Central Park Above 72nd Street Is Now Car-Free Forever

Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot more elbow room.

Officials and advocates celebrated the permanent expansion of the park’s car-free zone under sunny skies this morning. While traffic is still allowed in the heavily-used southern section of Central Park, today’s ceremony marks a big step on the path to completely car-free parks.

“This is a great day in Central Park,” said Douglas Blonsky, president and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy. “The conservancy for 35 years has been fighting to get cars out of the park and to see this happen is awesome.”

The changes, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month, build upon the gradual expansion of car-free hours that advocates have fought for since the 1960s, when the loop was overrun by traffic at all hours, every day.

Effective today, the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street is permanently car-free, except for emergency and service vehicles [PDF]. In Prospect Park, the West Drive will go car-free next Monday, July 6 [PDF]. Traffic will continue to be allowed at various hours on the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street, and during morning rush hour on the East Drive in Prospect Park.

“It’s terrific that we’re getting cars out of the park for the north side of the loop,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who co-sponsored car-free parks legislation with Council Member Mark Levine before the de Blasio administration took up the issue earlier this year. “I think we have a little bit of work to do to get [cars] out of the south side. I think that’s where the challenge really is. So we have some good work ahead of us to get that done.”

The park is most crowded south of 72nd Street. That area, where the loop widens from one car lane to two, also has the highest levels of motor vehicle traffic, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. She hopes the new car-free zones will further reduce traffic and tee up a completely car-free park.

“What we’ve found over time as we’ve closed more and more entrances in the park, the traffic volumes have gone down,” she said this morning near 92nd Street. “We all hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, we will have a press conference 20 blocks south of here.”

Supporters of car-free parks are going to keep the pressure on. “Allowing cars in the park is actually increasing congestion in the city,” said Manhattan Community Board 7 member and longtime car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin. “It’s drawing cars to Midtown like a magnet, and encouraging driving, which is the last thing we need to do. So we need to continue the fight to eliminate cars on the south loop.”

With cars out of big chunks of Central Park and Prospect Parks, the city’s traffic lights make less sense. Other interventions stand a better chance of reducing conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, but don’t count on the city changing the current set-up.

“The lights will remain. Bicycles should be stopping at the light,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “The goal now is to ensure now that bicyclists use the park safely so there are no pedestrian-bicycle conflicts.”

“We’ve got to make sure everybody stops at the traffic lights when you’re riding a bike,” Blonsky said. “That’s the next thing we’ve got to do.”

Meanwhile, the car-free parks plan includes a significant transit improvement. To keep any spillover traffic from slowing down southbound buses, DOT is extending the Fifth Avenue bus lane, which carries 74,000 riders each day, north from 86th Street to 110th Street. Trottenberg said the bus lane will be installed “by the end of the summer.”

  • BBnet3000

    “We’ve got to make sure everybody stops at the traffic lights when you’re riding a bike,” Blonsky said. “That’s the next thing we’ve got to do.”

    These lights need to be swapped out for auto-activated flashing yield-to-ped lights as soon as money is available. I don’t know Central Park that well but if its like Prospect Park there are probably locations where the lights can be removed altogether as well as locations that need a light added.

    In Prospect Park most pedestrians press the button and cross when there is a gap in bikes, because it takes so long for the light to change. Then the light turns red and people on bikes are expected to stop with no pedestrians around. It’s ridiculous and the kind of location where the NYPD has a field day with harmless jaybiking.

  • KeNYC2030

    Amen. Central Park’s six-mile loop has no fewer than 47 lights, all put there to manage car traffic. Now that the cars are gone forever from the North Loop, the Parks Dept. and the Conservancy need to think creatively about how to ensure safety while allowing the loop to fulfill its main role as a place to get some exercise. Removing some lights and installing “yield to ped” lights elsewhere will force the CP precinct to focus on dangerous behaviors, not harmless red-light running.

  • It’s true that the lights, which were installed for auto traffic, should be replaced with ones that are appropriate for bike traffic. Which is to say: lights that stay green, but turn red right away when a pedestrian pushes the button to cross.

    But really, we’re going to be stuck with the current lights, because this decision on freeing the park drive from cars can be reversed — will be reversed — in future administrations.

    This is why the inclusion of the word “forever” in the headline is silly. The move towards better quality of life for bicyclists is a beautiful trend; but we shouldn’t act as though it is some inexorable force of nature. All the improvements that we have seen since the beginning of the Bloomberg era are vulnerable to the (inevitable) shift in the political winds.

    In any case, no matter what kind of lights are on the park drive, we bicyclists do indeed have to stop at them, despite the inconvenience. First of all, it’s simply good citizenship for us to follow the rules while we are insisting on the provision of bike infrastructure. And it would be strategically sound for us to use our good behaviour as political capital to be deployed as a defence against future rollback. Alas, it’s a pity that so many of us are going to ignore this reality, and that this opportunity will be missed.

