Manhattan Community Board 9 became the latest to endorse a car-free Central Park trial last night. By a vote of 32-9 with five abstentions, the board overwhelmingly overturned the 2-1 vote of its transportation committee, which had been the only committee in the borough not to endorse the plan thus far.
CB 9 is the fourth full board to vote in favor of taking automobiles off the Central Park loop drive for a trial period starting this summer, joining CBs 5, 7 and 8. In addition, committees from CBs 1, 10 and 11 have also endorsed the plan.
Before the meeting started, City Council Member Robert Jackson announced that he was in support of the trial, though not ready to take cars off the loop drive permanently. “I’m willing to try anything,” Jackson said.
Brad Taylor, a board member, explained the importance of taking cars off the loop to the West Harlem community. If the drive isn’t closed, he said, “traffic that wants to cut across to Midtown will be coming through our community. If they don’t have that option, they’ll stay where they are on the East Side or the West Side.”
Car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin cited a 2007 survey that found one third of the drivers on the Central Park loop came from the Bronx, ten percent from New Jersey, and six percent from Westchester. That adds up to 1,200 to 1,800 cars per day “that would not be on Harlem streets if it were not for the availability of the Park Drive,” he said. “Harlem has the most to gain from this trial.”
Said Lenna Nepomnyaschy, a long-time resident of the community district, in support of the proposal: “Having cars in the park is unbelievably horrible to see. All of a sudden the cars come in, there’s honking, there’s exhaust, there’s anger. There’s just not enough space for everyone.”
In order to ensure that the trial provides information that is as accurate as possible, the board amended the resolution to request that the car-free period extend sixty days after Labor Day, in order to be able to measure the effect of the closure on heavier traffic days.