Business Honchos Lobby Bloomberg for Car-Free Parks

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It seems elitist "green" types aren’t the only ones who think city parks should be reserved for people. A passage from this week’s New York Magazine feature "Who Owns Central Park?" reveals that regular Joe business execs recently warned Mayor Bloomberg of the economic consequences of a city so dominated by cars.

Last April, about two dozen executives signed a letter delivered to the mayor’s office arguing that the administration’s car policy is hurting the city’s ability to prevent hedge funds from decamping to Greenwich, or Wall Street jobs’ being shipped overseas. “The talent pool we seek to draw from is increasingly focused upon maintaining personal fitness. They are disproportionately triathletes, marathoners, and the highly fit. Cycling in particular is a key interest, and has become a key business-related networking activity,” the group wrote. “What about the loss of yet another team of financial professionals, formerly based on Wall Street, who decide to move to Connecticut to start a hedge fund, because life is just too difficult in New York City?” 

Though the story focuses on the territorial battles among park users, it reads, "There’s one issue about which runners, cyclists, and dog owners are in full agreement: cars." Says Transportation Alternatives’ Paul Steely White: "The anger you see in the park is similar to the ire you see in Park Slope with the double-wide strollers. Our view is, Don’t get mad at the stroller moms. Get mad at the city for providing such limited car-free space.”

Earlier this month, TA was joined by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in calling for a three-month car-free trial for Central Park, based on a study that showed it would reduce cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. Brooklynites are pushing for a car-free summer in Prospect Park as well. With the city’s "Summer Streets" program set to launch this year, keeping cars out of parks seems only logical, but no word as of yet.

Photo: Ed Yourdon/Flickr

  • s

    While I’m glad that business leaders are pressing for this, it’s sad that it took the needs of the city’s richest people to get the mayor’s attention. For longer than cycling as a networking activity has been happening, the city’s lower income people have needed car-free spaces where their kids can play without car fumes and without fear of getting run over. They don’t have Hamptons houses or the money for summer weekends out of the city. Why isn’t that a good enough reason to limit cars in the park?

  • dawg

    i guess we need more high-rise buildings to got up near central park right?
    like the ones on the west side.
    the city is overcrowded. blame amanda burden and bloomberg for allowing soooo many huge high-rise buildings/condos to go up on the west (especially) and east sides. they have no sense for quality of life issues for ny’ers. they just suck-up to developers. this used to not be as much of a problem but now there are so many more freakin’ people living near the park that there is just no room for everyone to enjoy it so the usual problems are just unmanageable.

  • dawg

    sorry, i meant “…high-rise buildings to go up…”

  • For my own part, I love New York’s density and the cultural and human riches it puts on display every day. We have a subway system. That means we can handle it. Nothing makes me happier than to wear out shoe leather in a park full of people. I do it every day, weather allowing.

    And I’m glad to see people with influence and money and power (and guts) demanding a better quality of life. There is no downside to this. We all benefit. And I assure you, I’m far from rich.

  • PayingItNow

    I know from various inside sources that DOT has never taken seriously the idea that the traffic impacts of closing the park would be severe, has never advocated keeping the park open to cars for traffic reasons, and has always said the decision is not theirs to make — it’s DPR’s. These same sources have told me that DPR has actually been an impediment to closing the park, basically because they’re afraid of having to deal with even more overuse (and chaotic roadway management) than they have to deal with now. For reasons I’ve never really understood, This hasn’t really made it out into the open. I very much doubt that the class-war dynamic implied here has ever (or will) have an impact on the decision. Also, some banker saying “close the park to cars or we’re moving to Greenwich” is just another in a string of ploys that has little to do with what any of these companies actually plans to do. If a company is moving to Greenwich, they’re moving to Greenwich. If they’re staying, they’re staying, but trying to see what they can get the City to fall for.

  • dawg

    actually walker,
    we cant handle ny’s ever growing density. you’re living in a fantasy world. there is a reason why we have more and more power outages every summer (though con ed has some fault in this). and the above mentioned problems with bikes and runners and whatnot in central park was once a minor issue and now it’s a major issue because of overcrowding. we have very poor planning going on by burden and bloomberg. your comment almost sounds like it came from city hall through you.

  • Sorry, I think the no more density in my backyard argument is fundamentally anti-urban and misanthropic.

  • dawg

    i didnt say i didnt like the urban lifestyale and i didnt say i didnt enjoy being around people. otherwise i wouldnt live here. it can get to a point where only so many people can live in a given space. you dont seem to accept this concept though. city planning and population and quality of life issues are important aspect of urban life and are interrelated.

  • I agree with your summation — that’s very reasonable. Where we differ, I think, is that I’m more optimistic that those issues can be managed successfully if we manage space differently.

