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The Prospect Park Chute

November 21, 2011

I had a chance to check out the new orange barrels that Prospect Park and DOT installed on part of the park loop in the wake of a serious collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian earlier this month.  I hesitate to call say that what the Park and DOT have done is install safety measures because the jury is out on whether this particular choice will, in fact, make things safer.

As you head down the hill on West Lake Drive you will see these orange barrels and the “Pedestrian Crossing” sign on the far right.  The orange barrels gradually reduce the roadway from two traffic lanes to one:

This new sign greets riders as they approach the crosswalk at the bottom of the hill.  Another set of barrels form what many people at the Road Sharing Task Force’s public forum referred to as the “chute.”

I took this video on my phone on Saturday morning, hours after the larger groups of racers would normally be finished for the day:

Many of the people who spoke out last Wednesday noted that cyclists now have less room to maneuver if something goes wrong; if a pedestrian steps in front of a group of cyclists without looking, the cyclists would likely all crash into that person instead of spreading out like a flock of birds evading prey.  Even if they did avoid a collision with a pedestrian, one cyclist clipping a barrel could send an entire peloton down.

Lest you be inclined to comment that fast cyclists deserve whatever injury they get, let me say that as someone who has had to suddenly avoid wayward pedestrians, soccer balls, water bottles, skateboards that have been liberated from their riders, cracked pavement, piles of horse manure, and sticks at low speeds on my commuter bike, I don’t think you have to be a high-speed racer to have the same concern.  Three kids biking together could easily find themselves squeezed with no place to go but to the pavement.

Does this configuration slow cyclists down?  It’s hard to say.  I didn’t see too many hard-core racers while I was in the park on Saturday, but the few fast riders I did see were still riding quickly enough through this chute to cause serious injury to themselves or others in the event of a crash.  Narrowing the lane further would exacerbate many of the problems and concerns I mentioned above.  There’s also the little matter of cars in the park; you can only narrow the lane here so much if you still want cars to fit through.

A speaker on Wednesday also mentioned the barrels’ height as a concern, one he didn’t think Prospect Park or the DOT considered.  The barrels are slightly taller than the average five- or six-year old and could possibly make it harder for cyclists and drivers to see a child about to dart across the road.

The Park also changed one important configuration for pedestrians, closing off a path that opened up onto the drive and instead directing them to use a crosswalk further down the hill.

It’s really hard to say what effect any of this will have.  After all, it’s just one section of an over three-mile loop and two accidents, as horrible as they were, are statistical blips when it comes to determining overall park safety.  During my casual ride around the park, I still saw plenty of pedestrians meandering in the middle of the road, parents with baby carriages crossing behind blind curves, cyclists riding in the wrong direction, and even two people tossing a football from one side of the drive to another.

The Park can’t very well put orange barrels around the entire loop, close off more pedestrian crossings with French barriers, and put signs on every available lamppost and tree.  What kind of park do we want?  One thing I do know is that most people, especially the people who took the effort to show up last week, want it to be car-free, no matter what the media reports may suggest.

I firmly believe that unless and until cars are banned from the park entirely, no discussion of park safety will have any serious or lasting effect.  It’s completely ludicrous that the Task Force continues to debate the effects a 160-pound rider on a 25-pound bike can have on pedestrians while completely ignoring the effects of motorists of any size driving two-ton cars and trucks.

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15 Comments
  1. Clarence Eckerson permalink
    November 21, 2011 11:27 am

    I think there just needs to be one lane for cars all around the park (if they are gonna allow cars to be in it.)

    That way all the roadway could be reconfigured better for all.

  2. wkgreen permalink
    November 23, 2011 11:43 am

    Several speakers at the task force meeting on Wed. night mentioned this configuration of barrels and thanked the officials for trying to do something there, but expressed concern that it would likely make that location more dangerous, not less. I can appreciate the effort to keep people off of the road at there. As discussed here, it fails by removing a crucial advantage that bicycles have by not allowing room to maneuver around obstacles, be they soccer balls or people. But it should also be noted that the “chute” ends exactly at the crosswalk partially blocking any ability to see it, or for crossing pedestrians to see bicycles. It they really want to tweak this, it would be a tremendous improvement if it opened out well before it gets to the intersection and whatever barricade is used to define the edge should get progressively lower to keep sight lines open.