  • JK

    How about raised crosswalks at major crossings on the loop? NYC cyclists already ride across speed humps on streets with no problem. Bike racers in Europe race on raised crosswalks with no problem in historic races like Paris-Roubaix, Flanders and E3, no problem for runners. Yeah, it will be different, but anything is better than traffic signals, which create unrealistic expectations for cyclists and pedestrians alike and thus contribute to danger and police harassment ticketing.

  • Simon Phearson

    D’you notice how Blonsky’s statement almost seems to prioritize observance of the lights to actual pedestrians? He doesn’t say, “We’ve got to make sure that cyclists and pedestrians behave safely around one another, with cyclists ready to defer to pedestrians as conditions warrant,” which would have been an eminently reasonable thing to say about Park traffic. No, he says that his next priority is to get cyclists to stop for lights – the protection of pedestrians being entirely secondary, a great side benefit, maybe.

    Just another driver trying to regulate cyclist behavior, I’d suspect.

  • BBnet3000

    NYC cyclists already ride across speed humps on streets

    While cyclists elsewhere do not. http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/02_19/LumpBike.jpg

  • Hey I know that photo, I took that! 🙂 “Speed Lumps” they called them in Alameda, CA!

  • Kevin Love

    This is mildly crazy. Even in the most densely populated of car-free downtown zones, I have never, ever seen a traffic light in any city that I have ever been in, anywhere. Nowhere in Europe. Nowhere in Asia. Nowhere.

    Or perhaps I should write “motor vehicle free,” since there are lights with tram systems. Otherwise, no.

    Modern street redesigns usually lead to traffic light removals. See:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/02/disappearing-traffic-lights-how-second.html

  • Kevin Love

    What is interesting is that the cyclist has a passage through the speed hump. The cyclist experiences level pavement all the way.

  • The word “forever” was used by the NYC DOT on their website in promoting it. Their words, not ours.

    I would be willing to wager ANY amount of $$$ this will NEVER be reversed. There are far too many people that use the park, that love the park, even elected officials that would defend it to the end. Not a chance. Okay, maybe 0.01% chance, but to state “will be reversed” is a little bizarre =.

  • Joe R.

    Not hard to figure this out. Repeatedly stopping at best makes cycling a chore. At worst it makes it impossible or impractical. The goal here is to eventually get cyclists out of the park altogether. Enforcing the red lights will get a significantly number to eventually just ride elsewhere. Once the numbers are down, you can use that as a rationale for closing the park to cyclists “because hardly anyone cycles here”.

    I’m really, really disappointed here. It’s charitable to say the reasoning of Blonsky and Silver is retarded.

  • Joe R.

    This is NYC, land where traffic light manufacturers give elected officials kickbacks. There’s no rationale at all for NYC having more traffic signals than upstate NY and the neighboring states combined other than some people are profiting handsomely off it. Once cars are removed from the picture, you don’t need traffic signals, period. Even where cars are allowed, there are only rare cases you really need traffic signals. To paraphrase a famous quote, NYC never met a traffic signal it didn’t like.

  • Joe R.

    No need to think creatively at all. Just do exactly what the park’s designer did in areas with lots of pedestrians crossing, namely put up bridges. I don’t know why there should even be any discussion otherwise. So long as even one traffic signal remains, the loop will not be a pleasant place to exercise. 47 of them is totally over the top. That makes the loop worse than a lot of surface streets in terms of traffic signal density. An escape from the stupid mechanization of traffic flow is one of the reasons people come to the park. What a shame we have such a bunch of brain-dead morons running things.

  • Joe R.

    While we’re on that subject, no lights anywhere in NYC should ever go red if nothing is crossing. We have the technology for traffic lights to only go red as needed. Moreover, doing that encourages compliance by all groups. Seeing a traffic signal red when nothing is crossing 99% of the time does the opposite. Moreover, it’s incumbent on the state to engineer safety in the least intrusive way possible. That’s not being done now.

  • Simon Phearson

    Yes – well, personally, I gave up on CP when the limit was cut to 20. I debated some advocates at the time over the wisdom of pushing down the limit, and they assured me the next step would be working out an arrangement for training cyclists to use the park early in the morning. I’m sure that’ll happen any day now!

    It’d be nice if someone could keep the big picture in view. Cyclists using the Park for training or exercise aren’t going to stop wanting to ride just because you kick them out of the park. If anything, they’re the ones who work hard to find alternatives (like I have). So they end up all over the street, instead, negotiating potholes, traffic, exhaust fumes, etc. I’ll admit that I find that I prefer visiting all kinds of neighborhoods to doing mindless laps. Still, I’m out there most mornings with a lot of commercial truck traffic.

    By the way – I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but your derogatory use of the word “retarded” makes me uncomfortable.

