Advocates Say

By Amy Zimmer | March 3, 2011 9:13pm | Updated on March 4, 2011 12:58pm

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — Outraged and armed with radar guns, bike advocates have been videotaping cars zipping along every roadway in and through Central Park the last two weeks to see how strictly the NYPD is enforcing traffic rules for four-wheelers.

Transportation Alternatives' East Side Committee says there has been a recent blitz of tickets to cyclists and believes the police have been targeting them unfairly compared to the way they treat car drivers. The group plans to voice their concerns at the next Central Park Precinct Council meeting on Mar. 14.

"In many locations we have seen NYPD officers observing 30 – 40-plus MPH traffic without ever seeming to take enforcement measures," Steve Vaccaro, chair of the East Side Committee, wrote in an e-mail.

Outtakes from Wednesday's radar session show many motorists riding faster than the allowable 25 mph along Central Park's West Drive from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., "with police officers riding immediately behind or right alongside them," Vaccaro noted.

Cyclists, roller bladers, pedestrians, pedicabs, horse carriages and cars all want a piece of the asphalt in the park, which attracts 35 million visitors each year. Bike riders, especially of the spandex-wearing ilk, have been notorious for whizzing through the park, leading to accidents like the one caused when a biker in racing gear slammed into a 73-year-old woman in August.

Captain Philip Wishnia, of the Central Park Precinct, recently told Upper West Siders that the crackdown on cyclists was in response to an increase in bike-related accidents in the park. He said that cyclists would be given summonses for running red lights even if there were no cars or pedestrians, the West Side Spirit reported.

When asked whether the police could only target flagrant violations, he reportedly explained that there would be selective enforcement.

But Vaccaro thinks that's how they're approaching car enforcement.

"Officers who ride alongside or just beside motorists speeding 10 or more MPH over the limit, without taking enforcement action, presumably are doing just that," Vaccaro said, asking, "Then why not do the same with cyclists and red lights?"

Many bike riders have been on the defensive, mounting effort of their own to offer solutions. Upper East Side triathlete, Adrian Bijanada, started a Facebook campaign called "Concerned Cyclists of Central Park." Lawyer and cyclist, Guido Gabriele III, has also gathered more than 1,300 signatures on a petition calling for traffic signals in the park — wherever roads are closed to cars — to flash yellow except when a crosswalk button is pushed by a pedestrian to turn to red.

Gabriele believes his petition is fair to all, including runners and dog walkers. It "does not ask to break the law," he wrote in an e-mail, and "emphasizes that the city's cyclists are reasonable people who care about safety."

He added, "The NYPD, as far as understand, has declared strict enforcement for traffic laws in the park — but we are not aware of any jaywalking tickets being handed out."

The NYPD's press office did not immediately respond for comment. An officer from Central Park's precinct said these concerns would be addressed at the Mar. 14 meeting.

The Central Park Precinct Council meeting will take place Mar. 14,  160 Central Park West, 7 p.m.