Volume 17 • Issue 9 / July 23 - 29, 2004

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Traffic on the Battery Park City esplanade.

Walkers worry about esplanade bikers and bladers

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

Parents of young children in Battery Park City worry that increased roller blader and biker traffic along the esplanade’s narrow walkways poses a danger to small children playing in the area, a concern that officials say has improved over the past year, but some parents feel has intensified as the neighborhood grows and develops.

Over the last several years, the number of Battery Park City residents has increased. So has the number of cyclers, roller bladers and pedestrians who frequent the esplanade and Rockefeller Park, especially on sunny Saturdays and Sundays. While no visitors have formally reported an accident or complained about reckless bikers or roller bladers this season, according to the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, many local parents said they see every weekend as an accident waiting to happen.

“This has become a bigger issue in the last year and a half,” said Downtown resident and attorney John Balestriere, who frequently visits the esplanade with his 19-month-old son. “I’ve become frustrated, and am constantly looking to see if a roller blader or biker is coming along. I’d be surprised if no one has gotten hurt yet—it seems like we’re just waiting for it.”

Balestriere recently wrote a letter to the conservancy and to other state and city representatives expressing his concerns about the area’s safety, calling the increased traffic a “grave, continuing danger to children, seniors and the general public.”

Especially dangerous is the walkway in front of the park house just west of River Terrace, he said. When the park house is open, small children play with basketball hoops on the sidewalk and draw at the child-sized tables placed on the narrow path. “Yet, I have seen bikers and roller bladers fly on this path with abandon,” he said.

Vince McGowan, the assistant executive director of the Parks Conservancy, said that last year several complaints were lodged, but none have been reported this year, in part due to the opening of the skate park at Hudson River Park.

“Last year it was a legend of conflict,” McGowan said. “But I think since they opened the skate park it has made a big difference—that’s where everybody goes. We don’t see the same problem this year.”

Anthony Notaro, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Battery Park City committee, also said he has not heard any complaints about reckless cyclists or roller bladers, but has noticed an increase in biker and roller blader traffic in the last few years and said that parents enjoying the park with young children must always be on their guard.

“There’s always a little tension because there’s too little room for everybody,” he said. “It’s amazing we don’t have more problems, even fatal accidents.”

Several years ago, Notaro approached the conservancy asking for more signs that warned bikers and roller bladers to reduce their speed, especially on the northern section near Stuyvesant High School, he said. “They were willing to experiment, but I’m not sure if more signage was put out or not.”

But others, like Balestriere, do not think additional signs will help and want the conservancy to restrict biker and roller blader access to certain areas of the esplanade at specific times. “The bladers in particular ignore a lot of those signs. Signs won’t do the trick. We need to segregate the area,” Balestriere said.

Downtown resident Guy Pasculli, who bikes and roller blades in the area and often brings his young niece and nephew to the park to play, said bikers should not be allowed to ride along the narrow pathways near Rockefeller Park. “We try to tell [the kids] to look out. My concern is that [my niece] would come around a corner and come head on with a bicyclist.”

In the Village section of the Hudson River Park, cyclists must dismount their bikes and walk them, he said. “And they enforce it down there. I think it’s a great rule.”

Even park goers without children worry that the walkways are dangerous. “I’m worried about myself — imagine if I had kids,” said Sonia, an actress and longtime Tribeca resident, as she walked near Rockefeller Park. “I’m always looking over my shoulder. When [cyclists] come this way they should get off their bikes. They have to reorganize things here.”

But conservancy representatives and other residents said that restricting access along the water is not a valid option. “Like other NYC Parks, the parks in Battery Park City are open to the public to be used in a safe and responsible manner,” Leticia Remauro, Battery Park City Authority’s vice president of community relations, wrote to Balestriere via e-mail.

Remauro said later that 33 parks enforcement patrol officers are currently assigned to Battery Park City.

Martha Gallo, co-president of the Battery Park City Neighbors and Parents’ Association, has lived along the promenade for the past 22 years and said that most people seem to feel comfortable asking bikers or roller bladers to reduce their speed if they feel their children are at risk.

“Most of the time it’s not a problem, but it gets congested on the weekends,” she said. “I would love to be able to say no bikes—[cyclists] should all go on the bike path—but that’s probably not realistic.” Instead, park officers should be more proactive in asking people to slow down, she said.

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