Central Park Drivers Get Bigger Holiday Gift Than Usual

Photo: Ken Coughlin.
Photo: Ken Coughlin

In what’s shaping up to be a yearly tradition, car-free hours in Central Park have been cut back for the holiday season. Each weekday this month, on the southeast corner of the park drive, the park’s pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers have three fewer hours of quiet and safety.

The stretch of the park drive between Sixth Avenue and Central Park South and E. 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue is already open to cars more than any other part of the park. Year-round, it’s open to cars from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m on weekdays. But between November 29 and December 30 this year, drivers have an extra three hours each day to use Central Park as a shortcut to the Upper East Side.

That means 2010 will actually be the second annual step backwards from the goal of a car-free Central Park. During the 2009 holiday season, the same stretch of road was opened to traffic until 9:00 p.m. For the two years before that, DOT had actually done away with the practice of imposing holiday hours to move more cars through the park.

Last year, Streetsblog reported that the decision to open up the park for longer wasn’t made by DOT, the agency in charge of the city’s streets, but rather by the NYPD.

Photo: Ken Coughlin.
Photo: Ken Coughlin

This year, the changes aren’t posted where vehicle hours are listed on either the Parks Department or Central Park websites, and the reduction in car-free time isn’t included in DOT’s annual holiday traffic plan [PDF]. The DOT press office referred our initial request to NYPD. We’re awaiting a response from the police.

At least this year, the city put up sufficiently visible signage alerting those on foot or a bike that they’re headed into traffic at hours when there normally isn’t any. Last year, the only signs were laminated 8½ by 11-inch flyers stuck to signpoles. One reader wrote in to say that the same flyers are back, and they’re just as hard to notice. This time, however, park users without an engine also merited the same electronic signs that alerted drivers of their extra hours.

  • MRN

    Mountain, meet molehill.

  • Let’s try to put it on our calendars for next November to head this off.

    Still, where was the community review of this plan? Was it presented to the community boards? I think it should be at least mentioned when people make claims about bike lanes being imposed by fiat.

  • This sucks.

  • Andrew

    What gives the NYPD the right to do this?

  • mike

    @Andrew,

    Nothing, probably. But who has the time/money to investigate and/or sue them?

    Of course, somebody could always file a FOIL request with the DOT and NYPD.

  • Hannah

    Adding insult to injury, the digital sign at the Sixth Avenue entrance misspells the park name: “Centeral” Park. This was the case when I saw it last week, any way.

  • I’m really worried this is going to result in a serious injury or death. This segment of the Loop is the most heavily contested. The roadway is at its narrowest here, with a single motor vehicle lane shared with pedicabs and handsome cabs. The “recreation lane” consists of a single bike lane with a narrow buffer in which the joggers typically refuse to yield any space to the cyclists. And the buffer is full of signs telling the cyclists to slow down that are themselves quite hazardous. And oh yeah, 99.9%+ of the cars are speeding.

  • I bicycled through that stretch of Central Park on my way uptown sometime after 9 p.m. last night and *wondered* why cars were driving through there. Whatever signage was present was minimal. This is a step backwards and not something we want. TA, how about a rally?

  • fdr

    “What gives the NYPD the right to do this?”

    The City Charter, Section 435: “The police department and force shall
    have the power and it shall be their duty to…subject to the provisions of law and the rules and regulations of the commissioner of traffic, regulate, direct, control and restrict the movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic
    for the facilitation of traffic and the convenience of the public as
    well as the proper protection of human life and health; remove all
    nuisances in the public streets, parks and places…”

    You can argue whether their specific policies accomplish these goals, but this is their basis. (PD would probably argue that closing the park to bikes meets the definition of “remove all nuisances”.)

  • Mike

    But “subject to the provisions of law and the rules and regulations of the commissioner of traffic” means that the NYPD’s decisions are supposed to be subordinate to the DOT’s policies.

  • Daniel Dunnam

    i was almost hit by a cab who came up behind me last night when riding thru this section of the park. i had no idea there were going to be cars in the park at 8:45pm and suddenly a whole bunch of cars came speeding up behind me. there was a carriage to my right and a jogger to my left, further complicating the situation. i did not see the lighted sign (shown in the post’s photo) that is there to alert me to this awful new change. where is that, cause i have ridden this route several times lately and never noticed it.

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