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

Mayor de Blasio
Mayor de Blasio with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and Park Slope Parents founder Susan Fox at this morning’s announcement. Image via NYC Mayor’s Office

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 making either completely car-free.

“Today we’re taking a big step toward returning our parks to the people,” de Blasio said at a presser in Prospect Park this morning. “We’re creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone.”

For the last few summers, the city has kept cars out of the Central Park loop above 72nd Street. On June 29 that car-free zone will become permanent. The Prospect Park West Drive will go car-free July 6.

The road on the east side of Prospect Park — which is also the less affluent side of the park — will remain a traffic shortcut during the weekday morning rush, as will 72nd Street and the southwest segment of the Central Park loop. The Center Drive, linking Sixth Avenue to 72nd Street, will stay open to traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.

De Blasio framed the changes as the next step in the progression toward completely car-free parks. “A lot of people looked forward to this day and look forward to us taking further steps in the future,” he said.

For years, advocates have chipped away at traffic in both parks, and drivers have adjusted their behavior. “As we’ve gone through the stages, we’ve been pleasantly surprised that there haven’t been traffic impacts,” said de Blasio.

The expansion of car-free zones has also shrunk the level of traffic dramatically during the times when people are allowed to drive through the park loops. In 1991, said Trottenberg, traffic peaked at 2,500 cars per hour on the Central Park loop. Now the traffic volume is down to 300 to 400 cars per hour on most of the loop. On the west side of Prospect Park, there are now just 200 cars per hour.

But in City Hall’s estimation, traffic levels are not low enough to make the parks completely car-free. The south end of Central Park gets about 400 to 500 cars per hour, said Trottenberg, and there is twice as much traffic on the east side of Prospect Park as the west side. “For now, we don’t want to spill all those cars into the street,” she said.

Getting cars out of Central Park and Prospect Park entirely enjoys broad public support. Transportation Alternatives collected 100,000 signatures for a car-free Central Park in 2005, and all the community boards bordering the park voted to make the whole park car-free for the summer in 2011.

Tens of thousands of Brooklynites have signed on to make Prospect Park car-free. When de Blasio was in the City Council representing the 39th District, he led a contingent of four council members calling for a summer car-free trial.

Those campaigns still have a fight to wage after today’s announcement.

central_park_cars
On most of the loop, Central Park will be permanently car-free. From 72nd Street down, drivers will continue to put the squeeze on people walking, biking, running, and skating. Map: DOT
prospect_park_cars
In Prospect Park, cars will be gone from the west side but remain on the east side during the morning rush. Map: DOT
  • J

    This is a great step in the right direction! It’s interesting to hear that a bus lane extension is in the works for 5th Ave as well.

    The logic is for keeping the remaining sections open is pretty weak. I think if you give people a lot of warning and tell them that there may be congestion, that it would work easily. Most people wouldn’t like it, but it would work.

    I’m curious to see if there will be any design changes for the roadway as a result of getting rid of cars 24/7.

  • AlexWithAK

    Not sure about Central Park, but not likely for Prospect Park. They already reduced the car lanes to 1 there and widened the bike and pedestrian paths. They need the one car lane for service and emergency vehicles, though I’d argue they could further narrow it now.

  • AnoNYC

    More info on the 5th Ave bus lane? Does it currently terminate at 85th St? Cannot remember.

  • Reader

    One thing that could change is the placement of the traffic lights.

    There are some spots in the park where peds cross with no signal or marked crosswalk. That’s because the traffic engineers, in their infinite wisdom, never considered anything more than moving cars. That should change, and DOT and Parks should install raised crosswalks and pedestrian signals to match the desire lines you can see all over the place.

    Indeed, if the city closed the park to cars for good, all of the Grand Army Plaza entrance could be redesigned to make it safer for everyone.

  • Matthias

    I’ve certainly been waiting eagerly for this. I’ll never forget the day, not long after I moved to NYC, when I was biking through Central Park on a beautiful fall day. Some idiot in an SUV with NJ plates came roaring up the East Drive at about 60mph, blaring his horn and sending park users diving for safety. Car-free parks can’t come soon enough (and this includes the NYPD who drive on the narrowest pedestrian paths). Parks are for recreation, not a shortcut to the suburbs.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    would someone be so kind to explain ‘induced demand’ to Polly ?

