Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. “I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

The campaign to achieve car-free parks goes back at least to the 1960s. Ten years ago this month, Clarence Eckerson Jr. debuted what he considers his first Streetfilm: a 20-minute epic about why the Central Park loop should not be a shortcut for drivers. A bill covering both Central Park and Prospect Park was introduced by then-Council Member Gale Brewer in 2011, but died in committee. It was co-sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has since ascended to the speakership.

With a bill once again before the City Council, the de Blasio administration has been cagy so far. On Tuesday, reports Capital New York, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said, “I believe it is something that very soon we’ll have to weigh in with a response. At this point, it’s something I haven’t given enough thought to.”

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last month that she has heard the call for car-free parks loud and clear, but argued for more study and consultation with community boards. Those community boards, incidentally, lined up in support of a car-free park very recently.

“The mayor has long been a proponent of reducing traffic in our parks,” said City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “We look forward to closely reviewing the Council’s proposal.”

  • The fact that cars routinely used Central park as a shortcut was one of the most bizarre things I learned about NYC. How much more of a slave to the automobile do you have to be, for you to turn over your parklands to it.

  • KeNYC2030

    A good time to recall the words of the late architecture critic Jane Holtz Kay:

    “Do we really have to say again, and yet again, that automobiles deteriorate and degrade not only the park but our lives and larger landscape? In this period of evolving environmental consciousness, in an era in which cities become more and more attractive as recreation centers, and an epoch when sprawl and global warming require us to enhance our greenery and livability, it is worse than myopic of city officials to allow New York’s great public space to become a brutalized race track.”

  • Reader

    And don’t forget Jane Jacobs.

    “I enthusiastically endorse the campaign to close Central Park’s loop drive to regular automobile traffic. We had the same sort of fight in Washington Square Park in the late 1950s and in my neighborhood here in Toronto a couple of years ago: same prediction of traffic chaos, same result of no chaos, diminished traffic counts and no counts increased elsewhere in consequence. 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.”

  • Ian Turner

    Adams certainly seems to have made a 180 on livable streets issues. It’s hard to believe this is the same person:
    http://www.hawthornestreet.com/2008/05/state-senator-a.html
    https://www.streetsblog.org/2007/05/02/this-is-how-state-senator-eric-adams-celebrates-bike-month/

  • Albert

    Regarding the unfounded fears that closing the loop to regular motor vehicle traffic 24/7/365 would cause “carmageddon,” it seems to me that the data is already in:

    Several times a year the loop is closed to cars, including during rush hour, for operas, concerts and, most significantly, for the NYC Marathon and its preparations and aftermath. Even though drivers have little or no notice of these temporary closings, even then the city sees no “traffic nightmare” (no worse than usual) as a result. With time for drivers to get used to new traffic patterns, certainly there will be no unacceptable traffic impact with a permanently car-free loop. And with the “draw” of a Central Park shortcut gone, it’s likely that traffic around the park will even lessen once the loop is restored to its original condition—free of motor vehicles.

  • BBnet3000

    A car free trial next week? Awesome.

    Oh, next summer? Well, see you next June I guess.

  • JamesR

    Meh, I’m all for getting the cars out of the parks for good, but this is hyperbole. Cars are just a tool, and they’re the wrong tool for urban transportation. Outside of cities and areas connected by transit, nothing else is as good as cars at dealing with the last-mile problem.

  • BBnet3000

    I agree with you totally but I’d point out that bikes, walking and transit can actually do a lot of these trips in well-planned suburbs.

    If it makes the difference between having a “family car” (a phrase that used to exist in America, though I am aware of the bad gender politics built into that to some degree) and having 2 or more cars per household (once the kids are teen or college age) its a pretty big difference.

  • ralph

    I’m not sure that sufficient studies have been done on not driving cars through parks. We’re really playing with fire here. I can only hope that local government agencies will spend a minimum of 15 years studying the idea of proposing a study that would ask the hypothetical question of what parks without traffic might look like. Only then should we start to have discussions about potentially introducing legislation that would permit the planning of a one-week trial in which people can enjoy the park without traffic between noon and 1pm.

  • Tony Brooklyn

    While we’re “studying” things, let’s not study *only* car traffic changes. Let’s look at foot traffic changes, like folks who feel unsure about dodging traffic in the loops, who will now feel comfortable walking the park. Let’s also measure EMS response times before the loop closures and after. And of course compliance: the rate of drivers who cut through the park anyway.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Will City Hall and DOT Finally Commit to Car-Free Parks This Summer?

|
Spring is here, and that means the loops in Central Park and Prospect Park are increasingly crowded, with cyclists, joggers, and walkers squeezed by rush-hour traffic. Will the de Blasio administration finally make the parks car-free this summer? Last year, DOT repeated the same partially car-free regime in Central Park that the Bloomberg administration introduced in 2013. While the loop north of […]

De Blasio Gets More Cars Out of Central Park and Prospect Park

|
Starting in a few weeks, people will be able to enjoy the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street and the west side of Prospect Park year-round without having to worry about motor vehicle traffic, Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The changes will significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in both parks while stopping short of […]

Car-Free Parks: The Anticipation Builds

|
When City Council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal withdrew a bill that would have made the entire Central Park loop car-free for three summer months, the assumption was that City Hall was preparing to lead on the issue. “The council members have been working with the administration on this, and things are moving forward outside of the legislative process,” […]

Gale Brewer Introduces Bill to Make Central Park, Prospect Park Car-Free

|
Upper West Side City Council Member Gale Brewer introduced legislation today that would restore Central and Prospect Parks to their original car-free status. Brewer’s bill would ban private vehicles from using the park drives in either park; official vehicles would still be allowed to use the roads. Brewer’s legislation would also commission a study examining […]