On a sunny mid-April Tuesday afternoon at Washington Square Park, a slow-moving, elderly man rises from a bench and is almost knocked over by two bicyclists zooming past him. “Darn kids these days,” he mumbles. At Garibaldi Plaza, a skateboarder flips in mid-air as a bicyclist skids sideways, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision. Near the Arch, a boy riding a BMX sports bicycle pummels down the circular path — front wheel in the air —towards a woman with a baby stroller, as she yelps and swerves out of his way; in another corner, a skateboarder flies across a stone bench, his board ramming into a young woman’s cup of coffee, sending it flying and splattering onto the ground.
“Freakin’ punk!” she yells at the hoodie-adorned skateboarder, who gives no acknowledgement and skates away. Observing all this, some may wonder: where is law enforcement?
Megan Moriarty, press officer for NYC Parks, sets forth that park rules strictly prohibit skateboarding, bicycling and scooter riding. The problems posed by the recent spike of wheeled devices being used in the park are two-fold: it makes a perilous journey for pedestrians, and skateboarders harm statues and benches in the park by grinding and flipping off their sharp edges.
Moriarty explains that there are “Parks Enforcement Patrol officers assigned to Washington Square Park daily,” who also respond to issues reported by the public. These include six reported incidents involving skateboarders and bicyclists this month alone; in one, dated 23 April, a rider caused a child to fall down. “I informed the 6th precinct several times and they are not responding,” said the complainant who reported the accident. Both the NYPD 6th Precinct and the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information at One Police Plaza declined to comment.
What is evident is that the onus lies on NYC Parks to escalate measures in stopping illegal riding. “Our officers have increased efforts to educate parkgoers about park rules and direct them to skate parks in Manhattan,” says Moriarty on their softer strategies to halt riders in the park. “We are also installing additional signs that communicate these rules.”
Moriarty notes that following this education effort will be “a period of increased enforcement”: “If [rules are] not followed, the next step would be to issue a summons, and only in extremely rare circumstances would we effectuate an arrest.” When asked for more details on how the accident where the young girl got knocked down was dealt with, Moriarty did not elaborate.
Locals Are Livid
Washington Square Park regulars are not impressed by the government’s lack of attention to the matter. Julie C., 54, who lives in Greenwich Village and frequents the park two or three times a week, disdains how easy, relaxing days sitting on the grassy knolls have devolved into a game of artfully dodging oncoming bicyclists. “I don’t see any park officers around,” she bemoans. “They need to be here nine to five and seven days a week!”
Devon, 33, was almost run over last month. “The other day, a skateboarder fell off his board and almost flattened me. What do they call that — vehicular manslaughter?” he recalls. Devon thinks the seriousness of the situation warrants attention from local police, not just park officers. “The cops should be patrolling and constantly giving warnings.”
Chelsea, 24 — the woman with the baby in the stroller that swerved to avoid a freestyle bicyclist — says that if NYC Parks doesn’t really step things up, she will have no choice but to stop coming to the park. “I love it here, I’ve been a frequent visitor for the past decade or so,” she says. “But if I don’t see these skateboards and scooters gone, count me out.”
Julie feels that seeing bikers and skateboarders is so commonplace, it has almost become a part of the subculture in Washington Square Park — and a dangerous one at that.
“Put them all in jail,” she said. “If only the cops would wake up.”
“Our officers have increased efforts to educate parkgoers about park rules and direct them to skate parks in Manhattan.” Megan Moriarty, press officer for NYC Parks