Pedestrians and bicyclists, blaming each other for the unsafe conditions on the park’s drives, filled the Picnic House with rancor and passion during the Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force meeting Wednesday night.
The meeting came two weeks after the most recent accident on November 3, on West Drive, near the Vanderbilt Playground, and the woman, Linda Cohen, was in a medically-induced coma until Wednesday.
Earlier in the week, to help alert drivers and bicyclists of the pedestrian crosswalk near Wellhouse Drive and reduce speed. The changes include a new “highly visible” crosswalk and narrowing the two-lane road to one lane with orange traffic barrels near the the area Cohen was struck.
The task force’s second meeting featured an open public forum for community members to suggest solutions in order to increase safety for all park users and prevent and reduce accidents on the park’s roads. The West Drive is open to motorists Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. and the East Drive is open from 7 to 9 a.m.
The meeting’s ultimate goal is to create a symbiotic relationship between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. But that proved to be not an easy task, for pedestrians and cyclists pitted against each other about who is to blame for the unsafe road sharing conditions. However, both groups agreed that cars should be banned from the park.
Florence Weintraub, 74, said cyclists should be banned too.
“If I had to prioritize, I would eliminate bikes in the park,” she said as the cyclists in the crowd roared with disapproval. “I know that is not possible, but bikers master the entire road, they are all over the place and there is no safe room for pedestrians, strollers and runners. The bikers are crazy and it is unsafe for people who walk.”
She suggested that there be a strictly enforced speed limit for bicyclists, that cars should not be allowed on the drives and that the road be split in two, one side for pedestrians and runners and the other for bikers.
But Claire Fogle, who bikes in Prospect Park, said cyclists are not the only ones who need to be regulated and educated about the rules of the road.
“As a biker in the park, so many times people cross any where they like. We need to educate people on how to cross and use the road,” she said. “It is just as important as educating bikers.”
Although the community members all agreed that cars are the number one culprit, the pressing issue at hand is how bicyclists have been hitting pedestrians, recently causing serious injury to three pedestrians.
Forrest Cicogni, who’s wife, Dana Jacks, was hit by a biker on June 11 and suffered brain damage, said there is an extreme lack of regulation for cyclists who break the law while riding on the drives.
“Enforcement is paramount. People cross the drives because there’s no place to cross,” he said, who’s wife was in the hospital after the accident for 25 days. “It is a game of ‘Frogger.’ Just like we don’t let cars to race in the park, we shouldn’t let bikers.”
Henry Astor, a father of three boys and a triathlon athlete who speed races in the park at 5:30 a.m. everyday, agreed that many bikers are a grave danger to walkers.
“I am enraged that serious cyclists threaten my kids and yell at them,” Astor said, explaining his children, who are 8, 4 and 2 years old, have been pushed in front of runners multiple times by racing bikers.
“Just because you wear spandex and shave your legs doesn’t mean you are a serious cyclist,” he said. “They are totally out of control.”
Astor suggested that there be an early morning speed racing hour and that after that bikers need to slow down.
Linda Cohen’s friend, Nancy Moccaldi, said it doesn’t matter how careful someone is while crossing the road, the bottom line is that the park is dangerous for pedestrians.
“Linda walks five miles in the park everyday, she knows it intimately,” Moccaldi said while tears rolled from her eyes, crying for her friend is in the hospital with a fractured skull and coccyx. “She knows where to walk, how to be safe, but she still got slammed by a bike.”
One of the last voices in the forum dissected the issue, which is that bikers have been hitting pedestrians, causing serious injury and there is no enforcement.
“The number one issue here is public safety, the public needs to feel safe and clearly the public does not feel safe. Bicycles are vehicles and they need to act accordingly,” Geoffrey Croft said, who is the founder of New York City Park Advocates and writes the blog, A Walk in the Park.
He also suggested that there has to be a speed limit for bikers, a lower speed limit for cars, which is 25 mph, enforce the laws and educate the pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.
“People need to realize that [the drives] are not a velodrome,” he said. “It’s a park with many different users.”