The Times Invites Drivers to Take a Spin Through the Central Park Loop

Say what you will about yesterday’s Corey Kilgannon piece extolling the “guilty pleasure” of driving on the Central Park loop, it’s refreshing to see the New York Times veil of objectivity stripped away, revealing the naked windshield perspective beneath.

I mean, here it is, raw and unfiltered. Driving on city streets is miserable (“the doldrums of Midtown traffic”), and…

As a reporter who covers stories all over the city and suburbs, I often need a car. When heading uptown from the paper’s newsroom in Midtown, I regularly find myself using the park drives.

Kilgannon’s elegy to Central Park motoring is several shades more reasonable than another classic in the windshield perspective genre: John Cassidy’s infamously irrational anti-bike treatise from this March. Where Cassidy, an economics writer at the New Yorker, came across as an entitled boor, utterly clueless that streets should not be designed to maximize the convenience of his evening Jaguar excursions, Kilgannon writes with awareness and remorse. Enjoy it while you still can, he says to Central Park motorists, we don’t belong here.

In his eagerness to share one last drive on the loop with other motorists, however, Kilgannon hands out instructions that will probably confuse anyone who actually takes him up on the offer:

Say you find yourself slogging up Avenue of the Americas, which ends — as well it should, that confounded, car-congested corridor — at 59th Street, the southern border of Central Park.

If it’s between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a weekday, you’re in luck: Drive right in, and you are beamed, Star Trek-style, from the doldrums of Midtown traffic into a bucolic, meandering, charming thoroughfare of trees and lawns and lakes.

It’s true that people are allowed to drive into the park during those hours, but only from that entrance at Sixth Avenue and 59th, and they can’t go north of 72nd Street unless it’s the p.m. rush. Try driving into the park at any other point during those times, and odds are pretty good that you’ll do it during car-free hours. Later on in the piece, Kilgannon lays out the full schedule of where you can drive on the park loop and when, which is still pretty complicated.

Shortly before I read the Kilgannon piece, we got a tip in the Streetsblog inbox that explains why the confusion needs to end. Reader Albert Ahronheim wrote:

About 2:15 pm today I was on my bike, slowly riding west on the 72nd Street cut-through (i.e., during car-free hours in that location), among let’s say dozens of cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers, joggers, etc., when I heard a car coming up behind me.  Annoyed as usual by this all-too-often situation, I turned my head to find out what parks emergency I’d have to get out of the way of, and instead, there was an ordinary-looking car (i.e., not parks, police, ambulance, etc.) approaching me quite briskly.

I started edging a bit to the left (no hurry, as far as I’m concerned) when suddenly the driver gunned his engine and passed me quite closely on my right.  Suddenly the driver was heading directly for a woman on a bike riding down the hill from the 72nd Street entrance.  She screamed, very much like you hear in a horror movie, and fell off her bike when she swerved right-then-left to try to get out of the guy’s way, while he accelerated and swerved around her and continued on up the hill toward the 72nd street entrance.

I happened to have my voice recorder with me and I quickly spoke the guy’s license # into it, asked the woman if she was OK (she was), and rode off to chase the guy.  I caught up with him turning left at CPW and yelled at him that I had his license #.  I followed to the next light, hoping to see a policeman.  When there was none, I rode back to talk to the woman.  She was gone and no one there seemed to have witnessed the incident.

I rode on to the meeting I’d been on my way to (now late) and realized that the “safety” of my voice recorder had been on and I hadn’t actually recorded the license #.  I then took off the safety and recorded the number I remembered and cursed myself for no longer being 100 percent sure of it.

On my way home at 4:15 I saw a police van parked at the side of the 72nd Street cut-through near 5th Avenue and told a policewoman the story.  Although she seemed sympathetic, at first she mentioned the possible extenuating circumstances. “Maybe he was authorized to be driving in the park.” To which I replied that if he was authorized, he still shouldn’t be driving recklessly in the park.  She nodded her agreement but told me there was nothing they could do about it anyway because they hadn’t witnessed it themselves.  She said that if the woman had been hurt then it would have been a hit-and-run and they could then use the license number to look for the guy. I said to her that this is why there shouldn’t be any cars in the park at all, and she replied, “Yeah, it would make our jobs so much easier.” I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that from other police, that they’d like the cars to be out of the park altogether,” and she nodded and said I was right.

Luckily no one was hurt.  Sad that this guy — a white man, gray short hair, about 70 — in his (sporty) very clean white car (I guess I’m a true livable streets advocate because I have no idea what make, model or year car it was) — sad that this guy won’t be called to account.  I do hope he’s shaking in his Corinthian leather bucket seat for a few days.

 

  • molly

    “…bucolic,
    charming, meandering thoroughfare…” indeed. 
    I was doing loops for the first time in the park this week
    and, as I was exiting right before 7am, when the traffic would have come
    roaring through, I thought of this gem from Randy Cohen in a Streetfilm:  “to see a car in the park is like seeing
    someone pelt the Mona Lisa with mud.”

  • If an editor on an assignment desk said, “Go get a car-sharing vehicle and drive through Central Park, then write about it,” and the reporter came back with Kilgannon’s take, it would never get published for lack of any actual details about how this would really be fun for anyone. In contrast, New York magazine this week
    gives Berlin visitors two internal-combustion powered options for
    entertainment, drive a Trabant along the old border between East and
    West Berlin, and drive a Russian tank on a closed course.

