The Quick and Easy First Step to a “Greater, Greener New York”

central_park_traffic.jpg 

On Earth Day Mayor Mike Bloomberg placed transportation and environmental issues at the top of New York City’s political agenda. He took a major step towards changing the conventional wisdom that traffic congestion is a sign of the city’s vibrancy and economic health.
And he joined the list of forward-thinking global mayors like London’s
Ken Livingstone and Bertrand Delanoe in Paris who have said that
excessive automobile dependence is a drag on the urban economy,
detrimental to public health, and a contributor to global climate
change.

Proposing congestion pricing was clearly a big
deal. But missing from the PlaNYC announcement were immediate physical
changes that reveal the "Greener, Greater New York" that the mayors
speech called for. Because, even if congestion pricing is approved by
the state legislature, it will take time to put in place. The mayor
needs a symbolic, yet tangible, action that matches the scale and
ambition of his new vision.

That grand, green, gesture is a three month
car-free summer for Central Park. With the stroke of a pen Bloomberg
can deliver a premier car-free space for millions of people. The
political legwork has already been done. Car-Free Summer already has
the backing of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and four of
the five City Council members surrounding the park (Lappin, Brewer,
Garodnick and Viverito. Dickens has been non-committal). More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling for a completely car-free park.

There
is very little downside to a Car-Free Central Park. DOT traffic studies
conducted during Christo’s "Gates" installation suggest that the
traffic impacts around the park would be virtually non-existent
(Download the three-part study here: 1, 2, 3).
And a soon-to-be released report by Transportation Alternatives
indicates that closing Central Park’s Loop Drives to private vehicles
would help reduce the amount of through-traffic using Harlem’s
congested streets as a short-cut to and from Lower Manhattan.

Delanoe launched his ambitious transportation reform effort by converting a riverfront highway into a beach called "Paris Plage."
London’s Ken Livingstone had the power to impose congestion pricing
without legislative approval. But he built public approval for pricing,
and an overall transportation reform agenda, with tangible improvements
that people could feel and see. One of the most visible was the
conversion of the horrendous traffic sewer that was Trafalgar Square into a bustling public plaza.

Likewise, here in New York, PlaNYC 2030 needs to be transformed from
rhetoric to reality. While there are many such opportunities, none is
as big, as visible and as easy, as making Central Park car-free this
coming June, July and August.

Photo: Greyscalefuzz on Flickr

  • And, for the late-Fall/early-Winter months, how about expanding the sidewalks on Fifth Avenue that are inadequate for the holiday crush.

    Drop in Jersey barriers that convert the outer lanes to pedestrian traffic.

  • d

    Don’t forget Prospect Park!

    The needs of thousands of park users who can’t afford summer shares or rentals in the Hamptons should outweigh the few who use the park as a short cut during morning and evening rush hours.

    The city opens dozens of “cooling centers” when the mercury hits the upper reaches of thermometers, but in reality we have two great cooling centers already in place: Central and Prospect Parks.

  • Hannah

    Central Park’s Loop Road is being repaved right now. Though I won’t miss the bumps and potholes, it depresses me that the same old road markings are being repainted on the ground. They’re geared toward the cars even though the road allows cars a minority of the time. When cars aren’t in the park, the road markings don’t make sense and contribute to confusion and antagonism among various other constituencies (i.e., runners versus cyclists).

    Now is the perfect time to declare Central Park auto-free, for the sake of the paint!

  • MD

    We need to get our elected officials to speak out about this. It shouldn’t be hard to put the mayor on the spot, given all the “green” talk coming out of his administration.

  • IMAGINE driving across town without stopping at a single intersection.

    If you can do this then the only limiting factor is the speed any number of vehicles have to drive at to maintain flow. If you have unrestricted exit from all major intersections you will never get traffic tailbacks on to a Freeway reducing the lanes as a consequence of the intersections inability to cope with the flow.

    The problem with the traffic is that we all want to get to where we want to go, and we want every traffic light and intersection we approach to give us a clear run so we don’t have to stop at a single intersection.
    Not possible you say?
    Well you would be wrong!
    The simple solution to traffic jams and congestion is to design a road system that lets you do this.
    Well we have that solution.
    This allows all vehicles that approach any intersection on or to an arterial road to enter the intersection and exit it without stopping. All day, every day, in the worst peak hour traffic and save up to 40% on fuel costs and pollution emissions.
    And what’s more we can build them within the confines of existing streets.
    At http://www.ubtsc.com.au are models that allow everyone approaching an intersection to do exactly that!