    Car-free parks, bike lanes, bus rapid transit, more sidewalk space, more ped-centric plazas, and expanding subway lines and service are all ways of relieving the pressure cooker of urban life. These things would make both of us happier.

    When talking to out-of-towners (not you, of course) I’m often struck by the fact that the things they like least about New York are the effects of cars: congestion, pollution, noise, aggressive driving. But that isn’t the way it has to be, is it?

  • dawg

    i’ll tell you walker,
    i hate cars. the pollution, noise, aggressive driving, the fact that they are such an expression of vanity and ego in our culture at the expense of so many different things. things like safety, fresh air, space,…. it goes on and on. the sad thing is people cut down on driving not because of the reasons mentioned above – mainly economical.

  • You are so right. We are blood brothers. I’m happy people are driving less for any reason!

  • PayingItNow #5: Wait, are you saying that Parks is against closing permanently to traffic because they’re afraid even more people will use and enjoy the park? In other words, they’re willing to degrade the quality of the facility just to keep people away?

  • It is actually amazing that our two main parks still have cars in them. Why during the busiest time of the day (runners, walkers, joggers, bikes) during the week do we still need to share the roadways?

  • PayingItNow

    Urbanis — yup.

  • PayingItNow #14: That’s insane! I can’t believe Parks would prefer to have dangerous and polluting automobile traffic rather than people in Central Park. What has this world come to?

  • Frank

    You’re saying Weinshall was OK with getting rid of the cars but Benepe wasn’t? Very hard to believe.

  • PayingItNow

    I’m saying that’s the dynamic on this issue through multiple mayoralties and DOT and DPR commissioners, based on conversations I’ve had with multiple parties to the decisions over the years, going back way before Weinshall and Benepe. Weinshall was much more pro-ped, and (grudgingly, at least) pro-bike than any of her predecessors, personality and hostility to advocates notwithstanding. DPR commissioners have been mostly pro-tree and pro-dog, and not particularly human, in case you haven’t noticed. That, plus Henry Stern and his cult have and would do anything to keep the rich folks on 5th Ave and CPW happy (including supporting their yipping about more traffic, even though there wouldn’t be any). For all the complaining about various DOT commissioners, you’d think the advocates might have taken notice of how hostile to their agenda decades worth of DPR commissioners have been.

  • I thought Benepe was on our side? At least, he spoke at the opening for NYC Bike Month.

  • Ace

    “The talent pool we seek to draw from is increasingly focused upon draping themselves in spandex, going to the park, and riding bicycles around in circles.”

  • squeakywheel

    I’m in favor of car-free parks, but this plea strikes me as rather hilarious, and potentially counterproductive politically. How many of these hedge-fund guys threatening to decamp to Greenwich take public transportation or bike to work? And my guess is that they are far more likely than the average New Yorker to own a car.

  • squeakywheel

    Also, the comparison between cars in the park and Park Slope stroller moms –made by a guy from TA, no less! — is absurd. (I live in the Slope but don’t have kids or a stroller.) People pushing strollers are generally just trying to get from point A to point B, without the help of a minivan. Not clear why they are seen as space-hogs and a problem to be solved, while people riding bicycles — who are often doing it just for recreation (again, how many of those hedge funders speeding around Central Park take cars to work or to their weekend houses?) — are by definition noble standard bearers for alternative transportation.

    Hmmmm, might there be a gender issue here? I love my bike and want the city to do more to keep me from getting killed on it, but it’s depressing to hear an alternative-transportation advocate casually disparaging self-powered folks just because they are tend to be women rolling with four wheels rather than men rolling with two….

  • Moser

    Squeak wasn’t the only one scratching his/her head over that one.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    it’s depressing to hear an alternative-transportation advocate casually disparaging self-powered folks just because they are tend to be women rolling with four wheels rather than men rolling with two.

    I can’t see how any reader could interpret Paul Steely White’s quote as being disparaging to stroller-pushing moms.

    It seems to me that he’s saying that pedestrians and cyclists ought to be allies. Whether in Central Park or Park Slope, it’s the motor vehicles that are hogging up all of New York City’s street space. The cyclists get the blame in the park and the stroller moms get all kinds of criticism in the Slope. But we’d have plenty of space for bikes and strollers if our public right-of-way wasn’t entirely filled by gargantuan single-passenger SUV’s, both moving and parked.

    I mean… the quote seems pretty clear to me.

  • elementary

    Moser and Squeak– did you read the article? it might be easier for you to understand the quote. If you have trouble with some of the words you can always check the dictionary.

  • squeakywheel

    Thanks for the sarcasm, Elementary. Just what we need more of on this blog and on the streets.

