The NYPD’s Holiday Gift to Motorists: Central Park

After introducing some yuletide sanity two winters ago, the city is back to sending a schizophrenic message to New Yorkers this holiday season: Please use mass transit, but if you choose to drive, we’ve made it easier by increasing the hours when cars are permitted on a section of Central Park’s loop road. Only this time it’s the NYPD, not the Department of Transportation, behind the double message.

Holiday_hours_09_3.jpgThese small, flimsy flyers are the only thing tipping off pedestrians and cyclists to the presence of more traffic in Central Park. Photo: Ken Coughlin.

According to a well-placed source with knowledge of the situation, the NYPD issued a directive this year that cars be allowed to use the loop’s southeast corner as a cut-through for an additional two hours, until 9 p.m., on weekdays. The expansion runs until "January 2010," according to notices. The NYPD has not returned inquiries about the reason for the change or why it is setting traffic policy.

The road in question is the southeast corner of the Central Park loop, a half-mile stretch that allows drivers to go from Sixth Avenue to the Upper East Side by cutting across a corner of the park. Two years ago Streetsblog reported that the DOT had quietly done away with "holiday hours" on Central Park’s loop road, ending the annual suspension of car-free time that had been used to accommodate motorists during the holidays. The change was a huge success in that the only people who seemed to notice were the park’s recreational users, who were delighted. Holiday hours didn’t resurface last winter, and the annual holiday traffic plan that DOT produced for 2009 contains no mention of the change [PDF]. (The DOT and Parks Department press offices both directed inquiries to the NYPD.)

Park users may have thought holiday traffic hours were gone for good, but they were wrong.

Holiday_hours_sign.jpgWould you notice this sign if you were passing by? Photo: Ken Coughlin.

Meanwhile, the way the change has been broadcast is revealing. The reduction in car-free hours is being announced to cyclists, runners and other park users by a small, 8½ by 11-inch flyer fastened to a pole a few feet shy of the point where someone on foot or on a bike would merge with car traffic. Identical small signs are secured to poles at six or seven other points along the route. The signs, which look for all the world like the "lost pet" or "affordable housecleaning" flyers taped to light poles all over town, would barely register with a cyclist or runner, much less be readable by them. Nevertheless, the signs warn recreational users to "Proceed With Caution."

"I was riding home through the park at 8:30 p.m. and cars were pouring in from Sixth Avenue," said commuter cyclist Albert Ahronheim, who first alerted Streetsblog to the extra time allotted to park traffic. "I thought someone must have left the gate open by mistake." Ahronheim only discovered the small signs when he returned the next evening to take a closer look.

By contrast, the city has taken great pains to ensure that any driver traveling up Sixth Avenue is aware of the change. Like a bright star in the east guiding the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem, a large mobile electric sign is positioned at Sixth Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, announcing in foot-high, blinking letters: "PARK OPEN TILL 9 PM N/B [northbound] ACCESS 59TH AND 6TH EAST DRIVE IN CENTRAL PARK UNTIL 9PM." To ensure that no motorist will fail to remark the glad tidings, a duplicate sign flashes between 58th and 59th Streets — still enough time to change lanes and speed into the world’s most famous urban green space.

  • ugh

    Dude, where’s my city? This last month is like a time warp to December 2005.

  • Car Free Nation

    I wonder if this and the eliminated bike lane in Williamsburg are signs that JSK is losing power.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Thanks for bringing this to light with the excellent post, Ken. I’ve been along this stretch of the loop several times ove the last week and I never noticed these signs. Why on earth does it extend until January?

  • Streetsman

    Post-election blues?

  • Biker

    I’ve been out 5 or 6 times and I did not see these signs. This is very disappointing, and not well executed. At night, the bike lane in that stretch is full of runners so cyclists have to maneuver between runners and the car traffic. Add the fact that it is night and visibility is low, this puts cyclists at serious risks of getting hit by the speeding traffic. If they must do this, they should have someone to funnel the runners into the running lane and keep a clear bike lane for the bikes. They should also enforce the speeding laws.

