Police Crack Down on Prospect Park Bicyclists

The bright orange barrels appeared last month, making a short, downhill section of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park seem like a highway construction zone. And still not everybody slowed.

Now paper is the next phase of an effort to keep cyclists from speeding through red lights. And so, the year of the ticketing blitz for cyclists has come full circle, finishing in Prospect Park what began in Central Park during the winter.

Last weekend, police began ticketing cyclists who ran through red lights. The activity was most intense at the light near the end of the chute of orange barrels that leads to a precarious intersection on West Park Drive, closest to the Vanderbilt playground, where the swarming interests of groups that use the park — competitive cyclists, commuter cyclists, pedestrians, runners, dog-walkers and drivers – tend to collide. Sometimes literally.

Officers handed out flyers reminding cyclists not to exceed the 25 mile per hour speed limit and to yield to pedestrians – as is the park law.

Patrols have been out sporadically this week (still several cyclists observed in a 30 minute period zoomed past the light when the intersection was completely clear of pedestrians or police). With a sunny weekend approaching, it is likely the enforcement will be intensified.

Bob Prince, 59, has been riding in Prospect Park for 15 years and he has never seen such enforcement. “It’s weird, it’s understandable, it’s a good thing in a way,” he said, referring to recent accidents. He stood beside his steel, artisan-designed Land Shark bike with a leather saddle before entering West Drive the other day.

“On the other hand,” he added, “it would be nice to have bike lanes specifically for cyclists with their own traffic lights, even outside the park.”

In September, the Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force was formed, bringing together groups like Transportation Alternatives, cycling and running teams, a nearby elderly living center, city officials and members of the 78th Police Precinct. The first public meeting was held last month to discuss lane-sharing solutions.

The group evolved after a high-profile, serious accident to a local actress, Dana Jacks, who was struck in June by a cyclist on West Drive and hospitalized for several weeks.

“That accident was serious enough to address the issues,” said Paul Nelson, a Prospect Park spokesman, adding that there had been several other accidents since.

A longtime park power-walker was struck by a cyclist. Last week, according to several cycling message boards, a cyclist fell after trying to stop for a vehicle that was driving in the park in the afternoon, outside the hours it is legal for vehicles to use the park.

The Police Department did not immediately respond to a request to provide statistics on the number of tickets issued since the enforcement began.

Sometimes, stopping at a red light when no one is crossing seems pointless to some riders training on the 3.35-mile loop. But others take it to an extreme, said Carla Ruff, 34, who lives in Prospect Park South. “I think the problem is the racers — they go really fast,” she said, walking her toy fox terrier on recent afternoon after having taken a four-lap bike ride in the morning. “If there’s a team of racers and you’re crossing, they will yell at you. That’s the most irritating, arrogant thing.”

An ad hoc group of cyclists ride in a peloton early on weekday mornings and on weekends. The Kissena Cycling Club puts on permit-approved races in the park, and will disqualify a member who does not follow team and park rules about riding counterclockwise after a race.

“We’re absolutely committed to promoting safe training and racing,” said Michael Perlberg, 28, the president of the cycling club, who is also a member of the road sharing task force. “Our users, club members, are people that jog and take their babies out in strollers. We want safe park usage. We’re looking forward to coming up with a clear set of guidelines, and we’re planning on being actively involved and educating cyclists on how to follow these rules.”

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