Cone rangers! City installs traffic barriers to deter Park cyclists

Cone rangers! City installs traffic barriers to deter Park cyclists
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The city has a message for bicyclists in Prospect Park in the wake of two near-fatal crashes: Slow down!

The Department of Transportation has deployed two dozen bright orange, barrel-sized cones on the park’s popular roadway — where two serious collisions have occurred in recent months — to narrow the street in hopes of retarding cyclists and warn them to brake for pedestrians.

The cones, which were installed last week on West Lake Drive, are also a symbol of a heated debate — over hazy right of way issues — that pits cyclists against walkers on the heavily trafficked street.

The city began the “pilot program” at the request of park officials to enhance safety on the downhill street, where bikers pick up speed, but then can’t see beyond a curve.

“It’s a hot spot with potential for conflict,” said Prospect Park Alliance president Emily Lloyd. “Everyone using the park must be aware of the safety of others.”

The road change comes two weeks after a 55-year-old park volunteer and frequent power walker Linda Cohen was struck by a 61-year-old cyclist in the area, leaving her so badly injured that doctors kept her in a medically induced coma to aid recovery.

Cohen wasn’t the first victim: In June, 37-year-old actress Dana Jacks, who frequently walked her dog in the park, suffered brain damage after a cyclist collided with her in the same location. Jacks has sued the city for a “careless and reckless” lack of traffic enforcement on what should be a serene roadway.

Park-goers reported other accidents — and dozens of close calls — at a task force meeting attended by more than 100 people last Wednesday, where neighbors compared the street to “the Wild West,” then asked for more signs, education and increased police enforcement.

At the Prospect Park Alliance-led hearing, suggestions included the basic (“There has to be more police presence”), creative (“Why don’t we have a designated time for speed cycling?”) and far-fetched (“I would eliminate all bikes all together”).

Others stressed the need for a car-free park, saying the shared roadway confuses right of way rules — although cops noted most of the crashes occurred during car-free hours.

Nearly everyone agreed on one thing: The roadway needs attention from the city — both from the Department of Transportation and the Police Department.

“Enforcement is paramount,” said Forrest Cicogni, Jacks’s husband.

But racing cyclists, who use the park loop as a training area, became a frequent target of local ire.

“I’m enraged at some of these so-called serious cyclists,” said Henry Astor, who added he rides bikes himself. “Just because you wear Spandex and shave your legs doesn’t mean you’re a good cyclist. Some of these guys are out of control.”

On Monday afternoon, cyclists on the street followed the rules — staying in between the new orange cones — although few slowed down. Others looked confused, weaving around the cones and into the lane marked with a bike symbol, which is actually designated for pedestrians during the park’s non-rush-hour, car-free periods.

Others admitted they had no idea what the new cones were for.

“I think the initial reaction is, ‘Oh, these must be for cars,’ ” said bike commuter Cindy Chung. “But doing something is smart — [cyclists] really go fast in this park.”

Pedestrians also noted the change is necessary — if only to send park-goers the message that something is up with the street.

“It draws attention to the roadway,” said Chris Jules, who was walking his dog nearby. “I’ve seen some crazy, careless walkers around here, too.”

A Department of Transportation spokeswoman said that the agency “will monitor these enhancements to see if any adjustments are needed.”

Lloyd admitted that more work needs to be done.

“There may not be one perfect solution,” she said last week. “But we want to be thinking about them.”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-4505.

Some bicyclists on West Lake Drive in Prospect Park are still confused about rules; others chose to ignore them.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini