Eyes on the Street: The Part of Central Park That’s Only for Cars

Instead of making the park car-free, DOT's pedestrian safety improvements marked off space only for cars. Photo: Stephen Miller
DOT’s recent changes to the Central Park Loop, intended to improve pedestrian space, include these markings to designate who belongs where. The safety barrier in the background is removed when cars are allowed in the park. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Central Park loop now has a 20 mph speed limit, new lane markings, and shorter pedestrian crossings during car-free hours. The changes, implemented last week, came in response to two pedestrian fatalities in separate bicycle collisions over the summer. The park’s traffic signals remain unchanged, and the park is still a shortcut for taxis and car commuters during certain hours.

One change in particular should help galvanize the car-free park movement — the text “CARS ONLY” has been added in giant highway-scale type to the lanes where motor vehicles are allowed.

New markings indicate lower speed limits in advance of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller
New markings urge slower speeds ahead of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD has installed portable electronic signs telling park users that the loop’s speed limit has now dropped from 25 to 20 mph. Speed limit signage throughout the park has been replaced, as well. And as loop drive users approach crosswalks, new signage and road markings recommend traveling at 10 mph at the approach to crossings. New signage and barriers have been installed at some crosswalks to mark the pedestrian crossing.

In case it wasn't clear enough who belongs in Central Park. Photo: Stephen Miller
In case it wasn’t clear enough. Photo: Stephen Miller

During car-free hours, a barrier and sign are brought onto one of two car lanes south of 72nd Street, narrowing the crossing distance for pedestrians.

  • Jay

    I’m still not completely clear from reading this article or from the comments: if you ride in the “only cars” lane when there are no cars in the park (other than the occasional official vehicle) then are you breaking the law and can you be ticketed?

  • “Community buy-in” and “process” is code for seeking approval from drivers when parking spaces may be taken away or lanes may be narrowed. It’s doublespeak for giving community boards – and not actual community members – veto power over life-saving traffic-calming projects.

    Taking things away from cyclists and pedestrians requires no community process whatsoever.

  • Jay

    And another question, does this apply throughout the entire loop, even in sections where non-official cars aren’t ever allowed? I don’t ride that much in Central Park these days but it seems like that’s still a pretty large percentage of the loop. Are they saying that this has been the law all the time and now they are going to enforce it? Is this supposed to solve something? What exactly?

  • It’s Hurting My Eyes

    I presumed that whatever car-inclusive ‘solution’ the Park had coming it’s way would fall short of what I would have liked to see, but I was certainly not prepared for failure of quite this magnitude. It’s a travesty, and an incredibly ugly one at that.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, exactly. For the same reasons, traffic signals don’t belong in a park either. My jaw dropped to the ground when I heard the park drive has something like 47 traffic signals. That’s one every 700 feet or so. No street anywhere should have traffic signals that often, much less one in a park.

  • kindannoyed

    I live by central park, and use it several times a week as means to commute by bike, and recreate by bike. Following these changes I have asked officers in the park to explain these new signs to me, to further explain the the rights of way rules, and to explain how they plan to police the loop. The best advice I got was to attend the meetings open to the community at the 86th Traverse Precinct in the park. After asking several officers, and calling the Precinct and leaving messages, I have still not received an answer on when the meetings are. Anybody know? Would my time be better served elsewhere; Like reading a good book?

  • Will Schneider

    i waiting for a “everything goes lane,” when will that be implemented?!

  • Cold Shoaler

    But the right-hand land is obstructed by a police barricade at crosswalks now. So Park vehicles will move into the other left CARS ONLY lane and then back? Seems like the right-hand CARS ONLY lane becomes useless during non-car hours, and the remaining CARS ONLY lane will be the Parks vehicles only lane the rest of the time.

  • Bobberooni

    It’s supposed to prevent a repeat of the recent bike-ped accident. You see, he was biking in the “wrong” lane — meaning the lane where 2-ton hunks of steel could be hurtling down the road at 25mph — when he collided with a ped. If bikes are kept properly in “their” lane (for the convenience of drivers of course), then pedestrians wandering aimlessly in the “cars only” lane while texting won’t have to worry any more about getting hit by some crazy biker.

  • Bobberooni

    Yes, let’s put a bike rack in the “cars only” lane and chain up!

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I believe that other than the speed limit, no other rules have changed from before. Previously: when Park Drive is open to cars, cyclists must remain in their designated lanes. When Park Drive is closed to cars, cyclists can use the travel lane only for temporary passing, according to the NYCDOT, but must return to the bike lane.

    So in answer to your question: It is possible you could be ticketed if you do not return back into the bike lanes. To cross over to pass, turn, or to avoid an obstacle you should be fine. Again, other than the speed limit and a shorter crosswalk, I don’t believe anything else has changed.

