Official Statement on Central Park Car-Free Hours Increase

centralparkmap.jpgAs we reported yesterday, starting Monday, August 6, Car-Free time in Central Park will be increased by one hour in the morning on the Park’s West Drive. Here are the details from the Dept. of Transportation:

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe today announced further restrictions on vehicular traffic in Central Park. Beginning on Monday August 6, 2007, vehicles will only be allowed to use the West Drive from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

"Central Park is busy in the mornings with walkers, joggers and cyclists," said DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan. "I am pleased we will be able to provide additional time for everyone to utilize the park free from vehicles."

"These new traffic hours will continue to improve the quality of life and safety for all park visitors," Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said. " I’d like to thank Commissioner Sadik-Khan and the Department of Transportation for continuing their work to balance the needs of all New Yorkers."

Currently, vehicular traffic is allowed on the West Drive of Central Park between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., while the East Drive is only open from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (the East Drive from Sixth Avenue to 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.). Under the new restrictions, effective August 6, 2007, morning vehicular access will be limited to the West Drive from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. The park will continue to be closed to motor vehicles overnight and during the weekends.

The speed limits at both parks will remain 25 mph. The HOV restrictions for Central Park’s West Drive, in effect since November 29, 2004, will also remain in place. These reductions will further improve the parks’ overall traffic flow, minimize potential pedestrian/vehicle conflicts, and make available additional space for non-vehicular uses.

  • I still have to laugh at the 25 mph and HOV lines. That’s routinely flouted.

    While this outcome is sub-optimal, many morning park users will benefit greatly from the extended car-free hour in the morning.

  • Steve

    DoT is full of it; research conducted by TA found that the reduction in speed limit to 25 mph had no effect whatsoever on the speed of cars on the Loop.

    Back in 2003 when the speed limit was 30, TA found that on the Loop:

    -90% of motorists drive exceed the legal speed limit;
    -67% exceed the speed limit by 5mph or more;
    -22.5% exceed the speed limit by 10mph or more;
    (Here’s the study: http://www.transalt.org/press/releases/030701radartests.pdf).

    Then, after the limit was reduced to 25, TA did another study and found:

    0.14% (one driver) traveled at or below the posted speed limit [25 mph].
    3.03% traveled between 26mph and 30mph.
    22.34% traveled between 31mph and 35mph.
    31.41% traveled between 36mph and 40mph.
    10.66% traveled between 41mph and 45mph.
    .86% traveled above 45mph.

    (Here’s the study: http://www.transalt.org/press/releases/051021SpeedStudyData.pdf)

    In other word, 10% of cars traveled at or under 30 mph on the loop road when the limit was 30, and 3.17% traveled at or under 30 mph when the limit was 25 mph.

    Accepting that there could differences in how the data was gathered and other factors that could affect results, the best you can say is that the reduction in speed limit (and the sporadic enforcement efforts by NYPD) has no effect on traffic speeds.

    And yes, the HOV restriction is observed by about 25% of motorists, aside from taxi and livery drivers and their passengers.

    The only effective way to regulate cars in Central Park is prevent them from entering.

  • some dude

    This is a textbook example of “throwing a bone” to one’s constituents. Welcomed, but LAME.

  • Julie

    Any way to use this to get fewer hours of cars in Prospect Park in the mornings?

  • d

    Or in the evenings. It’s starting to get dark earlier already. 5 – 7 is prime after-work and after-school time. When September rolls around it will be impossible for kids and parents to use the park free from cars during the week.

  • Steve

    DoT should definitely take the opportunity on August 6 (and then again in September when we can assume everyone knows about the change) to do some research on the impact of the one hour closing. It should measure whether more pedestrians and bicyclists are using the Park during that hour, see if there is a noticeable increase in congestion on CPW, Columbus or 5th (the likely alt. routes for diverted traffic) during that hour. And I’d love to see a screen line that measures how many people pass by the Loop at West 72nd Street in an hour by motor vehicle as compared to on bike or on foot. to pass up the opportunity to measure the impact of this unbelievably incremental measure is to essentially admit that it is nothing more than a token scrap tossed to the majority of non-motorists he city designed to be so small that it could not be assailed in the media as evidence that the administration is “anti-car”–hardly a principled basis for making policy.

    I know principles only rarely drive policy but PlaNYC and its proponents tell us that things are different now. And my understanding is that the primary constituency against car-free CP is not the drivers themselves, but the residents in the Upper East West Sides who mistakenly believe closing the Park to cars will result in a permanent increase in congestion in their neighborhoods. If the opposition is arguing principles instead of interests, then gather the data you need to argue principles back.

