Over the past year, the media has taken certain events, discussed them at length, stirred up a lot of controversy…just to have the topic fall off the face of the earth, never to be heard about again. Some events are more major than others (shootings by police, mass shootings by civilians, sexual assault), but one that is on my mind somewhat often is about cyclists in NYC. Not to say that this is more important in my mind, but it is much more prominent in my daily life, so I think about it much more. (Although with what seems to be increased police presence in Central Park, I do find myself wondering What if…? much more.)
In September, a woman was hit by a cyclist in Central Park and died as a result of her injuries. There was an uproar from all sides—people who hate cyclists, cyclists who hate people, public safety—and as a runner-turned-cyclist/triathlete for a few months earlier this year, I feel like I had a bit of an insider opinion. Do cyclists ride like madmen? Should pedestrians pay better attention? Who has the right of way?
So many questions, so many not clear answers.
In the past week, I’ve had two separate experiences with cyclists in Central Park, both while on the run. (I’ve stored away my bike shoes for the winter.) As someone who doesn’t run with music, or even with my phone, I like to think I pay attention to my surroundings. I also realize that the world doesn’t revolve around me, so it’s important to watch for other people.
I was running south along the west side of the park, and I wanted to cross the street to exit, as it was time to head home. As I ran along in the running lane (the far left street…bike lane in the middle, cars [at times] on the right, for those not familiar with Central Park), I turned over my shoulder to see if any bike traffic was coming. Since it’s December, the chance of cyclists being out there has certainly decreased, although a few brave, bundled cyclists are pedaling away. Now, I’m not the most coordinated person, so looking over my shoulder leads my body to the right, and I cross about a step into the bike lane. This happens about the same time I notice a cyclist coming my way, so I scoot back over into the running lane for her to pass.
She passes by in the lane next to me and says, “Thank you for looking!” as she passes. When I was doing my cyclist thing, I didn’t have a problem with pedestrians, but I was mostly terrified by people who didn’t pay attention to anything going on around them. Yes, it’s a park, but it’s a park with a roadway in the middle of big city. The fact that the cyclist said something to me either meant that she’s a nice person or it’s not the norm for people to look before crossing. I recognize that people have ideas about who has the right-of-way, but I think many issues would be solved if we just took time to see what is around us.
For those familiar with the entrances to Central Park, I was entering at 72nd St on the west side, which is full of those bike carriages, tours, tourist photographing the John Lennon building, and people entering/exiting the park by foot or on wheel. I was crossing the lane amid all of this chaos which involves dodging the masses. A guy on a bike (I used “cyclist” for a certain type of person on a bike, not this guy!) entered the park, not in the bike lane. In his defense, the bike lane here is usually littered with people who have no idea what’s going on…but it was clear at this point. Moving on. I recognize that he is moving forward on a bike, so I decide to slow down, wait for him to pass, and go behind him. He had a clear path in front of him, but for whatever reason, he slowed down. I ended up doing a shuffle step to wait for him to pass before going behind him. He apparently thought I was too close and yelled, “F***ing ***hole!” right at me. Um, you’re welcome for letting you pass? No? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you should take your giant headphones off and pay attention to what’s going on around you. And put a helmet on for good measure.
Two very different interactions with cyclists! I won’t say I’m perfect in my running or cycling world, but I like to think I try hard to pay attention to what is going on around me. Half the battle, if you ask me.
Part of what really irks me about the media and people’s reactions to what is happening is how quickly they disappear. When the accident happened in September, there was a huge uproar and people demanding change. (The cyclist wasn’t charged, in case you were wondering.) Not much as been said since September, although it appears some changes have been made. If you’ve run the loop of Central Park recently, you probably noticed change in some crosswalks. The one by 81st St on the west side (by Delacorte Theater) has a barrier set up between the pedestrian and bike lanes. This not only separates the lanes at what could be a high cross area, but also shortens the pedestrians lane. (Instead of going directly across the street, pedestrians walk slightly south across the pedestrian lane before crossing the rest.) Of course, I’ve seen people just cross north of the barrier instead. Also, the speed limit has decreased from 25mph to 20mph. Of note, I usually ride about 15-17 mph, so 20mph really isn’t that fast. (The default speed limit for the city was decreased from 30mph to 25mph, which is mostly comical if you’ve ever driven in the city.) Updates can be read in this NY Time article.
I doubt that most people even noticed any of the changes made, although I am impressed that something actually happened. Many times, there’s a media/internet uproar, but it seems as though no one does anything to take action. It will be interesting to see if this changes how many accidents occur in Central Park. Honestly, I think telling people to look up from their phones and pay attention to what is going on around them is what would really make a difference. It’s not like I ever ride my bike with a speedometer, but I do try to keep track of my surroundings.
Have NYC runners/cyclists/pedestrians noticed the changes in the park? What do you think about safety in the park? For those outside NYC, what’s pedestrian/cyclist safety like where you’re from?