Education first, and then summonses if necessary, is the riding line from the new Commanding Officer of the 78th Precinct when it comes to cyclists obeying the rules in Prospect Park.
At the transportation segment of the precinct’s monthly Community Council meeting on Tuesday night, Captain Frank DiGiacomo said the 78th, which covers the park, will be focusing on educating cyclists about the requirement that they stop at pedestrian-activated signals on the main loop during an initiative starting this Saturday, October 4. The initiative will involve two portable stop signs that officers will set up in the park and man during the day — when cyclists stop, they’ll remind them they’re supposed to stop for pedestrians at the red signals and hand out flyers noting the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, and if they don’t stop, they’ll follow and pull them over to tell them the same.
“Then if that doesn’t work, the next step is enforcement, and we’ll bring out the radar gun,” DiGiacomo said. “We’ve done that and seen the speeds were pretty excessive. We need to slow them down, we know it’s an issue.”
Neighbors at the meeting thought more immediate enforcement, addressing missing pedestrian access points across parts of the loop, or some more creative tactics for slowing cyclists down — temporary, scattered cones in the roadway on the worst hill, for instance — should be implemented. The Captain and his team seem willing to listen and look into some of those ideas, and he insists that his main goal is to slow people down.
“A summons blitz is just going to piss off a bunch of people, so education first,” he said. “But we’ll go there if we have to.”
The renewed focus on safety in our park comes after a pedestrian was killed when a cyclist collided with her recently in Central Park. Prospect Park is no stranger to such crashes, though, thankfully, they are fairly rare. But after a couple of crashes left two pedestrians critically injured in 2011, police, neighbors, and the park took up a safety campaign that led to a reworking of the lanes in the loop, the pedestrian-activated signals, and, at times, additional enforcement by local police.
One man at the meeting recounted his own injuries after being hit by a cyclist in the park a few years ago, and said that despite the safety initiatives, nothing has changed — and perhaps it has only gotten worse.
“The park is becoming unusable for pedestrians,” he said. “I don’t use it anymore. Prospect Park for me is over.”
Another man, himself a biker who uses the loop in Prospect Park, agreed that cyclists need to obey the rules, whether it’s a crowded weekend afternoon or not.
“You get there at 6am, you still have to be mindful of pedestrians,” he said, and later cautioned neighbors not to stereotype all those wearing racing gear. “You have to be careful to not say it’s the way they dress that has to do with them being irresponsible.”
For now, it’ll be up to the 78th Precinct to let riders know how to be responsible in the park. A member of Kidical Mass, a family group bike ride, noted during the meeting that she was impressed that the Commanding Officer had come for on a recent ride, and suggested that as another way to “lead by example, rather than just stop” cyclists.
“It was fun getting out there,” Captain DiGiacomo said. “I couldn’t keep up with some of those little kids even. And they were doing everything right — teach them young, and they’ll grow up to do that.”