What’s the Status of Car-Free Central Park and Prospect Park in 2014?

Last year, the city announced that much of Central Park’s loop drives would go car-free all summer long. With temperatures warming, the park is again filling with people walking, jogging, and biking — all sharing space with car commuters looking for a rush-hour shortcut. Will it happen again — or expand — this year? Negotiations are underway to bring a car-free summer back to Central Park, and meanwhile it’s still an open question whether Prospect Park users will get similar summer traffic relief for the first time.

A pleasant, car-free Central Park. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr
Central Park could be pleasant and car-free all the time. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr

The movement for car-free parks has gained momentum and major political support after years of advocacy, yielding design changes to park roads and steady expansions of car-free hours in two of the city’s busiest parks.

The push for a car-free Central Park has been complicated of late by a de Blasio administration pledge to ban horse carriages and replace them with old-timey electric cars in the park. Last week, the Central Park Conservancy came out against the electric cars, saying they would “increase congestion” and “make the park less safe.” Cars in the park are tied with crowds as the top complaint of Central Park visitors, according to a 2011 survey by the conservancy [PDF].

Horse carriage operators have seized upon the car-free park message to argue against a ban on their industry. “As carriage drivers, our priority is safety,” said carriage industry spokesperson Christina Hansen in a statement released by the Teamsters union. “With tens of thousands of injuries caused by car crashes every year in New York City, why bring cars into Central Park at all times of day?”

The landscape has also shifted across the East River, where Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took over from car-free Prospect Park opponent Marty Markowitz. It remains to be seen, however, if Adams will become a champion of getting cars out of the park. His old state Senate district included the park, and he has a record of equivocating on the issue. “I would love, ideally, to close all our parks to vehicular traffic, but I don’ t want to do it in a manner that would put the surrounding communities into an environmental or traffic shock,” he told Patch in 2011.

Adams’s Manhattan counterpart, Gale Brewer, has a much more direct take on Central Park. “I remain committed to a permanent ban on cars in the park,” Brewer said in a statement. “In the meantime, an almost car-free park in the summer months is a great initiative and should continue.”

“We’ve been advocating for them to bring back the pilot this year,” said Eleni Bourinaris-Suarez, a spokesperson for City Council Parks Committee Chair Mark Levine, whose district abuts Central Park. “We have no reason to believe that they’re not going to do it again.”

“We’re in negotiations with Parks Department now, so it’s premature to comment,” said Marisa Maack, chief of staff to Council Member Helen Rosenthal, whose district includes Central Park and is a self-described “strong supporter” of closing its loop drives to cars. “Call me in a week or two,” Maack said.

The Parks Department and DOT have not responded to inquiries. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last week to “stay tuned” for an announcement about car-free parks.

  • Alex

    Prospect Park is poised to become car free round the clock. The car traffic in the park during the few hours it’s allowed is very low. I don’t have official numbers, but I’d bet it’s under a few hundred per hour at most. Anyone who thinks there would be a “traffic shock” by closing the park to cars is disillusion. Any remaining opposition comes from a few loud and well-connected voices. Central Park is a bigger challenge, but worth the fight.

  • BBnet3000

    Not only should they do it, but they should get Citibike at the same time. Get the Central Park Conservancy to pay for it (and maybe the Prospect Park Alliance), theyre very well funded.

  • BBnet3000

    Some of the same voices as the Prospect Park West fight, no doubt.

    Such as the former DOT commissioner who put in a few hundred miles of bike lanes in the door zone.

  • Nyckid

    It is sad that we are still arguing over this. Traffic studies have shown that banning cars in the park will NOT have a negative impact on traffic flow

  • Daniel

    Umm, the Prospect Park Alliance is adding a huge parking lot inside the park right now. They are planning to run the access road traffic across the loop seven days a week. This is very much against the wishes of the community that the parking lot will be dumping it’s traffic into (and onto an intersection already experiencing 2.48 crashes per month).

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/advocates-under-construction-parking-lot-prospect-park-destroying-parkland-article-1.1757404

    BTW The PPA will be giving a presentation on their plan Monday April 28th at Grace Reformed Church (mix at 6:30pm, business at 7:00pm).

  • Calvert Vaux

    We should not settle for another partial summer closing of Central Park. Every major player now supports a car-free park or a complete closing on a trial basis: the mayor, the City Council speaker, the chair of the Council’s Parks committee, the Council Member whose district encompasses the park, the Upper East Side Council Member whose district borders the park, the Manhattan Borough President, and all of Manhattan’s community boards. It doesn’t get any better than this. What are they waiting for — Robert Moses to rise from the grave and give it his blessing?

  • Eric McClure

    When the Prospect Park drives were closed for a month and a half following Hurricane Sandy, there was nary a peep about carmagedon, because no one noticed. Time to allow humans to use the park drives full time, sans cars.

  • red_greenlight1

    They’re doing some work on the Eastern side of the loop and they’ve reduced the size of both the walking lane and the bike lane. They should end car hours at least until the construction ends.