    Apologies to White from TA if I misunderstood his analogy. But I think the point about the hero treatment given to hardcore cyclsits out chasing PRs and the casual contempt for stroller “moms” stands. (I’m slightly puzzled that the hedge fund guys threats to take their toys and tax dollars and move to Greenwich isn’t seen as a bit more absurd and politically questionable in this space.) Also, getting rid of cars in the park, while certainly desirable, doesn’t completely resolve the conflicts. Prospect Park on weekends can still be a pretty scary and conflict-ridden place.

  • Boris

    A lot of the sentiments against cars expressed in the comments go back to the chicken-and-egg problem of how to get to Central Park in the first place. Not all of us live in Manhattan. Two Saturdays ago I decided to do the right thing and take public transportation to Central Park from Staten Island, where I live. I drove to the ferry (can’t avoid that part, really), took the ferry, and then spent more than an hour navigating the hell that is weekend subway service. My other option was the express bus, which would’ve cost me as much as driving. So next time, I’m going to drive- not necessarily through the park, but close to it.

    So before some of you say things like cars “are such an expression of vanity and ego in our culture at the expense of so many different things. things like safety, fresh air, space…” think a little bit about what the alternatives are.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Here’s an alternative for ya, Boris: Try riding a bike to Central Park. From the Staten Island ferry terminal downtown it’ll probably take you 30 minutes up the Hudson River Greenway. You won’t have to spend a lot of time or money on parking. You won’t be stuck in traffic. You won’t be burning expensive, planet-cooking gasoline. You can stop along the way for lunch or to hang out on the river. Instead of getting all aggravated in the process of motoring to your recreational destination, your journey will be part of your recreation. To my mind, there’s no better way to get to Central Park from Lower Manhattan on a nice weekend day. Tens of thousands of outer borough residents do it every day.

    Another option: Take your nearly 100% tax payer subsidized Staten Island ferry into Lower Manhattan and then hop on the NY Water Taxi up to Midtown on the West Side. You can walk, bike or bus it over to the park from there.

    Of course, you might also just consider using the subway line that isn’t suffering weekend construction. You’ve got access to virtually every subway line in the city down there in Lower Manhattan and pretty much all of them are going past Central Park.

    So, you’ve got plenty of good options, Boris. But, hey, if you really want to drive to Central Park from Staten Island — if that’s really your version of a fun weekend activity, be my guest. Do us all a favor though. Try to keep your road rage, your aggressive driving, your exhaust fumes and your bitching about gas prices and scarce parking to yourself.

  • Jason A

    Boris you raise some interesting points.

    Staten Island does indeed suffer from some of crummiest transit options in the area. It is unfortunate there is not more service on island, and it would be terrific if the Island enjoyed more buses, more rail, more ferries etc…

    However, it’s hard for me to completely sympathize with SI when Molinari brags about down-zoning the entire borough in his campaign literature. There’s a bit of “have cake, eat it too” business going with Staten Island (and the outlying boroughs) that needs to be called out – and no one talked about during the CP fight.

    The point is this: you can not develop around sprawl and auto-dependent infrastructure, and then whine when you don’t have the same transit options as Manhattan. Something has to give.

    (You do raise an interesting issue about the express bus, however. I always thought it was foolish during the Congestion Pricing fight to have the 8 dollar CP fare be *less* than the 10 dollar express bus fee. There is a lot of promise and potential with expanding express bus service that needs to be capitalized upon to win over the outer-outer boroughs.)

    I know Staten Island loves its little piece of suburbia in NYC. Fine. Then Staten Islanders should deal with the trade-offs and consequences of its decisions. You’re not going to see passenger rail on the North Shore, or “fast ferry” service, or whatever carrot is being dangled around these days until Staten Island makes some tough decisions about the way it chooses to grow and develop.

    As an aside, I should note that these problems are obviously not unique to SI and are the center of a very real transportation crisis that is beginning to unfold in this country…

  • Boris

    Marty,

    A bike might be a possibility. I will look into it next time. My parents will probably say I’m insane.

    Jason,

    I do find Molinaro’s plan rather shortsighted. I think we should go for the European model- a dense downtown area with less and less development as one goes away from it, which is the real “have cake, eat it too” plan. The downtown would have apartment buildings and offices concentrated around a bus and train station, for example. Those far away from it can have their lawns and backyards, but at a premium (downtown’s transit and entertainment options would raise the average real estate prices).

    On the other hand, there are plenty of well-connected, wealthy suburbs with no dense zoning. Case in point- Middletown, NJ, where I work. The McMansions go right up to the train station parking lot; there is no town center. I’m not saying it’s a good thing; it’s just that to have good transit one must have money and influence in politics, and Staten Island has neither.

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