New York will create three car-free zones on Earth Day, April 22, as part of an initiative called “Car Free NYC” announced by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez this morning.
The car-free areas will be Broadway from the Flatiron Building to Union Square, the streets surrounding Washington Square Park, and Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd and 177th Streets in Rodriguez’s Washington Heights district.
In addition, city agencies and several large businesses, schools, and hospitals will encourage employees to leave their cars at home for the day’s commute (April 22 is a Friday), offering promotions and discounts for people who don’t drive to work.
In recent years, big cities across the world have used car-free days to raise awareness of the harm cars cause to urban areas. “Each city [that has held a car-free day] has realized the benefits of going car-free, with fewer emissions, less stress and greater ease of mobility for all street users,” said Rodriguez. “This is something we can and should commit to, to drive home the cost of our over-reliance on cars in New York City.”
New York’s car-free day won’t be as big as, say, the one in Paris, where private cars were banned in about a third of the city, but Rodriguez said that this year’s event will be a first step that can expand on future Earth Days.
Rodriguez pointed to the negative effect car usage has on global warming, air quality, and pedestrian safety in the city: car emissions account for almost a quarter of greenhouse gases in the city, and streets designed to move large volumes of car traffic continue to encourage dangerous driving practices that lead to hundreds of traffic fatalities each year.
Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool argued that a car-free day is an opportunity to highlight how many car commuters in New York have good access to transit (answer: a lot, especially car commuters who work in Manhattan). “I think it’s important to focus on [car-free day] being a choice for many people,” she said. “For those of you that have a choice, we encourage you to think about riding the subway, think about riding the bus and think about walking or biking.”
In Manhattan, a big chunk of car commuters who have the option of taking transit are city employees with placards that entitle them to park on the street for free. Getting people to give up the free parking perk, even just for one day, figures to be a challenge.
Also participating will be Columbia University, Fed Ex, and New York Presbyterian Hospital, which have signed on to encourage employees not to drive to work. Additionally, Citi Bike will offer free 24-hour passes and NY Water Taxi will offer all-day passes to riders with an NYC Municipal ID. More information about promotions and events can be found on the Car Free NYC Facebook page.