  • JamesR

    OMG, This can’t be real. April 1st is still months away! This is no longer JSK’s NYCDOT, that’s for sure.

  • JudenChino

    We have all these fucking traffic engineers and they come up with a plan that could’ve been designed by Chris Christie’s croonies on the back of a cocktail napkin. “I’ve got an idea . . . how about we . . .!”

  • JudenChino

    Clearly wasn’t designed by actual users of the Drive. Such a fail.

  • It’s Hurting My Eyes

    Maybe we’ll be lucky and old man winter will wipe this all away. Either that or we’ll at least have confirmation that the response from DOT on bike lane restriping is straight BS.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The problem remains: where and under what circumstances can people ride bicycles fast for exercise, training or sport without endangering others or themselves?

    The city seems to be trying to restrict it without restricting it and without finding an alternative place to put it.

  • lop

    To what extent does it have to be accommodated? What’s wrong with racing up a bridge, cruiding down and then turning around to do so again? Or using a velodrome?

  • lop

    Cold weather just means the polymer tape won’t last long right? For a bike lane, rather than paint it now and then again next year they decided to do without for a season or two to save money.

    After a couple deaths in CP they wanted something right away. It doesn’t matter if they need to redo it next year. They might not care next year and just let the markings fade.

    They take the CP deaths seriously and want to do something, or at least look like they are doing something. The real issue is why don’t they see every street death this way?

  • ralph

    Thanks Polly Trottenberg for reminding everyone that Central Park is NOT a refuge from traffic, noise, and pollution.

  • Solo500

    Cars have no place in Central Park.

  • Joe R.

    To what extent do cars have to be accommodated in Central Park? Or for that matter in NYC? We’ve made the streets hellholes just to accommodate the minority who drives, yet we focus on people who like to ride bikes fast as if they’re some rolling cancer which needs to be driven from the city.

    The type of person who enjoys fast road riding is not going to enjoy racing up or down a bridge, or going in circles on a velodrome (of which only one exists in NYC anyway). Larry asks a perfectly legitimate question. If we had a decent bike network like the Netherlands, complete with bicycle superhighways, then you have something useful for fast riding during off-peak hours, perhaps even all day long if there isn’t much bicycle traffic. That same infrastructure also serves its primary purpose of fostering utility cycling.

    NYC might remember many of these people who like riding $10,000 bikes fast also tend to be professionals who pay a lot of taxes. From where I stand it doesn’t seem like they’re getting a whole lot for their money. Central Park has been made more and more worthless from a training standpoint, first with the red light tickets, and now with all these other changes. I know these types of cyclists aren’t particularly popular here because they don’t ride heavy Dutch bikes at a Streetsblog approved 8 mph, but to me it’s certainly feasible for NYC to accommodate their needs. That’s doubly true because the same infrastructure which could accommodate them will also accommodate a whole range of utility cyclists.

    Of course, we think slapping a little paint on a street makes bikes infrastructure. And DeBlasio wants to double bike mode share by 2020? At this rate he’ll cut it in half instead.

    Really, I’m very, very disappointed. Gridlock Sam made a bunch of suggestions for Central Park which would have made much more sense than this Orwellian nightmare.

  • Joe R.

    In a nutshell, here’s the answer to your last question:

    Death caused by bike: OMFG, those spandex-wearing energy-bar fueled loonies are a menace to life and limb! How dare they even exist! We need to do everything we can to wipe this scourge from the face of the Earth.

    Death caused by car: Move along now, nothing to see here, accidents happen you know.

  • jt

    A small extent. The same way the city provides ball fields and swimming pools for sports. It’s not an unreasonable request – if we believe participatory sports is a good thing – which public policy in general seems to have accepted – then having one place (Kissena veolodrome) in the whole city to do it seems bizarre. Have a few miles in each boro.

    I’m a moderately athletic cyclist, and in Central Park now, if I pedal down every hill with moderate effort, I’m breaking the law.

    Also, what Joe R. said.

  • Andres Dee

    Silly lawyerer! Don’cha know only bicycler-pededestrian-transit projects need community input and review? Why do you think rail lines spend decades on the drawing board, while highway projects pop up in the dead of night?

  • It’s Hurting My Eyes

    I’ll just add that the Kissena veolodrome is inadequate in both quantity and *quality*. It’s a mediocre track at best.

  • qrt145

    I’ll add even more: velodrome racing is a completely different sport than road racing. Would you tell a cross-country skier to go train in an indoor ski slope?

