Summer Streets and (Mostly) Car-Free Central Park: Same As Last Year

It's back, but not bigger: Summer Streets and a mostly car-free Central Park will return this summer, as smaller car-free streets events in all five boroughs continue to grow. Photo: DOT
It’s back, though not bigger: Summer Streets and a mostly car-free Central Park will return this summer (sorry, Prospect Park), and smaller car-free streets events in all five boroughs continue to grow. Photo: DOT

Six years ago, when Summer Streets was introduced, the New York Times asked: Will it work? This year, the question is: Why isn’t the city doing more of it?

The ciclovia, which attracted 300,000 people over three Saturdays last August, will mark its seventh year by returning to the East Side on August 2, 9, and 16 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The event brings car-free streets, art, and activities to almost seven miles of Park Avenue and Lafayette Street between 72nd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Like last year, there will also be by a completely car-free loop drive in Central Park north of 72nd Street, removing car traffic from that section of the park 24 hours a day from Friday, June 27 to Labor Day.

Trottenberg said that after this summer, the city will look at expanding Summer Streets and car-free hours in both Central Park and Prospect Park, which was left out of today’s announcement.

“I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are interested in making both parks a lot more car-free, and I can tell you we’re working on it,” Trottenberg said, adding that traffic signal or engineering changes might be required because traffic picks up after Labor Day. “We would love to expand the program,” she said. “You just have to make sure you have a good plan to accommodate that.”

If Trottenberg decided to make the park truly car-free, she would have the backing of longtime car-free park supporter, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “New Yorkers have enthusiastically embraced having a car-free park in summer — and the city should take steps to make Central Park car-free year-round,” Brewer said in a statement. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams says DOT has not discussed a car-free Prospect Park with him this year, but he would welcome expanded car-free hours in the park in the future.

Expanding Summer Streets, which already receives corporate sponsorship, would likely require a bigger commitment from the city. “It takes a lot of funds,” Trottenberg said. “We have to work closely with the NYPD. It’s a lot of work to close down the streets, and to their credit, they come to the table and help us with this just out of their own resources.”

Trottenberg also trumpeted the Weekend Walks car-free streets events by neighborhood groups, like  “Boogie on the Boulevard,” organized in part by the Bronx Museum of Art. The DOT website lists 32 events in all five boroughs between May and September, up from 23 last year and 18 in 2010.

As the largest car-free streets event in New York, Summer Streets will feature attention-grabbing public art exhibits. The Park Avenue tunnel, which featured a light installation last year, will host a sound exhibit by Norwegian artist Jana Winderen this year. If that isn’t enough, 91 trumpeters will line Park Avenue between 45th and 72nd Streets playing an original composition by musician Craig Shepard. And of course, the zip line will return to Foley Square.

Trottenberg said she would ride the zip line and would try to convince Mayor de Blasio to try it, as well. “You don’t have many chances for zip lines in New York City,” Trottenberg said. “I just committed, so now I have to do it.”

  • BBnet3000

    A car-free Central and Prospect Park with cycling in both directions on the loops would be amazing.

    For expansion, why dont they consider a highway like the FDR drive? They manage to close a section of highway in central Paris on Sundays (year round) with 0 cops, and a few dozen plastic barriers. Its way cheaper to do it on a limited access road.

  • Eric McClure

    I do hope Commissioner Trottenberg will take a hard look at a car-free trial for Prospect Park before too long. There was absolutely no outcry about traffic on adjacent streets when the Prospect Park Drive was closed for several weeks in the wake of Hurricane Sandy – and that was in the fall, and with mass transit at less than normal operating capacity.

    Let’s shut down the park to cars next summer – I’m willing to bet that the results will support a full, permanent closure.

  • I’d like DOT to reconsider how they frame these events. The streets aren’t “closed” during Summer Streets. They are open to thousands of people who typically are banished to the margins. Same with parks. We wouldn’t be closing them to cars, but opening them up to their rightful owners: people.

    Part of the purpose of Summer Streets is to show New Yorkers what’s possible and to expose the pent-up demand for more space to walk, bike, and roam. Language can influence that.

  • Jeff

    I like how a bunch of happy people riding bikes and eating ice cream requires a stepped-up police presence, but thrusting around two-ton vehicles at high speeds… meh, business as usual!

  • Guest

    Exactly. This daily version of “Summer Streets,” known by its shorter name of just “Streets,” happens largely without police supervision.