    As for the interests of the drivers through the park, about 1/3 to 1/2 are taxi and livery drivers, and another large increment are civil servants. That became clear to me one day while I watched the HOV checkpoint on West Drive last year (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RAeEmEZI04Y) I expect a significant portion of the rest come from Westchester and New Jersey. Do we really have to give so much weight to those constituencies’ interests in saving a few minutes against that of Park users?

  • morty

    Drives exceed the limit on every street so it does not surprise me if they do in the park. How bout an easy pass cost to use the park?

  • Steve

    Morty,

    I think the city would need state approval to institute EZ pass within the Park. And once the park started generating revenue based on auto access we would never see car-free parks.

    But I’d like to see speeding cameras authorized by Albany and placed in the park.

  • Gee Gordon Liddy

    As I cycled in the park this morning from 6:30 to 8am, I found myself continually annoyed with the honking cars trying to push past me. The additional car-free hour is a most welcome announcement. I for one can’t wait for Monday morning.

    It may be a small step but it does get us closer to a car-free park.

  • Raymond

    No cars in Central Park would be great, in theory.

    There is one major problem though.

    At the moment Central Park is probably the only viable venue for a quick morning cycle workout. If cars are banned my guess is the road upkeep would transfer to the Parks Department, who probably don’t have the cash to maintain 6+ miles of road. The only thing worse than traffic on a road, is a road full of potholes, cracks, and weeds (roads deteriorate fast when not maintained properly).

    Just a thought.

  • Steve

    Raymond, good point but I am wondering whether the reason roads deteriorate quickly is because of motor vehicle use. Whether or not that is so, if the commish is serious about the cycling backbone then whe will make sure it gets the maintenance it needs, surely as much as if it was used to carry motor vehicle traffic. And anyway, they are almost done repaving the loop–let them finish the last 1/3 and then kick the cars out!

  • Nicole

    This is crap!!! I love central park. I like walking and driving through it. But, those people that say they want to enjoy the park, then enjoy the park!! Why are you in the area of vehicles. GO ON THE GRASS!!!! OR BETTER YET STAY IN THE LANES THAT HAVE BEEN PROVIDED FOR YOU!!! If you love the park so much, then go IN the park and on the grass. Or go in other areas. This is the only area that vehicle are allowed. I think the DOT should have only allowed vehicles during peak hours that means 3 hours a day in each direction 6-9 and then 4-6 in the evenings. I think that would have been fair to both parties. why can’t I enjoy the park. Driving through the park is a lovely way to start your day!!!! did anyone teach you to share!!!

  • bicyclebelle

    Nicole-

    Wow. I’m just going to point out that the only place cyclists are allowed in Central and Prospect Parks are on the drives. We can’t go on the grass. So when you’re driving through Central Park, you’re kicking cyclists out. That’s not sharing.

    Ok, I’m also going to point out that cars use a majority of the city’s public space as it is. Oh boy that’s not sharing, either!

    Please share the park with cyclists and joggers and rollerbladers and babies and dogs and everyone else by enjoying it without your stinky and dangerous car. Hope to see you there!

  • Sproule Love

    Nicole, this is hardly crap. Since when should parks contain “areas for vehicles?” The whole concept of a park is that it is a refuge from the stress of urban living, including you joy-riding in your car when you have many better options.

    Having cars roaring (I think we’ve established that few drivers obey the speed limit in the park) by within a few feet of people, children and pets is not acceptable, fair or in this spirit of sharing you write about. And I really doubt you enjoy walking next to the cars.

    I’m with bicyblebelle – cars already occupy far more than their fair share of public space here. GET OUT OF OUR PARKS!!!

  • Garbanzo

    As a frequent park jogger and cyclist, I have always rued the arrival of 7 a.m. Cars literally flood the park within seconds of the traffic cops removing the barriers, and I fear for my life as they show no regard for other park users (with ample use of horns). I’ve seen a number of near misses where cyclists have been forced into the jogging lanes by obnoxious cars, nearly clocking pedestrians. With Bloomberg battling traffic with congestion pricing, giving us that extra hour will be a godsend. Now, if we can only get another hour in the evenings and close the park to cars at 6 p.m.

  • Steve

    Here’s some photos and a video clip of the get-together Transportation Alternatives organized to celebrate the latest step toward a car-free Central Park. It could have gone a bit smoother–numerous motorists ignored the restriction and at least some Parks Department employees ahd not been informed–but it was an opportunity to do some driver education and speak with the DoT commissioner about the need to do more:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/43954081@N00/sets/72157601259442941/

  • Philip

    They should also ban bicycles from the park. Those jerks blast through crowded crosswalks, buzz runners and generally act like bullies on the road.

  • Sproule Love

    Philip, are you seriously saying that irresponsible cyclists are more of a threat than irresponsible drivers? Get real.

  • Stacy

    Raymond,
    The Parks Department had done a far better job of paving Manhattan’s bike paths, such as the West Side Warerfront Bike Path, than DOT has done with Central Park. While the Parks Department manages to repave areas like Riverside South or Riverwalk in a single night the current repaving of Central Park’s West Drive has been going on for months and it’s probably not even half done. If road upkeep is transferred to the Parks Department it could be a real boon to parkgoers.

  • Mike

    I agree with Philip. Why do bike riders feel like the rules of the road don’t apply to them? Bikes must follow the same traffic rules as cars. BUT, I have seen countless bikers blast through crosswalks, nearly killing babies in carriages. I’ve also seen them come perilously close to runners on purpose, putting themselves and runners at risk for serious injury or worse. And it’s not the fault of cars. I’ve seen this happen during hours when cars are not in the park and bikes have the run of the whole road yet they still choose to come too close to runners and walkers. I am all for banning cars from the park but if bikers are the ones who are leading the charge, they should clean up their own behavior in the park. Then, their argument against the cars will be taken far more seriously. I think, at a minimum, park police should issue expensive citations to bikers who flout traffic regulations.

  • Steve

    Mike and Philip,

    You guys are way overgeneralizing. Most lopp bicyclists are just recreating or getting from points A to B at or under 15 MPH, they yield to pedestrians, there is no danger and no issue. Even most of the fitness cyclists traveling at higher speeds routinely detour, slow or stop for a pedestrian on the loop with or without the right of way. There are a hard core of fitness cyclists who do need to be reined in, they deserve any tickets they get, but banning all bicyclists because of this small group is like . . it’s like . . . well, it’s like calling for a ban on all cars in NYC because most of them exceed the 30 MPH limit whenever they can, run red lights, pass too close to pedestrians, fail to yield in crosswalks . . .

  • CatBlue

    Nicole – The designers of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, never meant for the park to be used by cars. Their goal was to create an oasis away from the “confinement, bustle, and monotonous street-division of the city” and they worried that “a turbid stream of coarse traffic” would disrupt the park’s tranquility. Even then they were concerned with traffic invading the park and that was 150 years ago! Remembering that their vision was for our peace, health and enjoyment of nature, that Central park has been used as a highway straight through Manhattan for so many decades has really been been a travesty.

    Steve – Alas, Mike and Philip are not generalizing about the behavior of cyclists in the park. I run marathons and Central Park is my main training area. I have been there as early as 3am and as late as 10pm, and when I worked uptown at 98th Street and Madison I ran many times in the middle of the day as well. This has given me the opportunity to observe traffic flow in the park (bikes and cars) for many years.

    While I agree that the majority of traffic problems are caused by cars (no, they do NOT adhere to the speed limit and I’ve seen drivers push dangerously into the rec lane to speed past other vehicles), sadly, I have also seen hits and many near misses because cyclists were speeding in the rec lanes even when the drives were closed to traffic. In their defense, I will say that the regular cyclists who race/train (you know them by their gear and the fact that they are usually on the drive and NOT the rec lanes) are generally not a problem. The biggest problem I have seen are the tourists and casual users of the park because they do not know the bike rules. They ride blithely wherever they please at any speed; I have even dodged them on the reservoir, which is crazy! They rarely control their own bikes or their children. The many, many tourists who frequent the park are the most egregious offenders. Of the two rec lanes, the outer lane has a BIG, WHITE depiction of a BIKE, but I still find myself dodging bikes barreling up behind me or right toward me in the inner most rec lane. If I had a dollar for every time I leapt out of the way, pointed to the outside lane and shouted “Bike lane!” I would be able to retire.

    Just last week as I rounded the southern end of the park I was struck on the back of my right heel. I nearly fell, but righted myself and turned around to see a stunned woman on a bike. I could scarcely believe it, but I had been struck by her front wheel. “Are you all right?” I said sharply. My inner dialog was “When I say are you all right, what I am really asking is “Are you on DRUGS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? How could you possibly be riding so close to me when I am in the innermost rec lane and there is NO traffic on the drive?” My tone and hard stare communicated exactly what I mean though. She stuttered that she was sorry and “unused to bike riding.” Um, okay. That would have been cold comfort if I had sprained or broken my ankle.

