U2 frontman Bono canceled the band's weeklong stint as Jimmy Fallon's house band after a Central Park bike crash sent him to hospital. Bono's incident revives a oft-ignored issue for cyclists: If you are looking to safely ride around a city, you steer clear of the multi-use urban spaces. Central Park and parks like it are usually the most dangerous place in the city for bikers.
Bike crash statistics from the NYC Department of Transportation are divided into the city's 76 precincts — Central Park being one — and showed that in 2013 the park had 5.5 times as many single-bike crashes and five times as many bike-on-bike crashes as the next area. In bike-pedestrian crashes, Central Park merely shares the lead with the overcrowded streets and sidewalks of the Midtown South precinct.
To be fair, the DOT crash data doesn't compare per-capita crashes or provide an accidents-per-rider ratio. It simply illustrates that in New York City, Central Park is where cyclists are most likely to crash into a pedestrian, another rider, or most often, themselves. However, a 2009 meta-review from the University of British Columbia examining types of infrastructure and crashes found that multi-use trails — mixed pedestrian and bike paths — pose the highest risk for cyclists. Yes, that means more dangerous than the major roads many Central Park riders are trying to avoid.
To anyone contending that Central Park counts as a separated bike lane — among the safest forms of transportation infrastructure — the white painted line between the bike and pedestrian lanes is treated as a mere suggestion. Walkers and runners routinely spill over into the bike lane while others cross against red lights or between intersections. When bike and pedestrians share a space, whether intentionally or not, it's a multi-use trail.
On a beautiful day, the park is filled with tourists pedaling well-used, unfamiliar rental bikes while runners and walkers pour into the park from all sides. These groups have every right to enjoy Central Park, but they're also a large reason to avoid it. There are still the seemingly innumerable stoplights (46 by one rider's count) and inevitably users (walking, running, and biking) wearing headphones or buried in their iPhones and oblivious to the world around.
There are exceptions, of course. Early birds have a relatively safe, car-free ride from 6 to 7 AM on weekdays that coincides with low levels of fellow users (by law, you still need to stop at red lights). And if you want a genuinely mellow cruise around one of the world's more impressive urban parks, have at it, but keep your defenses up.
If you really want to work up a sweat — and this goes for every city — stick to the road. A half hour's ride from Central Park puts cyclists in Fort Lee, New Jersey for the wide-shouldered 9W road and largely untrafficked River Road along the Hudson. For shorter rides, simply pick a bike lane or two. As the UBC study showed, it's your safest option. And besides, you'll likely hit fewer red lights than in Central Park.