I ride my bike in Central Park three to five days a week. I like to ride in the morning when it’s cooler and usually peaceful, before the massive waves of tourists hit the park and have no clue of the basic rules of the road. I ride in Central Park because it’s supposed to be safer than riding on the street — but this summer it’s been worse than ever.
Central Park has very specific lanes: far right is for park vehicles, pedicabs, horse & buggies, and the police; the center lane is for bikes; and the far left is for runners. Bikes can only go one direction in the park, so we have few options except for a couple of crossovers between the East and West sides. Runners can run in any direction, on any of the pathways. They have total freedom. People who walk in the park can walk everywhere.
It seems like the New York Road Runners have a race in the park almost every weekend. They have increased in numbers so much that it has taken over all but one lane. During these races, cones are extended into the bike lane so that everyone is forced into the far-right lane — you have bikes, vehicles, runners not running the race (going in two different directions) and walkers. It’s a very dangerous obstacle course.
New York Road Runners has volunteers in yellow vests every few feet to make sure no one goes into the race lane, but they do nothing about the other lane full of chaos. In addition, at the water stations, runners grab a cup of water and then toss it on the road, not into trash bins. During all of this madness, if I do see a police car, they are doing nothing to direct traffic. I have seen bikers going the wrong way in the park, past police, without consequence. I have to wonder what they would do if a car went up Fifth Ave against traffic.
Why are there no police in the park helping direct people? Why can’t they limit the races to only the number of people who fit into the one lane? Why are they every weekend? Why don’t they use barricades to separate runners not running in the race from the bike lane? Perhaps additional signage is necessary in the park. There are many opportunities for information to be front and center as you walk, run and ride around the loop.
Central Park is supposed to be for everyone and when there are races, this is not the case. No one cares about bike riders like me who also wish to get their daily exercise.
According to the rules on the Central Park website, cyclists are supposed to stay off pedestrian paths, not cycle on landscapes, travel only counterclockwise on the drives that circle the park, and obey basic traffic laws, such as stopping at lights and yielding to pedestrians. I could not find any rules of the road for pedestrians and runners — only recommended routes.
“Central Park is a runners paradise,” the official site says.
People come from all over the world to visit Central Park and the rules of the road are very different around the world. Some basic information can make it safer and easier to maneuver around the park. Those of us who ride in the park use many ways to communicate and it would be helpful if communication tips were posted or given to bike renters and CitiBikers. We use hand signals; we look over our shoulder when moving from one side of the lane to the other; we say “on your right” and “on your left” when we approach to pass — I use this especially when I can see the riders in front of me are not paying attention with their phone or selfie stick extended as they ride.
I was talking to a friend who is a runner that runs daily in the park and has completed numerous NY Marathons. She often likes to run with her kids one on his bike and one on his scooter and she told me it’s too stressful and dangerous. She agrees with me that something needs to be done.
I’m sure NY Roadrunner brings lots of income to the city, but Central Park is a public park not their private running club. The Mayor and the city need to be more aware of what’s happening in Central Park and watch out for us who use it daily.
Stein lives in Harlem and is a hospitality consultant specializing in service and training.