    This is a good description of the road. There is a generally understood right-of-way that pedestrians have that makes sense. Watching for them and then slowing down, going around, or stopping to let people cross is part of what cycling in the park is about. It is a park, after all, and people need to cross the road to get to most of it. But the city and the park administration do a great disservice by giving the impression that pedestrians have carte blanche use of the roadway. It’s in the nature of cycling that bicycles will go at varying speeds, often based more on ability than terrain. If cyclists of ANY variety are to be allowed there (and there is really no place like the two major parks in Brooklyn and Manhattan for recreational and serious cycling) then it should not be everyone’s playground. Those meandering pedestrians on the road, who have free run of the entire park, are a hazard not only to themselves, but others as well. It creates a dangerous and unpredictable environment where collisions can happen directly or by chain reaction, often from other bicycles that suddenly swerve into the path of another while trying to avoid someone in the road. And then people complain that cyclists are rude because they are getting yelled at by them. The road is a mess.

  3. oscar permalink
    November 23, 2011 1:49 pm

    “the effects a 160-pound rider on a 25-pound bike ”
    Well, apparently the effects include a coma & a fractured skull.

    I suggest bike advocates drop that silly line of reasoning

  4. Park User permalink
    November 23, 2011 2:16 pm

    You need to get the cars out of the park. Oscar, yes bike can and have caused major injuires to peds, but not at the rate or severity of cars. It’s just logic. Is what happened more or less than in previous years? What are the long-term statistics for injuries in the park? Even the PPA couldn’t say at that meeting. That should be something we all learn before we go about putting in draconian measures that punish any one population of park users. I don’t think anyone is arguing that bikes can’t cause injury, because obviously they have. But the idiocy of allowing heavy cars to speed in Prospect Park continues…i don’t think we need to wait for someone to die before we do something about it.

    Oh yeah…someone already did die from a speeding van in the park. Google it.

  5. November 23, 2011 4:36 pm

    Oscar, if you’d read the entire section from which you pulled that quote you’ll see that I’m not saying bikes have no effects on pedestrians, nor am I ignoring the two most recent and serious injuries that occurred as a result of these collisions.

    We can certainly talk about how to prevent future cyclist/ped injuries, but to do so while simultaneously ignoring the effects cars have on the park, even when they are not allowed in, is an exercise in futility. We can not continue to allow cars to speed through the park at 40 mph or more with nothing separating them from a narrow lane of cyclists, joggers, dog walkers, and pedestrians and simply hope for the best. Until you eliminate cars in the park nothing anyone does to institute new rules will matter one whit. As long as there are rules that are in effect for only four hours a day, the roadway in the park will be a confusing mess.

    By all means, let’s slow down racing cyclists in the park. I’ve been screamed at for going too slow or getting in the way, oftentimes while taking my daughter to the zoo or playground. You’ll find no defense of reckless riding and aggressive behavior here. In fact, at the meeting last week I suggested limiting some forms of racing and training to the very early morning hours. I also mentioned some of the suggestions I posted about here previously.

    Please, criticize. That’s fine with me. But what are your solutions? Do you have any suggestions for how we can make the park safer for all users? I find it interesting that those who tend to be the most reflexive bike haters typically have zero real suggestions for making our streets safer. I do not edit comments here. Please leave your suggestions below.

  6. station44025 permalink
    November 23, 2011 6:11 pm

    Does anyone know what time of day these accidents took place? Was it light or dark out? Was it wet or dry? Was it during car hours or not? Was either party listening to an ipod or texting? I think these are important details, but I haven’t heard anything about it other than cyclists=evil.

    • wkgreen permalink
      November 23, 2011 9:25 pm

      Interesting questions. I’ve scoured news accounts of both of them trying to see through the smoke to unpack what happened, and very little seems to have come to light.