    Leave the open green spaces for the pedestrian and the cyclist.

    People mentioned in this article are invited to visit and prove for themselves that we can design a city traffic infrastructure that eradicates congestion, jams, and gridlock.

    In the response and reply to our initial communication addressed to USA, Secretary of Transportation, Dr Mary E. Peters the US Department of Transport states that Liquid Flow Traffic Management addresses “a number of successful practices for addressing traffic congestion related to the infrastructure”.

    Problems with public transport?
    Under the section Matter Propulsion there is a Public Transport System that is Zero polluting.
    This is the future!

    Jozef Goj CEO UBTSC Pty Ltd

  • You know I adore Streetsblog. But I can’t make head nor tail of this:

    “closing Central Park’s Loop Drives to private vehicles would help reduce the amount of through-traffic using Harlem’s congested streets as a short-cut to and from Lower Manhattan.”

    Can someone please explain what it’s talking about?

  • P

    Wow- is that really traffic-spam in the comments?

    Who would have thought we’d see the day?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    This is at least the third time that Mr. Goj has posted the same thing in the comments, without addressing any of the responses to his earlier postings.

  • gecko

    It’s about time Bloomberg stands up to really show us what he can do. The city council shamefully nullified his veto against human-powered pedicab legislation.

    He’s got the power.

    He can speak directly to the people of this city — seriously engage the people of this city — and provide the leadership to dramatically show how move forward; and, maybe how this country can move forward. Car-free Central Park will be a first baby step. It has to be taken.

  • d

    If they won’t make it off limit to cars, how about a “congestion fee” for using Central Park? Eight dollars to drive through the park sounds about right.

  • Astute Blancoponte

    felix:

    when it is open to cars, the park drive acts like a long syringe that effectively injects traffic directly into midtown.

    The entry to the park at 110th street (the top of the syringe) acts as a traffic magnent, pulling in drivers who would otherwise use the west side hwy and FDR.

    T.A. interviewed midtown and downtown bound drivers on the loop drive and found that most of them were coming from points far north of Harlem. clearly these drivers would stick to outlying arterials and avoid harlem if the drive were closed.

  • Thanks, AB! It makes perfect sense if by “lower manhattan” you mean midtown. I guess that it’s a bit like “downtown” — relative, not absolute… must get out of my, er, downtown mindset…

  • Diane

    I can remember years ago walking through Central Park & having just moved from New Jersey in early 80’s not knowing that cars were banned at certain hours. But it was just odd, wonderful, & magical to walk thru Central Park, right down the middle of the loop drive next to bicycles & roller skaters with plenty of room for everyone & no ugly, smelly, noisy cars terrorizing you. It was like being in another world. Now, when you walk thru the park after work you have to wait for traffic & you’re terrorized by crazy bicycle riders who aren’t supposed to be on the paths but they want to get away from the road cuz they don’t want to be terrorized by cars. And that’s the best part of the day. Who’s gonna wait til 7 pm when cars are banned from park. When are you gonna eat & go to bed. And it’s definitely too late if you have kids. And most of the year it’s dark after 7 pm anyway.

  • Sproule Love

    Great point, Aaron. I agree that a trial summer closure of both Central and Prospect Parks would add a lot of legitimacy to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. It’s the perfect green gesture for New York City, and the timing is right with the repaving in Central Park.

    I still shake my head when I consider that cars are allowed to speed away (what car have you ever seen rolling along at the 25 mph speed limit?) on the park drives only a few feet away from runners, cyclists and baby strollers during the busiest times for park use. In all my letters to electeds, I always invite them to walk along the pedestrian part of the park drive during rush hour.

    It’s beyond harrowing, not to mention the exhaust and the ancillary traffic issues discussed here. I live in Harlem, and with one in four kids suffering from asthma, we could use less commuting traffic in our neighborhood. This is a proven consequence of road closures.

    C’mon Mayor Mike, put your money where your mouth is!

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