  • Joe R.

    If they remove cars from the parks altogether, the traffic signals should go. The point of parks is to provide a respite from the usual stressful urban environment. This includes providing a break from mechanized forms of traffic control. In the handful of areas where there might be too many pedestrians and cyclists for “negotiating” right-of-way to work you should do exactly what the park’s original designer did and install bridges. There’s no reason either pedestrians or cyclists in a park should be seeing traffic signals.

  • Reader

    Well, you’d probably still need something to occasionally stop or slow down cyclists since crossing can be a little hairy at times. Whether that’s a smaller signal than currently exists or a raised crosswalk or other design is certainly up for discussion, but barring a massive redesign of the loop, you’d probably have to have something to give pedestrians a chance.

  • Joe R.

    Raised crosswalks are problematic and unnecessarily penalize recreational cyclists at times when pedestrians aren’t crossing. You could have on demand traffic signals in the short term at the few busier crossings but in the long run those should be replaced by bridges. Certainly most of the 46 traffic signals on the loop can go right now without affecting safety. If you can get the number of signals down to 5 or 6 in the short term, then zero as they’re replaced by bridges, that would be the best solution for everyone.

  • roguebagel

    So they’ll now be removing the traffic lights, right? Since there will no longer be any traffic?

  • Salts

    She is undoubtedly a smart and educated person, but I think she is trying to distance herself from JSK by attempting to appear more “reasonable” and less “anti-car” and “bike crazy.”

  • Matthias

    Seriously, “traffic levels are not low enough to make the parks completely car-free” is ridiculous. Ban the cars and you have zero car traffic.

  • Tyson White

    But only above 72nd? Isn’t it most crowded with people BELOW 72nd?

  • Tyson White

    It’s always safer no to act than to act. That’s how progress gets did!

  • rao

    But why do protected bike lanes disappear at intersections? Isn’t that where cyclists most need protection?

  • How about repurposing the car lane as a contra-flow bike lane?

  • Ari_F_S

    Bikes are traffic, or have you read Streetsblog before?

  • Ari_F_S

    I don’t like the idea of bridges. They would have to be fairly large (the roads still need to accommodate park trucks). And there would have to be a lot of them.

    I bike and walk in prospect park. The traffic lights don’t bother me.

    I do like the idea of on-demand signals for pedestrians.

  • FPPA

    The dirty little secret is that car free hours were practically eliminated in Prospect Park when the Lakeside parking lot was opened for the ice skating season (October to April). Drivers enter the park at Ocean Ave and Lincoln Rd all day every day to avail of free parking! Not to mention all the drivers who cut through the park illegally.

  • Matthias

    It begins right around 86th Street. The extension is definitely needed.

  • KeNYC2030

    The mayor says that past traffic restrictions haven’t had measurable impacts, and yet the city still doesn’t think traffic levels are low enough to make the parks completely car-free, even on a trial basis. As Jane Jacobs put it in regards to Central Park, “Isn’t it curious that traffic engineers are so loath to learn something new even after repeated demonstrations?”

  • Tyson White

    Good point. There’s actual risk and perceived risk. People tend to fear getting hit from behind in mid-block more than they fear getting run over at an intersection, despite that in reality getting hit from behind is rare. Protected bike lanes encourage biking among those who are afraid to ride in traffic. I personally have no problem riding in traffic, but when there’s a protected lane I feel more relaxed, I bike slower, and stop at red lights (insane, I know!).

    I also appreciate the separation from traffic because it distances me from the car tailpipes so I don’t breathe the fumes directly while I’m exerting my lungs. Also on hot days the cars exude a lot of heat which feels really horrible when I’m stuck next to a vehicle in traffic.

  • BBnet3000

    They need the one car lane for service and emergency vehicles

    I don’t see why those few vehicles can’t share the space with people on bicycles.

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