The original plan for Central Park did not include cycling. The park was designed in the late 1850′s and the triangular framed “safety bicycle” with two wheels of the same size wasn’t developed until the early 1890′s. The new bike immediately triggered a cycling boom and some people wanted to create a dedicated bike path in Central Park.
While people cycled in Central Park and I’ve heard that it was a gathering spot for CRCA since the club’s early days, there was no regular racing in the park until much later.
Regularly scheduled cycling races in Central Park probably started sometime in the 1950′s. I have heard third hand stories about racing in the park in the ’50′s. I have not found any documentation of any earlier racing in Central Park. This makes sense since that’s when the formerly open roads on Long Island and other new suburbs became too congested for racing.
We have a record of the annual CRCA Memorial Race being held on Long Island in 1945. While we have not pinned down the date of the first Memorial Race in Central Park, the Memorial Race became a highlight of the Central Park racing season.
Until the late 1960′s the Central Park roadway was open to cars during races.
Central Park was closed to car traffic for the first time ever for the 1960 Olympic Trials cycling road race.
The 112 mile Olympic Trial race had 120 starters. The race started after 9am.
One of the race organizers commented “We’re legal at last. Every Sunday we come out here and race 25 or 50 miles. It’s illegal. We’re sporting bootleggers. We come between 6:30 and 8 a.m. while the cops are changing shifts. It’s a secret, kind-of. But look at today. Five hundred cops, all on our side.”
When Mayor Lindsay and his Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving decided to close Central Park to cars on alternate weekends, they held a major bike race to inaugurate their new plans. After the race Lou Maltese expressed pleasure that fewer riders crashed as the cars were out of the way. Lindsay first closed Central Park to cars in 1966.
The Spring Series park races started in 1967. The Spring Series was run by the Bicycle Federation of New York which became the Metropolitan Cycling Association. I think the MCA started out as an association of the different clubs in the city. Al Toefield was a president of the MCA. In the early 1990′s, Lenny Preheim of Toga was the MCA president.
Currently the MCA is Anthony van Dunk’s organization and they still put on the Spring Series.
During the 1960′s and 70′s several US National Championships and Olympic Trials were held in the park. Al Toefield was the head of the Amateur Bicycle League of America,predecessor to the USCF and USAC. He was able to bring National Champonships to NYC.
In 1970 there were two groups holding races in Central Park. The Manhattan Cycling Association, created by Larry Liebowitz split from the CRCA. The Metros as they were called claimed to have 700 members. CRCA had 200. Alan Resnick, who left the CRCA for the Metros said that the exclusion of minorities from CRCA was a major reason for the split. However, the Metros did not last long and Resnick said Liebowitz came to be seen as a fraud.
The CRCA began holding a May Memorial Race in 1935. The 1945 race was held over roads on Long Island. In the 1960′s, 70′s and 80′s the race was in Central Park.
CRCA prepared program booklets for the races. 1979 Ovidio Martinez Memorial , 1984 Harvey C. Black Memorial , 1985 Annual Memorial
, 1986 Fred Hamel and Jack Natirboff Memorial
In an account of the 1978 race in the New York Times riders said it used to be the most important race on the east coast. The ’78 race had 250 riders but only joggers and the pigeons watched. Lou Maltese lamented that the 7am start made it impossible to attract a crowd. He had hopes that a 5 Borough race, similar to the New York Marathon, to be held in September would get the public’s interest. Note that in the ’78 race current(2010) CRCA member and former CRCA president Alan Resnick finished 4th.
The 1980 race attracted attention off of the movie “Breaking Away.”
The Apple Lap race was held for a few years from the late ’70′s to early ’80′s. Lou Maltese and Al Toefield were key in organizing the race. The race started out as a 5 Borough race, similar to the Marathon. Later editions of the Apple Lap were largely run in Central Park with finishing circuits by the UN. The first year the race had an international field and $15,000 in prize money. George Mount, a top nationally ranked rider won and set a new American 75 mile record time. For
Al Toefield also organized a 24 hour race in Central Park. The race was first held in 1970 and was held for 10 years. The race had major sponsorship by Pepsi. 8,000 people participated in the 1979 race.
Within a few years, the key leaders of NYC cycling all died. Al Toefield passed away in 1989. Lou Maltese died in 1991 and Lenny Preheim died a few years later. The foundations of everything we are doing in 2010 was set up by Lou and Al. This includes the park races, the Harriman races and Harlem. As you can see from reading the previous paragraphs, what remains is only a part of what they created. From the 1960′s through the 1980′s they were able to continually bring new major innovative events to New york City. Many of these events were in Central Park. This level of leadership has never been replaced. Lou Maltese and Al Toefield are in the US Bicycling Hall of Fame.
The only new addition to the NYC schedule is the Floyd Bennett races that were started by Millie Shepetin.
During the 1980′s the Tour de Trump and Tour duPont held stages in Central Park.
While the park is more crowded than ever in 2010, the problems of sharing the park between cyclists, runners, dog walkers and others was becoming serious by the early 1980′s. Runners were becoming far more numerous than cyclists. Some cyclists already were heading out of the park and over the George Washington Bridge to train. As a runner back in the early ’80′s I remember the nightly group of cyclists doing fast laps around the lower loop.
The 1983 Mengoni Race made the Times because Jonathan (Jacques) Boyer, at the time the only American to do the Tour de France, crashed out of the race and suffered a broken collarbone after a jogger ran into him. Norm Golushkin who was the head of the Central Park Track Club told a story about a runner complaining about horses on the bridal path. He responded, “why do you think they call it a bridal path.” By the mid 2000′s the horses were gone, forced out by real estate development and not runner’s complaints.
By 1991 the Park was becoming much more crowded and the city started taking measures against cyclists. Parks Commissioner Betsy Gotbaum tried to implement a 15 mph speed limit on cyclists.
Up through the 1990′s the CRCA held races on every Saturday from March until November. In the 1990′s the races started at 7am. Patrick Sikowitz described what it was like to start racing with CRCA in the 90′s in this Sports Illustrated article. The 7am start was an hour later than the 6am starts in 2010 but the A race was only 5 laps. In 2010 the A races were a minimum of 6 laps in the early and late season and 8 laps in the middle of the summer when races started at 5:45am.
By the 2000′s CRCA was down to 20 club races and 2 open races. This lasted through 2005. During the Club TT Championship in 2005, a rider hit a homeless man wandering across the road. The homeless man died in the hospital several days later. The park cut the number of CRCA races to 15 club races and 2 open races and banned time trials. The Dept. of Parks got much more strict about safety requirements. More marshals,fifty per race, and an on site ambulance were mandated.
The Dept. of Parks also became much more strict toward the New York Road Runners races. While there were hundreds of runners in the weekly running races in the ’80′s, in 2010 the NYRR had to limit races to 5,000. By 2000, the start/finish for most races was moved from Engineers Gate to the 102nd Street cutoff.
Through 2010, CRCA was able to hold a competitive series of races in Central Park. The number of racing members increased to 750 in 2010 from around 300 in 1991.
Congestion in Central Park has been a longstanding problem.
Runners and cyclists had issues in 1983
Cyclists and dogs had issues in 2007.