  • red_greenlight1

    What idiot thought this was a good idea?! A parking lot in a park surrounded by 9 train lines and 3 bus lines? Really WTF?!

  • Exactly!

  • Daniel

    The Alliance is replacing the parking lot that Robert Moses built in 1959 (since demolished). Iris Weinshall is on the board and is running for the chair position. I’m guessing the board just has a lot of rich old white folk who think there is some constituency for this atrocity outside they membership.

    http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/03/8542183/weinshall-running-chair-prospect-park-alliance

  • KeNYC2030

    Today is Earth Day. Could there be a better way for our city to commemorate it than to finally end the auto invasion of these two great parks and restore them to their originally intended users?

  • Jonathan R

    Prefer ending the auto invasion of Manhattan.

  • Reader

    Plus the parking is free! You would think that the PPA could justify charging for parking to a) minimize the number of people who drive to a park that’s surrounded by public transportation and b) fund maintenance and repair costs caused by cars in the park.

    No one, save perhaps the handicapped, should be allowed to drive to a park facility.

  • Jonathan R

    Ice hockey indicates lots of bulky equipment and early morning practices. Sounds like ample reason to drive.

  • Reader

    Ice hockey is pursued by a minority of the people who use the rink. For the most part it’s figure skating and other activities that only require a pair of skates. Lots of people rent skates on site.

    There’s very little reason to incentivize driving here. You could just as well argue that all of the ball fields should have parking because Little League coaches need to carry lots of bats, balls, and bases. Do we need parking at the barbecue areas so people can bring their coolers and picnic supplies? What about people who have to drive from places and bring their bikes to do laps. Do they get parking?

    It’s a park. People have figured out how to get to it for decades without a car.

  • Jonathan R

    To arrive at 5:45 am, it’s 12 minutes to the rink by car from Cranberry St, 40-45 minutes by bus or subway. Again, sounds like ample reason to drive, whether for hockey or figure skating.

    My opinion is that sports which demand private auto transport are not really suited to the urban environment, but that’s neither here nor there. The rink has been built, and parents will want to drive their kids there for early morning skating.

  • Reader

    Which is why I’m sure people would be happy to pay for parking, given the oppressive nature of hauling hockey equipment, if only the PPA had the courage to charge for it.

  • Jonathan R

    Perhaps you are referring to some idealized kind of “people” in this comment. I think parking for free would make motorists happier than paying for parking.

    But constructing a 120-spot parking lot in the middle of Prospect Park ought to anger the majority of Brooklynites, who don’t have cars, more.

  • Ian Turner

    I think his comment makes more sense if you read “happy” as “willing”. Obviously most individuals would be happier to shift the costs of their behavior onto others.

  • Kevin Love

    Even the most bulky of hockey equipment will take only a fraction of the cargo space on a typical cargo bike.

  • Jonathan R

    Kevin, what kind of cargo bike are you talking about? The Easton E300 36 x 16 x 16 Hockey Wheel bag, for instance, would take up the entire standard Bullitt cargo bike box, which is 28″ long, 15″ high, 19.5″ wide, and still hang out over the front wheel.

  • qrt145

    I fantasize about getting a cargo bike, but unfortunately I don’t have where to put it. I wouldn’t want to leave it on the street, and I don’t think it would fit in my building’s elevator (and that’s assuming I find a good spot to put it at home). I don’t have a car, but ironically it would be easier to find a place to store one safely!

    The good news is, I don’t play hockey.

  • Daniel

    There are better ways to solve that problem. We could add metered parking on Ocean Ave which would get you closer to the skating rink than the planned parking lot and would also solve a problem for residents of Ocean Ave who have trouble with loading and unloading. We could also add rental lockers at the skating rink so a lot of that hockey equipment could be stored on site.

  • The more I think about this the less happy I am.

    The lot itself is not that horrible. But the fact that so many cars are going to be crossing the Park Drive is really bad. Is there a traffic light there? Will they stop? Will cyclists and runners on the Park Drive stop when the cars have a green? This is gonna be really bad.

  • Kevin Love

    28″ by 15″ by 19.5″? I’ve bungeed larger items to my rear rack.

    For cargo bikes, I rather like bakfietsen like this:

    http://bakfiets.nl/eng/modellen/cargobike/premium/

    But there are a wide variety, as shown here:

    http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/international-cargo-bike-festival/

  • Jonathan R

    Your preferred bakfiets and the Bullitt have the same size boxes, so what’s the difference? Neither one will fit a hockey bag.

  • Kevin Love

    I don’t quite understand this comment. I have tossed much larger items into baxfietsen with plenty of room left over. I’ve even carried larger items on the rear rack of my regular bike. Not a big deal.

  • Raihan

    I know this car free conflict has been going on for several years but still none
    of the campaigns or opinions brought any changes. What do you think is the main reason behind it?

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