  • Ah, I didn’t realise that the word “forever” was used by the DOT itself. So my apologies for calling the headline “silly”.

    Nevertheless, there is no way that this change lasts “forever”. There is bound to be a mayor who will find it expedient to reverse this, knowing that he/she will be applauded by the idiot media. Surely you can see the on-the-street interviews on the local “news” shows in which all the people interviewed from behind their steering wheels say that it’s about time that the City did something for the hard-working New Yorkers who need to get around town, rather than catering to those crazy bicyclists who just get in the way.

    I am very pleased to see more sections of the parks become car-free. But the idea that this is permanent is delusional. As vulnerable as our on-street bike lanes are, the car-free park lanes are doubly so. I’d bet that this parks decision will be reversed by the next mayor — perhaps as a fulfillment of a campaign promise.

  • I agree. That language is uncalled for.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, it’s a shame few here see the big picture. By pushing recreational cyclists to train elsewhere, you end up with a situation which is probably bad for them, and bad for those around them. Besides that, unless you’re not far from a greenway, it’s really difficult in NYC to find a decent place to ride recreationally. I suppose it’s passable out in Eastern Queens where I live after maybe midnight, but there are still issues (potholes and the need to at least slow down at red lights for safety reasons). Central Park without traffic signals could offer recreational cyclists as much non-stop riding as they want, free of motor vehicles. If you keep the park open all night, the rides would be mostly free of pedestrians also. I’m not a big fan of mindless laps myself, but in NYC there probably aren’t a whole lot of decent alternatives to laps in parks if fast, non-stop riding is what you enjoy. It’s a pity there’s little interest in building more non-stop greenways to form a citiwide connecting system much like our highway system.

    Regarding my use of language here, I did a search and was actually surprised to find out how I used it is considered offensive these days. Remember I’m 52, not from a generation where people are generally politically correct. And frankly, I think the PC movement is ridiculous anyway. It has people on pins and needles, worrying every common word might have some negative connection with a particular group. Anyway, language aside I hope we can all agree Blonsky and Silver are being unbelievably unreasonable here. In fact, it seems to me most of the people in NYC who make infrastructure and laws for bikes have never actually tried riding one. A bike isn’t something which can stop and start every three blocks repeatedly like a motor vehicle. And then you have little issues like sometimes when you stop you put your foot right down into a pothole, causing leg strain, possibly even a fall.

  • Joe R.

    There’s one big flaw with your reasoning. The “car” generation is slowly but surely dying off or moving out of NYC. Those our ages or younger see the value of not catering to cars in cities. In a decade the news media will be hard-pressed to find people in NYC supporting the motorist’s point of view. They’ll also find most of their audience will go elsewhere if that’s all they continually air. Granted, we don’t have much media support for cyclists these days, but I’m not seeing the anti-bike bias of the media lasting for much more than a few years.

  • Initially these look like a good idea for prospect and central parks. But on the other hand they look like a tripping hazard for pedestrians and it might be a problem during the times there are bike races

  • BBnet3000

    I think they’re a terrible idea for the parks. My point was that these are a vastly better style of speed humps for regular streets than the way NYC does them today. They needn’t be rubber like the ones pictured either, they are commonly done in asphalt as well.

  • I’d take any bet. Just name a number of years. We have had the car-free parks movement since the 1960s. And every action since then has either dramatically or incrementally reduced the hours or places cars are allowed in the parks. People love Central and Prospect Park. We will never go back. New Yorkers consider it one of the few rights they have, to increasingly go to a park for peace and quiet. 55 years of positive actions small and large to reduce hours for cars, it has never gone the other way. Not even under Giuliani. Never will. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    From San Francisco, we send our condolences for the grave loss of motor vehicles in Central Park. We know it will be difficult for New Yorkers to weather the loss of these dangerous, loud and polluting machines from an idyllic oasis. Should you find yourself pining for cars in parks, we encourage you to visit Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where motor vehicles are welcomed with open arms and cyclists are shunted off to the side.

  • Please, dear motorists, come visit SF’s Golden Gate Park where the only thing banned here is those damn bicycles. The real scourge of an urban park.

  • Yes! Please visit Golden Gate Park(ing) – rest for the weary motorist http://dearestdistrict5.blogspot.com/2015/05/golden-gate-parking-rest-for-weary.html

  • Burst my bubble? I hope that you are right and I am wrong!

    But I am not at all optimisitic that those of us who want the parks to be car-free can withstand the opponents of car-free parks if their cause were to be embraced by a mayoral candidate who made it one of his/her main issues.

    Once such a candidate emerges and frames the reduction of car-free hours in the Prospect Park and Central Park as “opening the parks”, all media outlets will fall in line repeating this characterisation. And it won’t be hard for them to find “experts” who will cite the supposed benefits to the economy of having more available road space for people to drive on.

