Protected Lane Around Central Park Demanded After Cyclist’s Death

On Friday, Aug. 17, about 50 cyclists gathered for a memorial ride on Central Park West to honor Madison Jane Lyden, an Australian cyclist killed one week earlier. | Photo by Sam Bleiberg

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | In the nearly two weeks since the death of 23-year-old Australian cyclist Madison Jane Lyden on Central Park West, City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal has been calling for a two-way protected bike lane circling around all of Central Park.

Lyden — a tourist whose death has rallied cycling activists in their demands that the city do more to protect riders — was biking north on Central Park West on Friday, Aug. 10 in the late afternoon. A livery car was in the bike lane near W. 67th St., which forced her to swerve into traffic. A private sanitation truck hit and killed her. The driver of the truck, 44-year-old Felipe Chairez, was arrested on a DWI charge, but the livery car blocking the lane was not charged.

“It’s a tragedy — it’s a horrible tragedy,” Rosenthal said. “And we need the police to enforce the law that cars not park in the bike lane. But I understand they can’t be everywhere, so having a protected bike lane is the easiest answer to the dangers of riding on an unprotected bike lane.”

Rosenthal added, “Because there’s no protected bike lane, she swerved into traffic and a truck hit her and killed her. A two-way protected bike lane would solve that problem.”

Peter Frishauf, a lifelong Upper West Sider who is the founder of StreetsPAC, a political action committee focused on improving street safety, said Rosenthal’s call for protected lanes circling around all of Central Park is “very, very significant.”

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal addresses riders who turned out on Aug. 17 for a memorial ride on Central Park West to honor the late Madison Jane Lyden. | Photo by Chelsea Yamada/ Transportation Alternatives

The existing bike lanes on Central Park West are far less safe than protected lanes, according to Rosenthal and cycling activists. Along Central Park West and the northern border of Central Park at 110th St./ Cathedral Pkwy., recently installed painted bike lanes delineate a space for cyclists, but leave them vulnerable if double-parked cars block the lanes forcing them, like Lyden, into traffic.

Fifth Ave., on the park’s east side, and Central Park South do not currently have bike lanes.

“If we fix Central Park West, but we leave 110th St. the way it is, we’re asking for the next innocent bystander to be injured or killed because those are dangerous lanes, too,” said StreetPAC’s Frishauf, who is also an activist with Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for a range of non-automotive travel options in the city. The tragedy by-and-large was entirely preventable, he added, arguing that prioritizing protected bike lanes over free parking is critical for street safety.

“It’s terrible that it should take the preventable death of Madison to get attention for the unsafe condition on Central Park West,” Frishauf said. “Death should not be a part of the deal for riding a bicycle in New York City.”

Saying he has watched the transformation of cycling opportunities in the city for decades, “largely for the better,” Frishauf pointed to Seville, Spain. The European city is credited with increasing its bike trips by 11-fold in just a few years’ time through an extensive, protected bike network. New York City could do much better than it currently does, he believes.

“If we’re serious about Vision Zero, we will not prioritize free car parking over protected bike lanes,” said Frishauf.

A cyclist facing a potential dangerous squeeze between a bus and a taxi pulling out into the bike lane. | Photo by Sydney Pereira

Rosenthal, who said she’s both a cyclist and a car-owner, noted how protected bike lanes on Columbus and Amsterdam Aves. have made those streets safer than they were previously, but also acknowledged that her constituents often complain to her about how bike lanes slow traffic and create more congestion.

“But my first priority is safety,” she said. “And I have seen in my district that the protected bike lanes bring actual safety to people. And that’s my top priority.”

The city Department of Transportation is currently studying bike lane fixes for Central Park West, per Rosenthal’s request, according to both the councilmember and a DOT spokesperson.

Transportation Alternatives held a memorial ride in honor of Lyden last Friday with some 50 cyclists riding along Central Park West from 67th Street to 110th Street. Plans are in the works to build a ghost bike in her memory.

Transportation Alternatives’ executive director Paul Steely White addresses the cyclists joining the Aug. 17 memorial ride. | Photo by Chelsea Yamada

Rosenthal, whose first tweet about the cyclist fatality, on Aug. 13, called for a two-way protected bike lane on Central Park West alone, told activists four days later that she supports protected lanes around the park’s entire circumference.

On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, bike lanes were a flashpoint at a recent Community Board 8 meeting, where the DOT proposed two pairs of crosstown bike lanes, protected only by painted lines, as well as a semi-protected bike lane on a stretch of Second Ave. to “close the gap” and make the intersection at the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge safer.

Upper East Side Councilmember Keith Powers, whose district includes the swath of Fifth Ave. on Central Park’s east side with no bike lane, supports those proposals.

“Councilmember Powers is supportive of bike lanes on the East Side,” a spokesperson for Powers, Liz Peters, said by email. “Additionally, he believes that closing the gap on the Second Ave. bike lane is important for safety of both pedestrians and bikers.”

Peters did not respond on the specific question of a protected bike lane on Fifth Ave., saying only that the councilmember supports lanes “with appropriate oversight from DOT on level of protection.”

She added, however, that Powers was among the councilmembers who signed a March letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking that street safety fixes — such as paint and bollards — be incorporated into the budget for street resurfacing.

Those fixes, the letter stated, should comply with the DOT’s Vision Zero Standard, endorsed by Transportation Alternatives, that encourages walking, biking, public transit use, accessibility, and protected bike lanes and intersections, among other goals.

Powers’s district runs as far south as E. 14th St., and in light of the looming L train shutdown, Peters said, the councilmember is particularly concerned about the need to strengthen alternative methods of transportation and improve the safety of bikers and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, on the West Side, Community Board 7 is expected to discuss Central Park West bike lanes at its Sept. 11 Transportation Committee meeting.

“Clearly it’s not working the way it is,” said Andrew Albert, the committee’s co-chair. He said he wants to hear from the DOT on what type of design is possible on Central Park West to make the street safer.

“It’s a tragedy, and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Howard Yaruss, Albert’s co-chair, said of Rosenthal’s call for a protected lane, “I couldn’t be more in favor of it. I give her a lot of credit for asking for it.”

An Upper West Side resident for 25 years, Yaruss lives at 68th St. and Central Park West, just a block from where Lyden was fatally struck. He regularly bikes on Central Park West and said he is often forced into traffic by people being let out of or getting into cars.

“You have to swerve around them, risking your life,” he said.

Yaruss is skeptical the DOT will implement safety fixes on Central Park West without CB 7’s guidance, and he hopes the board soon endorses what Rosenthal has called for.

“Frankly, I don’t know what should be a higher priority than protecting the lives of people who are using the streets,” he said. “Peoples’ lives and parking cannot be equated. They’re just not.”

Ken Coughlin, also a member of CB 7’s Transportation Committee as well as a board member at Transportation Alternatives, took part in the Aug. 17 memorial ride in Lyden’s honor.

“It was very moving,” he said. “We put a sign on a tree next to where Madison Lyden had been killed that said, ‘Madison, we are sorry New York City failed you.’”

Coughlin later realized that Lyden had taught swim lessons to the 18-month-old son of an acquaintance in Melbourne. The youngster’s mother described Lyden as “lively and bubbly.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *