T.A.: Car-Free Central Park Would Ease Neighborhood Congestion

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A study released this week by Transportation Alternatives undercuts the claim that closing Central Park’s loop drive to cars would increase traffic on the streets of Harlem. To the contrary, findings indicate that loop entrances on 110th street at Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevards "act as traffic magnets," drawing vehicles onto neighborhood streets from more appropriate routes like the FDR, Harlem River Drive and the West Side Highway.

During a series of driver interviews conducted in the spring of 2007, T.A. found that 57% of private car trips into the park through Harlem originate outside Manhattan, and that private cars — not taxis — make up the majority of traffic (two-thirds) on the loop drive. Reads a T.A. media release:

Much of the traffic clogging Harlem streets only enters the neighborhood because the Park drive is open to cars. This is consistent with NYC DOT’s own findings that predict at least 3,107 private vehicles would be removed from Harlem streets each week during the morning commute if the drive was closed to car traffic. Armed with this information, T.A. and more than 100,000 Car-Free Central Park Campaign supporters call on the Mayor and City Hall to support a three month car-free trial in the park this summer.

T.A. initially presented its data privately to city decision-makers, hoping it would confirm the city’s own analysis and provide the final impetus for a three-month trial closure. That didn’t happen, so T.A. is publicly releasing the report [PDF] in hopes that New Yorkers will take up the issue with their electeds — Mayor Bloomberg in particular — and urge them to make good on this long-overdue improvement.

T.A. and other car-free park advocates are joined by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in pushing for a summer trial. Says Stringer: "This action has the potential to achieve real and immediate benefits for our city, and to send an unequivocal message that New York City is serious about achieving its green priorities."

Photo: Frodrig / Flickr

  • Cars have no place in Central Park; that’s why it’s a park. Kudos to T.A. for pushing this issue.

  • I was in Central Park this morning and there were park employees standing in the bike lane during red lights with stop signs. When I came to a stop, I casually mentioned that it would be nice if we could do something about keeping all of these cars out of the park.

  • pdf is missing

    the pdf link to the study is broken
    plus there is something wrong with your cookie feature. It wouldnt set, even when I allowed it to. (Firefox)

  • Transit Lover

    I could not agree more. Attrition of motor vehicles by cities. Sound familiar?? Yes! Jane Jacobs wrote about it more than 40 years ago!

    Of course, kudos to TA for advocating Car-Free Central Park (and let’s not forget Prospect Park) and pushing this issue.

  • JK

    40% of the motorists originate in Harlem. Odds are good that 90% of these folks are within a ten minute walk of the subway and 99% within a 5 minute walk of a bus or subway. Odds are also good that a majority of the Harlem drivers work for the City of New York.

  • Thanks all. The PDF link should be fixed now.

  • Moreover, cars on the loop routinely exceed the 25 MPH speed limit. If ever there was a roadway with “excess capacity” in need of a “road diet,” it is the Central Park Loop. Not to mention the fact that there are far more bicyclists and pedestrians clamoring for use of that excess cpacity than there are motorists. The allocation of space on the loop is absurd no matter how you look at it.

  • william

    In Central Park and Prospect Park, there are X number of autos using two lanes, and at any given time there’s double that number of walkers, runners, inline skaters and cyclists squeezed into one lane on the left.
    The poor runners are consigned to a lane that slopes into the curb for drainage. So rather than damage their bodies training on an uneven surface, many of them run in the biker’s lane, which just creates more conflict and danger for all.
    And it never fails that if any cyclist or skater or runner uses an inch of the driving lane, they get honked at by drivers who imagine their journey is somehow impeded. So the quietude of the city’s premier parks is interrupted by drivers who are using the park as a thruway.

  • Spud Spudly

    Get the cars out of the park. Also, let’s get the people on wheels of all types who use the park roads to stop at the damned red lights, weekends included. Getting across the road with a two-year-old even in a marked crosswalk at a red light is an adventure in timing and luck.

  • d

    I’d imagine a similar study would show that the major intersections around Prospect Park (Parkside, GAP, Park Circle, etc.) are similarly congested when the park is open to traffic.

    Cars need to be banned from both parks IMMEDIATELY. It’s rank prejudice to not have safe, clean places for people who can not afford to leave the city. The parks are the city’s backyards. Would anyone want cars running through their property?

  • I’m starting to think legal protests and civil disobedience might force the city’s hand. I went on the Central Park traffic calming ride last month–what about a massive traffic-calming ride or having a mass of pedestrians and cyclists take over the loop or block the entrances?

  • JF

    This is not coming from either Bloomberg or Sadik-Khan, right? I’m guessing that they’d probably prefer to close the drive, but are keeping it open so as not to piss off some important allies.

    Do we know who these allies are?

  • david

    Hi – Does any one know CP Conservancy’s role in this? I havent seen them pushing against cars. Surely they should be advocating on this?

  • Felix

    JF, you asked the same question I wanted to ask, including Prospect Park as well.

  • gecko

    There should be “no honking” signs with the large fines on the park roads same as on city streets.

    In addition to the NYPD, parks enforcement people should be empowered to issue tickets, and ultimately, ban those drivers with multiple offenses.

    Those individuals endangering others by driving recklessly, honking, and tailgating others using the park roads should be banned immediately and for life.

  • Spud Spudly

    Horn honking signs are nice — enforcement’s another matter. The total number of violations issued for horn honking citywide in fiscal year 2007 was 23. If Parks could issue the tickets that might go up.

  • gecko

    #16 Spud Spudly, Drivers mistakenly think they have the right to direct traffic with their horns. They do not and the no-honking signs state this explicitly. And, they definitely do not have the right to harass which they do.

    The only permission they have to use their horns is in the case of an emergency as a warning and to hopefully prevent a catastrophe. If a child or someone else using the park mistakenly goes into the park road — which is natural during play and park use — and is in danger of being hit then that would constitute an emergency.

    Though, this type of situation does not seem justifiable. When a car or truck moves in the Union Square Farmers Market they “creep” along and there is always at least one individual to assist to make sure no one is hurt.

    The same kind of care and consideration should be taken in our parks, even though cars are allowed to move faster than a creep and perhaps, additional signs should posted for car drivers to be considerate, drive safely, and slow down when their are other people in the road.

  • Spud Spudly

    I know the horn honking law well, and I agree with you. I was just pointing out how ridiculously little the law is “enforced” in the city.

  • gecko

    It just may be possible to set the “tone” that horn honking and reckless endangerment by cars in our parks be considered much more serious – not to mention antisocial — offenses.

    This could be done by signage affirming the laws by DOT. And, by the Parks Department affirming the nature of parks and cautioning drivers to slow down if they see children even playing by the side of the road like “Caution! Children at Play.”

    Compliance with a law does not necessarily have to depend on heavy enforcement such as with “scoop the poop,” and optimally, depends on the best in people.

    People are less likely to honk or honk excessively on a beautiful tree lined residential street. It should be possible to set the same tone for parks and with the extra effort to make drivers aware of this since they are isolated in their cars.

    Dare we invite them for a stroll?

  • I just want the cars out the park–period!

  • gecko

    And, out of most, if not all of the city also.

    Just that the powers that be have a hard time (dare I say) thinking big enough to make it happen.

  • Michael1

    Central Park should be banned to all cars except certain NYPD and DPR cars. However, the DOT should consider seriously how Park Drive is reconfigured. If you don’t get hit by a car, you’ll get hit by a bike. Chances are that when the cars disappear, Park Drive will be configured to better suite cyclists, however their speed should not be ignored. Personally, I think yield signs with plastic traffic bollards will help slow cyclists down at certain crosswalks in the Park. Also, the redesign should reflect lanes that are suitable for both slow and fast cyclists, since there are many bike clubs that use this thoroughfare for their bikeathons and all that. First comes first, cars should be prohibited.

  • I’m seeing so much behavior in Central Park that looks wrong that I’m actually wondering if I’m confused about the rules. I wrote up a bunch of questions – any help would be greatly appreciated:

    1 – who, besides Parks vehicles, can drive on the park drive during the times that it is off limits to MVs?? I go around 10am and I often see cars between 10 and 10:30 am. Most are livery cabs, doing more than 25 mph, and I’ve seen them go right by squad cars while the cops do nothing.

    2 – During the hours that MVs are permitted on the park drives, or between E. 59th and E. 72nd where they are always permitted, is the bike lane mandatory for cyclists? A cop yelled at me when I was in the left MV lane, because the combined jogging/cycling lane was so crowded.

    3 – Are horse&buggies allowed in the jogging/cycling lane? Pedicabs? I’ve seen pedicabs between E. 59th and E. 72nd in the combined joggling/cycling lane, and it’s not easy to pass them if there’s two lanes of MV traffic.

    4 – Is the “counter clockwise rule” a hard and fast rule, or a guideline? Are runners and cyclists going clockwise required to yield? Sometimes they stare me down like they’re saying “make my day”.

    I think some problems arise because many people are ignorant of the rules. People going clockwise may have no idea they’re not supposed to. There are signs on the reservoir track, why not on the Park drive?

    Thanks guys for helping out a novice.

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