No Easy Fix in the Park Dangers

| 16 Feb 2015 | 11:42

Pedestrians, cyclists and walkers co-exist on Central Park's roads, creating a standoff that can be lethal

By Hannah Griffin

It is 10 a.m. on a sunny, cool Friday morning in late September, and the road leading to the intersection at West Side Drive near 63rd St. in Central Park is packed. Trees with leaves just on the cusp of turning cast long shadows over the intersection as cyclists, runners, walkers, cars, map wielding tourists, pedi-cabs and dog-walkers rush past. A woman on a bright pink cruiser trails behind a man on a black bike dressed in a suit. In front of them are two lean, Lycra-clad road cyclists with clip in pedals.

Connecticut resident Jill Tarlov, 58, was walking here on Thursday September 18th when she was hit by a cyclist and suffered head injuries, according to the New York Times. Tarlov was taken to New-York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. She died of her injuries the following Sunday.

Tarlov's death has renewed conversations about the safety of New York's roads, but the conversation is not new. Four thousand New Yorkers are seriously hurt in traffic accidents annually, and 250 die. The city's Vision Zero Action Plan is a commitment to make roads throughout the five boroughs safer for everyone through strengthened enforcement of dangerous driving, safer street planning, and outreach programs. A recent accomplishment of Vision Zero is the reduction of the speed limit by 5 mph in designed Slow Zones throughout the city.

The roads snaking through Central Park's 843 acres are set up for many different users. A marked cycling lane runs through the middle of the street and is sandwiched by a slimmer one for those walking and running on one side, and one for cars, pedi-cabs and carriages on the other. Rollerbladers and skateboarders are often seen using both the bike and running lanes.

Designer and nearby resident Anne Bowen, walking her two small dogs on Friday morning, feels that a combination of pedestrian awareness and safer practices by cyclists is crucial. Bowen thinks that there need to be measures to encourage cyclists to slow down in higher traffic areas of the park. "The bikers honestly they just whizz by you and go, 'on your left'. By the time you hear that you could be wiped out," she said. She always looks both ways, even on one ways. "If you step off the curb you have to treat it like you're going on a highway."

The situation in Central Park is uniquely complicated as the atmosphere in the sprawling greenspace seems to lower people's perception of road danger. A pedestrian or cyclist may not use the same caution cruising down lush West Drive as they would on noisy, congested 5th avenue, just blocks away. It is a park, but a park with a crowded multi-use roadway weaving through it that brings together every kind of transportation in the city, but on one small roadway.

Shahjahan Talukder, a vendor selling popsicles and drinks at the East side of the intersection, has worked in the park since last year. Talukder was present when Tarlov and Marshall collided, and while he saw her fall he says he does not know who is to blame. "The problem is not respecting the signs," he said.

There is a walk and stop signal and a traffic light, but in true New York City fashion, many pedestrians do a quick road check before jay-walking across. Several cyclists ignore the red light hanging above them and roll through if no pedestrians are in their direct path. Even a young mother quickly scuttles across pushing a stroller as the orange stop signal is lit.

Bike usage in New York City has quadrupled in the last ten years, and the introduction of Citi Bike in 2013 encouraged many more people to commute on two wheels. A city proposal included in Vision Zero is to have instruction of driving in close proximity to cyclists and pedestrians be part of pre-licensing courses for drivers.

Andras Bokor, a cyclist who lives in the Bronx and rides his bike most days, is not optimistic that all road users will ever get along. "Because everybody always thinks the other person is at fault when accidents happen," he said.

Additional reporting by Nicole Del Mauro