  • JohnA

    I think that people who want to ride fast laps in CP have to face the fact that powerful constituencies of the park just don’t want you to do that. The loop is the perfect length for lap cycling, and it has just enough hills to keep it interesting, but, sorry, it’s not a cycling facility. As someone who once really enjoyed lap cycling (but gave up because of overcrowding a long time ago), I’ve moved on (and over the GWB).

    I’ve been riding a bike in Manhattan (recreationally, athletically, commuteratively, fecklessly, etc.) since the early 70s, including in CP. CP is only suitable for commuting and feckless cycling now, and that has been the case for the better part of 20 years (the beginning of the end was when the first roller blade found the park). These changes in striping and rules will have no impact on the vast majority of cyclists who are of the commuterative and feckless varieties, and these changes are obviously designed to restrict cycling to those forms. The City may some day decide to accommodate more racer-ish modes of cycling, but it won’t be in CP.

  • qrt145

    I don’t race, and only use CP for commuting and sometimes for what you might call feckless cycling, but from what I’ve heard racer-ish cycling is doable as long as you do it at the right time of day or in the “right” weather, when the park is practically empty.

  • JudenChino

    Oh, but those same fucks will argue that you need ULURP review and Environmental Impact Statements for bike lanes.

  • matt

    so they’ve shortened the ped crosswalk during “cycling” hours and kept it long for car hours – brilliant – we all know bikes are WAAAY more dangerous to peds than cars.

  • mrtuffguy

    How about buying a heavier bike? I challenge anyone to hit 25 mph on my old Schwinn. You want exercise- that will do the job!

  • Don’t blame her; blame her boss, the mayor. Sadik-Khan was a genius; but even she as DOT commissioner couldn’t have done anything if she hadn’t been appointed by and strongly backed by a mayor who agreed with her vision.

    The golden era of Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan is gone; and it is never coming back. We have to understand that the last of the Bloomberg plans which were realised during the first few months of this year mark the all-time high point in our progress; that is as good as it’s ever going to be. As time passes, we’ll only see further erosion of the gains made during that period.

  • Andres Dee

    Exactly.

  • JudenChino

    That unfortunately is the truth. BdB supposedly has progressive bona-fides but he seems to resemble the median Park Slope car owner frustrated by poor parking options.

    To even have the drivers’ as a consideration for CP redesign for safety is just fucking insulting.

    Bloomberg really was great on liveable streets and he wasn’t afraid to defend it. I’ve never seen BdB defend any liveable streets initiative. Just bullshit parsing and #VisionZero without substance.

    I wish there was some major transpo conferences in which they just shamed NYC for their appropriation of “VisionZero.” It’s really fucking insulting that they apply broken windows to bikes/peds and call it vision zero while bending over backwards to keep traffic moving while ignoring the massive volume of road violence on our streets.

  • Joe R.

    For some people part of the appeal isn’t just the workout, but the speed resulting from the effort. That’s why many racers and serious amateurs do everything they can to cheat the wind. If you’re just interested in a workout, a stationary exercise bike will do just fine. There’s a lot of good reasons besides exercise behind road riding. I personally like it all. The sights and sounds of the city, the sensation of speed, the wind in my hair and my ears. That all makes it interesting enough so I keep coming back for more. Until I discovered cycling as a teenager, no other physical activity held my interest for very long. Now over 36 years later I’m still at it, although this year I haven’t had as much time as I might have liked to ride. I’ll probably still make 1,000 miles and change for the year, which is horrible for me but not horrible in general.

    By the way, I hit 30 mph on my Dad’s old 3 speed upright bike once, so it is possible but not easy to get decent speed out of a heavy bike.

  • JamesR

    You know what… I read this, and think about all of the advocacy work – all of the contentious and excruciating late night CB meetings, all the hard won victories – and to see that progress undermined by a new administration after so many people have lost (and continue to lose) their lives is just too much to bear. If this is the new normal, maybe it’s time to skip town. It’s straight up depressing.

  • Thats true

  • JohnA

    Racing groups and really dedicated athlete-cyclists ride fast laps before 7 AM, and that works well for them. But pretty much any other time, the park is too crowded and/or there’s too much encroachment by other modes of use on the bike lanes for fast laps.

    There actually was a time when it was more practical to do fast laps during mid-day, or even after work because CP was relatively empty at any time other than weekend afternoons. That was the silver lining to the park being a much less attractive and safe place to be overall, but those days (for better or worse) are long gone.

  • Matt

    And when cars aren’t in the park, instead of making use of that lane, they just condense park real estate for everyone else. Makes plenty of sense!

  • will

    and when there is no cars you have to stop at 47 lights, great work DOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Suspend-the-lights-in-Central-Park-when-closed-to-vehicular-traffic/152453181477814

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