      The accident involving Dana Jacks occurred on June 11 which was a Sat. at about 12:15 PM. The weather history for that day and time indicates that it was about 65 degrees and overcast and that it had rained earlier in the morning. A blog entry from someone who knew the victim is about the only public information available from around the time that it occurred, and a comment from a friend of Ms. Jacks indicated that the cyclist was male, had stopped at the scene, was described as being concerned for the victim, and had actually been hurt himself. To date there has been no indication that he did anything illegal and nothing is known about how fast he might have been going. I don’t know if the case is still active or far it has gotten. It has been stated that the accident occurred as she tried to cross West Dr. near the intersection of Center Dr. which is just before the big hill going down, but to my knowledge no one has said that it happened IN the intersection, and it doesn’t seem that she was in a crosswalk.

      I find the Linda Cohen collision more perplexing. More came out about it soon after it happened than with Dana Jacks because it was the 2nd in a row and because she was apparently a dedicated park volunteer. It happened at about 2:50 PM on Thurs. 11/3. It was about 60 deg’s and it was clear. I can imagine that with Ms. Jacks, on a Sat. afternoon in the spring that the park would have been jumping, but in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, park activity is usually fairly calm. Add to that that she has been described as a power walker, walking an avg. 5 miles/day in the park and that she has been described as someone who knew the park well, it leaves me scratching my head. That accident occurred as Ms. Cohen was trying to cross West Dr. somewhere near the intersection with Wellhouse Dr. which is near the bottom of that same hill. According to the blog, A Walk in The Park, a witness said that that cyclist also remained at the scene and said that someone described the person as “a bike racer”, while a source later described a 61 year old male. He was described by FDNY as “speeding” but we don’t know exactly how fast he was going. At that location, however, almost anyone could be going pretty fast. Spandex is not required. Again, the cyclist does not appear to have been charged with anything, and it doesn’t seem that Ms. Cohen was in the crosswalk either.

      That is pretty much it. No detailed description of what happened, no known exact location and no blatant wrong doing apparent by the cyclists involved in either case. And speed, which is often more in the eye of the beholder anyway, is only surmised in one of them. It leaves a lot to the imaginations of anti-bikers especially when one news account comes with a random stock photo of a hardcore spandex clad cyclist on a time trial bike and another includes the phrase “mowed down” in the title.

  7. station44025 permalink
    November 23, 2011 6:24 pm

    My point is that the only way these collisions could have happened would have been if the pedestrian didn’t see the cyclists coming, or were relying on them to stop, which seems unlikely. Otherwise, they would have waited for the bikes to pass before stepping into the road. I want to know what factors, if any, might have contributed to this. Were they trying to cross the road, or were they hit from behind while cyclists and peds were in the same lane during car hours and low visibility? Obviously, no cyclist or pedestrian wants to have an accident, so it would be instructive to figure out what went awry.

  8. oscar permalink
    November 23, 2011 9:50 pm

    I’m all for getting cars out of the park at all times, no argument there. Just tired of hearing the “25 lb bike” line of reasoning that implies bikes are harmless. And tired of the debate always being framed as bike vs car…plenty of us are neither, but potential victims to both.

    So yes, cars out of the park so we can have consistent lanes and rules. And a ban on speed racing / training. The park is not a velodrome. Pedestrian right of way at designated crossings, but not cross-where-you-please. Flashing yellow lights at these crossings to indicate bikes must yield. That plus some common sense and common courtesy should go a long way.

  9. wkgreen permalink
    November 24, 2011 1:30 pm

    The problem that I have regarding a ban on “racing and training” is that it has to be defined somehow for the purpose of regulating the behavior and then it has to be enforceable. The definable behavior inherent in the concepts of ‘racing’ and ‘training’ are too similar to what people naturally do. Do you slap a speed limit on it? Central Park tried a 15 MPH limit without success about 20 years ago. That’s like the 55 MPH limit on the highway where everyone drives 65. It’s too easy for regular cyclists going down a hill to top 15, and I’d much rather that the NYPD devote whatever limited resources they have to clocking cars going 50 MPH on Parkside Ave. (which they don’t do) than to harassing cyclists in the park. It would certainly save more lives.