  • lop
  • JK

    Love this! But, the semi-car-free Central Park remains a bit of a mess. Park users get funneled into a narrow lane at the south end of the park, especially where 6th ave enters the loop. Unfortunately, this narrowed bike/ped lane also happens to be where there are the most bike/ped in the park. Would be very nice to try a completely car-free park for one full-week in August. (As to Prospect, should have been care free long ago. Lots of good alternatives for motorists.)

  • BBnet3000

    Agree, during the last summer streets I noticed a lot of signs that said “street closed” while there were thousands of people on each block.

    Something being used by 10 or 100 times as many people as normal is a different definition of “closed” than i usually use.

  • SheRidesABike

    Likewise, Central Park is shut for a week (or possibly two?) before the marathon every fall. No complaints.

  • SheRidesABike

    I find it hard to believe that the volume of auto traffic in either park is high enough to require new traffic signal patterns. There are certainly plenty of ways to get around Central Park when traveling by car, and it’s not as if all the car traffic is coming from and going to the same entrances and exits.

  • Or consider that at least 50% of the motor vehicle flow on the Central Park loop is taxis. So the city is taking the park away from the people and artificially lowering the taxi fares by creating a shortcut at the same time. Who benefits but Ferdinand’s typical taxi rider?

  • red_greenlight1

    Prospect Park really needs to be car free! Their doing some work and have reduced the size of the Pedestrian and Bike lanes. I no longer feel safe using the park’s main loop during the AM car hours.

  • RT80

    The fact that cars are allowed in Central and Prospect parks is mind blowing. These are parks! The entire point is for people in a crowded city to have just one little refuge from traffic and pollution and noise. But they ruin it for everyone who wants to jog, walk, rollerskate, bike etc so that a handful of drivers can take a little shortcut? Insane. And why does Trottenberg talk about it like it’s a whole engineering project to close the parks to cars, requiring studies and trials and plans? Just leave the barriers up and it’s done. Unbelievable!

  • Daphna

    CORRECTION: Summer Streets is three SATURDAY (mornings) in August, not Sundays.
    The police presence at summer streets is massive overkill. That event does not have to cost so much in police manpower. There do no need to be 4 NYPD personnel at each intersection! They could basically just position the barriers to close the streets and then remove them later. The rest of what the NYPD do at summer streets is unnecessary (and silly).
    I would like it if summer streets could last through the afternoon – at least to 5pm. 7am-1pm is too early for many people!!!!!

  • Brad Aaron

    Corrected. Thanks.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Central Park car free only north of 72nd? The highest concentration of pedestrians in the park is south of 72nd!

  • KeNYC2030

    Memo to Commissioner Trottenberg: “A trial, with traffic counts on the Central Park perimeter streets, will be more persuasive than any amount of talk, letter-writing, resolutions, and other endless wheel-spinning.” — Jane Jacobs, 2002.

  • Why on earth does this still end at 1pm? Who is awake before noon anyway?

  • Tyler

    What exactly happens at 1:00pm that extending Summer Streets past the 6-hour mark would be excruciatingly impossible?! Would the city fall apart, commerce grind to a halt, if they made this a 12- or even 18-hour event?

    Oh right, is it because of the unnecessary expense of the massive police presence? Somehow (tens of?) thousands of people go to Central Park every weekend, but that seems to work out fine with almost no visible police presence… let some kids run around on pavement and it’s a highly volatile situation!

    I live in Brooklyn, so I’m not the target audience for this… but if I want to check it out, hang out, have some fun… it’s basically over and traffic is back to normal by the time I get there (after a leisurely Saturday breakfast, of course).

  • Andrew

    And how about Sunday as well?

  • thatgirlinnewyork

    Too right! And not for nothing, but a couple of studies have been done, and another presented to City Council by the traffic commissioner in London that showed little to no impact to surrounding streets if we implemented it year-round.

    I volunteered for Transportation Alternatives’ petitioning work to get cars out of Central and Prospect Park for years. Ironically, now that they have more political muscle than ever, they are dead silent on the hundreds of thousands of signatures collected on their behalf. Someone’s got to them!

  • thatgirlinnewyork

    It’s absolute nonsense. Transportation Alternatives used to make this the centerpiece of their work for years. Hundreds of thousands of supportive signatures later, they no longer talk about it.

    Studies were presented to the Council on this already; someone needs to grow a pair.

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