    Kilgannon’s piece only makes sense if you already own a car and you already drive it to work in midtown. What does it say about the Times that they see their readers as people who would “get” this perspective?

  • Anonymous

    You know what makes driving in midtown unpleasant?  cars
    You know what makes central park unpleasant? cars

    Central Park is supposed to be the one place in Manhattan where people of all income levels can come and relax without the negative trappings of urban life.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not getting the pleasure of going through a park in a sealed metal box.  A large part of the sensory experience are the smells, the sounds, the feel of the wind in your hair.  You get all this and more on a bike, but none of it in a car.  Even worse, you need to drive through crowded Manhattan streets to reach the park in the first place.  Driving in Manhattan is rarely faster than walking.  It’s a pointless thing to do from any rational perspective.  Maybe we should be talking about banning personal cars from all of Manhattan, not just Central Park.  In the scheme of things, they serve at best a niche transportation role, but make life miserable for the majority on non-motorists.

  • Mark

    Corey Kilgannon is typical of many drivers who are pretty oblivious to the people they negatively impact as they drive.   He probably disturbed over 100 people on his jaunt through Central Park, but he gives no thought to the welfare of others.   His drive through Central Park is a selfish act of which he should be ashamed.   The staff at the Times needs to be more self aware of how their own driving hurts other people in this city.  Ignorant selfishness is supposed to be the purview of the NY Post, but when it comes to driving much of the reporting from the Times is the same self centered stupidity wrapped in more complex prose.  

  • One obvious detail missing from Kilgannon’s essay is the fact that about 99.9% of the MV traffic on the Central Park Loop exceeds the 25 MPH speed limit (according to a Transportation Alternatives radar survey that’s not accessible on their site at the moment).  He may be the 1 in 1,000 motorists who stops to smell the roses, but the other 999 don’t.

  • You know, a slow drive through something like the loop is a pleasure. If they narrowed the loop enough, and put bollards on the edges to keep the prevailing speed at 20MPH or below, they could keep it without ruining the park for everyone else. 

  • You know, a slow drive through something like the loop is a pleasure. If they narrowed the loop enough, and put bollards on the edges to keep the prevailing speed at 20MPH or below, they could keep it without ruining the park for everyone else. 

  • Anonymous

    Mark — Get over it. You’re practically a parody of a busybody scold with disdain for everyone who doesn’t do what you say. Kilgannon’s piece was reasonable and open-minded. 

  • Anonymous

    Ain’t ever gonna happen. Congestion pricing? Yes, let’s hope so. But banning cars in Manhattan is as likely as your elevated bike lane scheme.

  • Anonymous

    Ain’t ever gonna happen. Congestion pricing? Yes, let’s hope so. But banning cars in Manhattan is as likely as your elevated bike lane scheme.

  • Joe R.

    If you banned cars from Manhattan, the need for elevated bike lanes pretty much vanishes.  You free up more room for both pedestrians and bikes.  You can also get rid of the plethora of traffic lights which are one of the major rationales for having elevated bike lanes in the first place.  Besides, banning cars makes sense on many levels.  If it was only for the convenience of cyclists, I would be against it, but pedestrians, the number one Manhattan street user by far, would be the primary beneficiaries here.  Why should the 99% of the people in Manhattan who don’t drive suffer through the massive problems the 1% driving in cars create?  I always thought majority rules in this country, except of course it doesn’t work that way when the minority are rich and well-connected.  That’s really what it is.  The well-to-do rich minority in Manhattan don’t wish to leave the comfort of their limos.  To that I say there exist plenty of other places in the US which are more than happy to cater to an auto-centered lifestyle.  NYC shouldn’t be one of them.

  • Joe R.

    If you banned cars from Manhattan, the need for elevated bike lanes pretty much vanishes.  You free up more room for both pedestrians and bikes.  You can also get rid of the plethora of traffic lights which are one of the major rationales for having elevated bike lanes in the first place.  Besides, banning cars makes sense on many levels.  If it was only for the convenience of cyclists, I would be against it, but pedestrians, the number one Manhattan street user by far, would be the primary beneficiaries here.  Why should the 99% of the people in Manhattan who don’t drive suffer through the massive problems the 1% driving in cars create?  I always thought majority rules in this country, except of course it doesn’t work that way when the minority are rich and well-connected.  That’s really what it is.  The well-to-do rich minority in Manhattan don’t wish to leave the comfort of their limos.  To that I say there exist plenty of other places in the US which are more than happy to cater to an auto-centered lifestyle.  NYC shouldn’t be one of them.

  • Anonymous

    The speed limit is 25 MPH and everyone just goes the speed they want.  A vast majority speeds.

    http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/releases/168

    Agian more cars go 80% OVER the speed limit than go at or below the limit.

  • Annie

    I’m not sure why falling off your bike to avoid being killed by a car is not enough of an injury to warrant looking for the creep.  I guess we need to wait until he actually kills somebody before cops are willing to do anything.

  • Albert

    “If they narrowed the loop enough, and put bollards on the edges to keep
    the prevailing speed at 20MPH or below, they could keep it without
    ruining the park for everyone else.”

    No they couldn’t.

  • Andrew

    What makes you think cops care even if he kills somebody?

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