    Do we ban pelotons? What is a peloton, but a group of riders riding together? Can that be done without banning any kind of group from riding together? How big is the group? Groups of 2? 3? 4? 5? How close together do we allow them to be?

    The only easy way to regulate cycling in the park is to ban it altogether, and that would make a lot of us, me included, extremely unhappy. Not to mention that it’s a waste of a perfectly good road. Keeping a wide strip of roadway only for runners and pedestrians is a pipe dream. Do we then give it completely back to cars? Or dig it up and plant picnic benches?

    Another concern about this line of thinking is that it discriminates based on superior ability. Curtailing cyclists capable of doing 10 laps of the park alone at an avg. spd. of, of say 20 MPH, is like telling a marathoner capable of a 6 min. mile that they are too good so they must stop doing it. To say that they can only do this in the morning before the cars come in is basically limiting much if not all of the activity to hours of darkness for most of the year. Some of these guys train for several hours per day. It’s also not possible for everyone to be able to do this. You are curtailing the activity of hard working stiffs like me with a life a family and occasional long days at work who are somewhat dedicated to cycling but not hardcore enough to be able to rise at 5AM every morning, yet we’re still doing a respectable 16 to 19 MPH avg. on multiple laps.

    If I really felt that what I was doing was harmful I would stop, but why? I’ve been doing it for 22 years now without incident, and I see too many other areas of abuse of the roadway to feel that it is only me that should make such a radical change as to stop. There’s no reason that it should cause harm to anyone, especially if we would stop trying to mix uses that don’t belong together. There’s an elephant in the road that no one will talk about it. Too many people are standing or meandering in it or using it inappropriately who don’t belong there who are a hazard to themselves and to others. The hazard is not due to me or my 2 wheeled pals, but to what the space inherently is: a road where bicycles are allowed. We can’t do this anywhere else, and whatever it is that these other people are doing, they don’t require a 3+ mile strip of asphalt or the entire 40 ft. width to do it. In the meantime, some of us obtain a tremendous amount of joy and fresh air doing what we do in a regimen for staying fit. It’s our passion. Our drug of choice. I’ll take it easy down the hill if I need to or cheerfully give right-of-way to anyone crossing. No problem. I’ll go slow, go around, or stop. Then push hard to get up to speed again. It’s part of the experience. But some of us require this for our mental and physical well being. It’s not a race.

    If we can decide what the road is, tweak the infrastructure, and then educate everyone on how to use it properly, it will in the end, be a whole lot easier than trying to decide and regulate who’s who and what’s what among cyclists and their activities.

    Rant’s over. Thanks for the space.

  10. wkgreen permalink
    November 24, 2011 1:50 pm

    On the subject of yelling, I think that we need to strive more to be patient with each other. That is something that goes both ways both with the would be yellER as well as with the yellEE. Frankly, some people behave dangerously and need to be yelled at. On the other hand, we also need to remember that we live in a city filled with boors and know-it-all cranks and maybe even forgive a little. People do and say things out of frustration that they shouldn’t. I try, but I’ve been there.

    I asked my wife, a slow biker, if she has ever been yelled at and she honestly didn’t know if she had. I suspect that she might have, but being Brooklyn born and bred that sort of thing rolls off of her. If she hears it at all it’s quickly forgotten. Maybe there’s an FU tossed back, all in good fun. As for my two kids, a teen and a tween, to my knowledge, they have each been screamed at once: one for not riding straight enough (crank) and the other for going the wrong way (legit). With kids respect is always a requirement, but they still need to know that not every adult is an appropriate authority figure and that some random strangers could very well be idiots. It’s a lesson in life that will serve them well.

    I was once yelled at by a woman who was walking along the side of the rode screaming her lungs off at every cyclist that passed by that we should all be in the bike lane. This was on a Saturday (crank). I’m sure that she must be a charming person in other realms.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

Trackbacks

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  2. Prospect Park Barrels: Pedestrian Life Savers Or Child Death Traps? | My Blog
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