    Having said ALL of that, I am THRILLED at the prospect of an extra hour in the morning and being able to run after work in a car-free Central Park. For so many years I’ve had to contend with breathing tailpipe emissions as I ran around the park. I often wondered if my enjoyment of running and the great outdoors wasn’t ultimately going to lead to poor health! Now I can literally breathe easier. It will be a great day when traffic is banned entirely; that will be a dream come true.

  • Steve

    CatBlue,

    Interesting to hear another perspective. I have certainly seen lots of tourists bicycling unsafely on the loop, but most tourists are always like that, whether on foot, bicycle or in cars. I don’t think I have ever seen bicyclists in the joggers lane when cars are allowed in, in my view that should be a capital offense.

    I take my kids out in the park on the loop. While both of them are capable of staying within the designated bike lane, the problem is that during car-free hours the joggers take that lane over, forcing the kids out into the traffic lanes with the fitness cyclists. Without the ability to guide themselves along the narrow path described by the bike lane, kids will veer unexpectedly, and depending on their age and experience may not look over their shoulder to see if there are oncoming bicyclists. I’ve had both of mine yelled at sharply by fitness cyclists in this scenario.

    One solution would be to designate the middle lane for bicycles, and perhaps split it in half with instructions that faster-moving bicyclists keep to the right-most half. This would give joggers much needed space, move the bicyclists to the middle where they would be that much further from pedestrians seeking to enter the crosswalks, and allow faster and slower bicyclists to keep out of each others’ way. Since DoT seems wedded to an incremental approach to reallocating space this could be the next step, with the right-most lane still allowing cars during the current schedule (you would need to preserve the current cross-overs at 72nd).

  • Philip

    When I made my comment about cyclists, I was specifically referring to the fitness cyclists. I understand that tourists are clueless wherever they are and I have pretty much accepted that fact. I do assume, however, that the fitness cyclists are primarily locals.

    And their behavior honestly seems malicious. I run every day in the park in the innermost lane and I’ve been “buzzed” by cyclists in the racing gear too many times to count. I’ve also looked on in horror as they have sped through crowded crosswalks against the light, sometimes coming close to killing people. I’ve seen several collisions with injuries where the cyclist was clearly speeding through a crosswalk against the light and at fault. Yet every time, they scream and yell at the person they hit. They also scream for people to get out of the way as they speed through.

    It really doesn’t matter if the cyclists find in inconvenient to stop when pedestrians are crossing in a marked crosswalk and they have the light. It’s the law. Because cyclists are the most outspoken critics of the poor behavior of drivers (and I do agree it is poor), they really should follow the rules themselves.

  • Sproule Love

    Point well taken, Philip. There are plenty of jackasses riding bicycles around NYC. My point is that cyclists’ offensive behavior in and out of Central Park pales in comparison to the transgressions drivers commit, both from a safety and a pollution perspective.

    We can’t afford to let the non-car constituency fracture. Let’s get cars out of the parks, then sort out the conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, whom are hardly innocent. I’ve seen countless oblivious pedestrians chatting on cell phones while crossing the park drive against the lights. I see this happen just as often as I see cyclists run red lights.

    I’m a runner and a cyclist, and when I run in Central Park, I stick to the bridle path, which takes me off the park drive for most of the loop. Why not avoid the park drive when you run? There are plenty of scenic alternatives for people not on wheels.

  • Hilary

    Ped-bike conflicts are not entirely bad. They demonstrate the inadequacy of the space they are forced to share. They force the issue to a resolution.

  • steve

    Good point hilary-that’s why the bicyclists shouldn’t be obligated to dismount on the BB yesterday.

  • Lou Brusco

    NY City is difficult enough to get around without Park Drive being closed to traffic – it is easily the fastest way down to Central Manhattan from the West Side. Until the problems at Columbus Circle are fixed – and I don’t see them being fixed any time soon – West Park Drive should be re-opened to vehicles – NO HOV restrictions – 45 mph speed limit – go ride a stationary bike or use a treadmill for exercise and get the heck out of my way when I am driving. Also when it is cold out – nobody uses the park drives anyway to exercise – those that do are crazy and deserve to be run down. When it is 20 degrees out – it is snowing – why keep it open for walkers/runners/riders NOT to use it???

    Take NY Back for Cars…….

  • anon

    45 mph through a city park?! There are parts of the arterial parkways that are less than that!

  • Ian Turner

    I give this troll a -1 out of 10.

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