Central Park(ing Lot)

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Recent reports have drawn attention to city officials abusing their parking privileges around municipal buildings in crowded commercial districts. Images of portly desk-sitting bureaucrats and suburban police officers come to mind. 

But surely not all city employees suffer from this behind-the-windshield mentality. You’d think that more environmentally aware, active employees, such as those who work in Central Park, "the lungs of New York City," would be the exception to this. 

Sadly, you’d be wrong. 

As the following images show, city employees are turning Central Park into a parking lot. While the parking violations are not as thoroughly egregious as in other parts of town, it is nonetheless discouraging to see the city’s precious parkland used as a parking lot. And it is unfortunate that Parks Department employees aren’t encouraged to find a less destructive way to get to their jobs. Making matters worse, in getting to their free parking spaces these employees must drive on what are supposed to be car-free roads and pathways, compromising the park experience for hundreds if not thousands of human-powered users. Certainly Olmsted and Vaux, the designers of Central Park, never intended for their creation to be used as a parking lot.  

Approaching the Park from the south the photo above shows the non-public but still much-used roadway entering at Fifth Avenue. It is more than a quarter mile long and it is entirely packed with the private automobiles of city employees. It is interesting that this area hasn’t been renovated like so many other portions of the park.

Sure there is a parking lot nearby, in the park, behind the Arsenal and zoo, but it is way too small to fit every single car with a city parking permit on its dashboard.

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On the other side of the park at Columbus Circle, where cyclists have been fighting for an extension of the Eighth Avenue bike lane to provide them with safer access into Central Park, the no-stopping-zone curb is packed solid with permit-bedecked cars, often two deep.

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Particularly offensive are those who block the sidewalk curb-cut at the Columbus Circle entrance to the Park.

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Traveling north, we find an array of conveniently placed parking lots to accommodate numerous Parks employees. You may think the cars filling the parking lot at the Boat House just north of 72nd Street along the East Drive belong to tourists pumping money into our economy. Think again. You’ll find parking permits aplenty in the windshields.

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Travel a little further north and there is a lovely parking lot by the Rambles shed across the road from the Met. This must be just as Olmsted and Vaux planned it. Why, thank you Parks Department for preserving their rustic vision!

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At 86th Street it is a veritable parking bonanza along the bridle path at the south end of the Reservoir. Best of all you can get here from East Drive or West Drive and also from the 86th Street Transverse. Sure, there is also a parking lot on the Transverse by the police station, but it fills up so quickly. Hey, I don’t see any "No Parking" signs here, do you?

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If by now you still haven’t found a parking spot in Central Park then try the 96th Street Recreation Center. Don’t worry about blocking the basketball hoops. I mean, what do you think this is Central Park or Central Park(ing)? 

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Along the west side, there are still more parking accommodations, such as at the sanitation plant near Delacorte Theater. And if the parking lot is full, the old bridle path is right there to handle the overflow. I guess those horses didn’t bargain hard enough at contract time. They ought to get some new union reps.

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About the only lot that isn’t overflowing is the one at Tavern on the Green. Hmm… I wonder why. Oh, hey, it’s valet parking only. If you wanted to park here, you would actually have to pay money.  What sort of sucker would do that?

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Might this be the real reason our park isn’t car free?

  • Mitch

    For a bit of historical perspective, it might be worth recalling that Robert Moses’ fall from godlike status started with his attempt to convert a playground into parking for the Tavern on the Green.

  • I see the basketball court parking lot all the time. I have yet to see kids playing anywhere around there.

    And Mitch is right, the battle over the Tavern Green parking lot was a turning point for the press exposing Moses for what he really was.

    I suspect we are reaching a similar point with illegal parking permit abuse. TA’s recent report shows that this abuse is widespread.

  • d

    There’s only one minor point that should be clarified:

    The curb cutouts at Columbus Circle are not there so that cyclists may ride smoothly from the street and down into the park. Cyclists are supposed to dismount and walk their bikes from that point. (There are other points where they may ride in directy from the street at the South entrance and further up CPW).

    The curb cutouts are for pedestrians, specifically those in wheelchairs, who are unloading from cars or accessing the sidewalk from the street.

    It makes it even worse, then, that cars would block this cutout! But cyclists have zero claim to this part of the sidewalk and curb.

  • alex

    In addition to taking up usable and valuable space, the vehicles cause a sort of positive feedback of danger to park users. For example, the portions of the Bridle Path (Sanitation Plant near Delacorte and the south side of the reservoir) that routinely get parked upon by park employees, are by far the most dangerous sections of the Bridle Path for park users. These sections are particularly dangerous because the cars create a bottle neck which park users muct navigate. While navigating such bottlenecks, not only are pedestrians brought quite close to trotting 500 pound horses, but they are also forced to step aside for other vehicles looking for more parking.
    Also, for what it is worth, the section of the Bridle Path with the most dangerous footing doubles as the NYPD’s free parking lot at the south end of the reservoir. If one takes a stroll on this section of the Bridle Path, one will encounter caping potholes that can be 6-12 inches deep. Of course, these potholes don’t exist in the middle of winter when they become enormous frozen hazards. Often times in the winter it would be better to bring ice skates and jump among the ice-sections rather than try to walk. And compared to the rest of the Bridle Path, it seems pretty clear that horses and pedestrians are the source of such gargantuan potholes.

  • alex

    Or… perhaps the private cars and SUVs have something to do with the dangerous surface of that section of the Bridle Path?

  • CB

    Are all the permits valid? Are there really that many employees?

  • Many of the permits are bogus. In Downtown Brooklyn, at least, many of the permits look like they have simply been photocopied onto color paper. One idea I’ve long had is to just photocopy a million permits, distribute them at every shop in Downtown Brooklyn, and basically force the city to address the problem by flooding the streets with bogus permits.

  • Steve

    This morning I was ordered off the bridal path in Central park by a parks employee. I looked online to see if there was a rule against bicycles on the bridal path. Here’s what I found:

    1) NYC Parks & Recreation says: “Stay on designated paths: riding off-trail damages our parks, and is strictly prohibited. No bicycle riding is permitted on pedestrian paths. Violators are subject to fines and confiscation of their bicycles.”

    I say, it’s true that the bridal path is not designated for bikes, but its not a pedestrian path, either. It’s not designated for cars, either, but there are loads of them on the bridal path–they are the traffic that is causing the damage with which the above rules purport to be concerned.

    2) Central Park Conservancy says: “Circling the entire Park, the drives provide three long-distance routes — 6.1 miles, 5.2 miles or 1.7 miles — or shorter distances if you cross the Park at a number of scenic locations. Cycling is prohibited on all pedestrian pathways.”

    Just what are these “scenic locations” where you can “cross the park?” In my view, the bridal path should qualify.

    Is there are general rule in NYC that bikes are only permitted on either (1) roadways where cars are allowed or (2) affirmatively designated bike pathways?

  • Mathperson

    Bridle.

  • Steve

    Well,

    That shows how much I know about horses. OK, bridle. Thoughts on bike access?

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