    Indeed, I would suggest that the outlook is even worse than that, as there’s no reason to suppose that such a position would be limited to one candidate. There has been only one mayoral election after Bloomberg; so we haven’t yet seen the mayoral election in which the overarching theme is “let’s get rid of the bike lanes” and in which the candidates compete over how much of the bike network they would remove, under a banner of “returning the streets to ordinary New Yorkers” or somesuch, while they paint bicyclists as elitists.

    I of course hope that it doesn’t happen that way; but such a turn seems inevitable, as it fully dawns on the general public that the institutional defence of bike infrastructure which existed in the City government under Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan is gone forever. (And here is where I am comfortable in using the word “forever”.)

    So we should enjoy what we have now, while we have it.

  • I’m 54 and I think dismissing valid concerns using the 1980s term peecee is what’s ridiculous.

  • Joe R.

    I starting writing an entire counterpoint here but I decided not to post it for fear it would be taken the wrong way. Anyway, other people have said it better than me: https://queerguesscode.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/why-you-shouldnt-be-politically-correct/

    And the term PC is still in use. It’s not an antique term from the 1980s. By the way, would calling Blonsky and Silver imbeciles or morons instead be considered offensive to some people? It’s hard to keep up with what is or isn’t considered offensive these days. I’m just incensed how totally tone deaf so many people in charge are.

  • Yes, the term PC is still in use. Unsurprising, since it was promoted by the mainstream corporate media in the first place to dismiss valid concerns, and continues to be.

    That doesn’t make it any more worthwhile. Fundamentally, peecee is just a pejorative phrase used to divert attention from an issue by making an ad hominem attack on the speaker. This lowers the IQ of any discussion.

    More intelligent discussion would involve a criticism of Blonsky and Silver’s arguments without disparaging the developmentally disabled.

  • Joe R.

    You should note that the ability to converse in a useful manner is greatly reduced if one is constantly worried about saying something which might offend someone. The fundamental issue here is I can’t control how other people will react to what I say. People take offense at almost anything nowadays, even to terms which are commonly not considered offensive. And as I mentioned some people just don’t keep up with the latest on what is or isn’t offensive. That alone can be a full-time job these days.

    I’m certainly not trying to divert attention away from the issue here. I tend to think in this specific case my phrasing focuses attention on how utterly devoid of any semblance of reason both these gentlemen are. Then again, perhaps the developmentally disabled are being disparaged by my comment as they’re no doubt more intelligent than Blonsky and Silver. Maybe the term amoeba would have been more fitting. It can also easily be applied to many others in this city in leadership positions.

  • Nope, the ability to converse in a useful manner is about clarity, and dragging irrelevancies such as “retardation” into a transportation discussion is unclear. Whether one achieves clear communication through “worrying” or mindfulness is up to the individual.

  • Joe R.

    Thank you very much for illustrating exactly the point those two articles I linked to were making. Here we have a focus on one word taking on a life of its own. The sentence in which I used the word was merely an observation on my part. Probably no need to discuss it further other than to agree or disagree that the people in question are lacking in intelligence.

    I’ve heard that discourse often goes this way at community board meetings. One person will say something they think is completely innocuous, another will take offense at some word, or feign offense, often simply as a diversionary tactic. The next 30 minutes of discussion will focus on that instead of on the issue originally being discussed. I occasionally hear terms thrown around which I find personally offensive. I let it go because in the end focusing on it makes me seem like a whiner, it takes precious time away from discussing whatever issue is being discussed, and it’s just a word which can’t harm me unless I let it. I’ve been called lots of things in my life. The best tactic is to just ignore it so the name caller is disempowered. That typically gets them to stop.

    Physical bullying because of race, religion, sexual orientation, low IQ, or any other reason is of course valid grounds to complain and take action. But words? If we don’t acknowledge the hater’s words or react to them they will cease to have any meaning or power.

  • Gossip Girl Tour

    This is good decision to save wild life and beauty of central park. http://ow.ly/Ti03F

  • Lincoln Karim

    Look who are the biggest violators of red lights in Central Park:
    https://youtu.be/CD7kg4173YY

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

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 […]

Two-Way Bike Lane Will Cross Central Park Along 72nd Street

|
This summer, cyclists will have a second path to safely cross Central Park. At a meeting of CB 7’s Parks Committee last night, Central Park Conservancy President Doug Blonsky announced that the Department of Transportation will paint a new two-way bike lane along 72nd Street all the way between Central Park West and Fifth Avenue, […]

Now You Can Bike Both Ways Across Central Park on 72nd Street

|
The two-way, buffered bike lane across Central Park on 72nd Street is rounding into form, with most but not all of the markings in place, readers tell us. The path is rideable in both directions, adding a critical piece of east-west connectivity to the bike network. Reader Heidi Untener sends this pic from a recent […]