Bike path scaring parents

BY Aline Reynolds

Some Spruce Street School parents fear that speedy bikers zipping through City Hall Park are endangering their children.

The park’s pedestrian passageway was designated as a shared bike path by the city’s Department of Transportation back in 2008. The route has since become a popular passageway for bikers that commute to and from Lower Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge.

Pedestrians claim the near-collisions began occurring in recent months, when part of the path that connects Broadway and Warren Streets with Centre Street became obstructed due to summer construction and resulting scaffolding. However the scaffolding is scheduled to come down within the next week, but construction in the park will continue until the end of 2012.

Signs have since been put up instructing the riders to dismount for the 100 feet of cramped space. But pedestrians and prudent bikers alike allege that some cyclists are flagrantly disobeying the rules.

Parent Erin Clark who accompanies her first grade daughter, Ming, to and from Spruce Street School every day, has had three near-misses with bikers in the park.

“It’s a lack of common sense, because it’s really, really high [pedestrian] traffic,” she said.

Clark now holds Ming’s hand tightly when strolling through the park. Clark would like to either see the bikers prohibited from using the path, or law enforcement officers assigned to the area during rush hour.

“My thought is, somebody is going to get hit,” she said. “They just need to do something about it.”

“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” echoed Spruce Street parent Leigh Devine. “It doesn’t take much to really hurt a small child if you’re on a bicycle.”

While she doesn’t think patrolling the area is necessary, Devine would like to see more signage cautioning the cyclists of kids that trot through the pathway.

“I think most cyclists, if they know it’s a school zone and there are small children at the end of the gate, they’ll slow down,” she said.

On behalf of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, Devine and Clark recently wrote a letter to Community Board 1, voicing their anxiety over the bike path. The board initially opposed the path when it was first established, according to Paul Hovitz, chair of the board’s Youth and Education Committee, on the grounds of pedestrian safety.

In response to the parents’ concerns, the committee unanimously passed a resolution last week asking that the D.O.T. review pedestrian safety and “take any measures necessary to ensure that the bicycle route is not a danger to others in the park.” The committee had yet to receive a reply from the D.O.T. as of press time.

“No one expects to see bikers come fling out of the park, but they do,” said Hovitz, who said he too had a near collision with bikers at the park’s Centre Street entrance, facing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some pedestrians strolling through the park Monday evening agreed that children are particularly at danger.

“You can’t control the way they move,” said Chioma Ohakam, who works at 250 Broadway. “Usually they’ll stand there and not know without the guidance of an adult to move over” if a biker is passing through.

“You bump into them almost every day,” said Upper East Side resident David Kleinman, who traverses the park twice a day by foot to get to and from work in the Financial District.

And it’s not just walkers that are afraid of collisions. Biker Jeanette Zwart says she witnesses plenty of fellow cyclists coasting through the narrow part of the pathway. “I think the potential for danger is certainly there,” she said, so she dismounts her bike in that area. “You just never know when the unexpected will happen.”

Brooklyn resident Josh Kellerman, who works at 50 Broadway, admitted he breaks the park’s “dismount” rule, but said he feels in complete control of his vehicle.

“It’s not ideal – I probably should get off my bike,” Kellerman said, “but I ride just as fast as anyone is walking, so I feel like I’m not putting anyone in danger.”

The Brooklyn Bridge, he said, is far more dangerous for pedestrians. “I think the space [in City Hall Park] is short enough that people are willing to go slowly through it, whereas the bridge is a long distance, and people want to move quickly,” he said.

“It seems like [bicyclists] don’t really regard the signs. You have to look out for them,” said 13-year-old Brooklyn resident Alex Charnov, who regularly frequents the park with his friends.

And though some would like to see bikers banned from the pathway altogether, Charnov and others believe that pedestrians are equally responsible for preventing accidents from happening. “It has to be a community effort to make it work out,” he said.

Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that supports biking, walking and public transit, maintains that bikers and pedestrians can peacefully co-exit.

“Shared pathways and streets operate well all over the country,” she said. “I think it’s possible for this space as well, but it does take cooperation.”

Samponaro noted T.A. lobbied for the bike path’s creation and said the organization would “be more than happy to do some education and outreach” to cyclists about the importance of heeding the signs.