    Ultimately they should shut the park at 7pm as they are supposed to do. It is only a matter of time before a cyclist gets injured from this poorly executed plan.

  • mike

    Thanks for letting us know Ken and Albert.

    Folks, please email Commissioner Kelly and tell what you think about his unilateral and dangerous re-appropriation of Central Park’s loop roads.

    Be sure to also email the DOT and your local Council Member and Community Board.



    NYC Council:

    Manhattan Community Boards:

  • I’m really regretting voting for Bloomberg right about now.

  • fdr

    Nothing on the sign indicates that it was posted by NYPD or any other official agency. “Until January 2010” could mean New Year’s Day or four weeks later.

  • Stephen Brown

    I just about got smoked by a car in the park because of this. I wasn’t expecting cars at 8:30, so I wasn’t paying attention, next thing I know there’s a cab less than a foot from me. I don’t really see why we ever need cars in the park, but whatever… this is definitely a poor execution.

  • Angry

    Seems like Bloomberg is now going after the very people who helped elect him to a very, very slim victory. Mike remember us?

    Now I am even regretting my vote – even though Thompson would probably have been far worse.

  • So the NYPD controls those big signs? I’m a little skeptical.

    Even if it is the NYPD, it’d be nice if there were some central office that coordinates the various departments. If we had someone with business experience running City Hall this wouldn’t be happening.

  • fdr

    There used to be a Mayor’s Office of Transportation that was in charge of coordinating the various agencies. Sadik-Khan was head of that office under Dinkins. Bloomberg shut it down.

  • Since when does NYPD have jurisdiction to decide this?

  • James

    That has to be one of the most mickey mouse, half-assed road signs I’ve ever seen. And it IS a road sign, since many of those who will read it are cyclists. This is not some podunk small exurb we are talking about here… this a sign produced by the police department of a major global city and posted within the most famous park in the world, and as such, the sign needs to be large, easily legible, and spell out the exact start and end dates for the changes. Utter, complete fail by NYPD.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I can remember only one other occasion where signs like this were used in Central Park–that time, I think Parks was responsible.

  • As long as there’s a paved two-lane highway going all around Central Park, drivers will think it’s for driving. Any debate of car-free hours is window dressing; the goal must be to rip out the tarmac. As an added benefit, the Park would be more like, you know, a park.

  • This is how Bloomberg repays your support?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    This is a mini-coup! The NYPD has just seized control of one of the DOT’s streets and policy-making functions. Mike Primeggia used to say about DOT: We “own” the streets. Never thought I’d say this but maybe it’s too bad Primeggia’s gone because NYPD now, apparently, owns this street.

    What the NYPD has done here with its dinky little handmade signs looks no different to me than what those “hipsters” did on Bedford Avenue the other night with their can of paint. The one big difference is that the NYPD owns guns and City Hall, so their DIY seizure of New York City street space remains.

    This does not bode particularly well for the car-free parks movement and lots of other DOT projects which, we now well know, can easily be reversed. Someone needs to get NYPD’s mind right on livable streets issues.

  • not gullible

    for those of you who voted bloomberg for the sole purppose of retaining JSK, thanks a hell of a lot. did you really believe that bloomberg is green enough to live up to any of his promises??!! c’mon now! every single one of his big plans/proposals have fallen on the wayside particularly when he realized that they would damage his popularity among drivers, big business, investors and what-not.

    this, along with bedford ave bike lane, is probably just the beginning of more crap now that he does not need YOUR vote! of course, aside from riding in bike lane-less streets, most of you are perfectly safe from the majority of bloomberg’s worst policies in housing, education and policing tactics.

  • And Thompson would have been better how?

  • not gullible

    the point isn’t what thompson would have done. the point is bloomberg’s record which is BROKEN. it has been clear for EIGHT, count ’em EIGHT, YEARS that bloomberg is not a friend of anyone but himself and his rich cronies. why vote for a losing solution when its worthwhile to try something, anything new? besides, it is only ONE stupid incident where thompson suggested reviewing the grand street bike lane where the media and you fools jumped on the thompson bashing band wagon. you guys simply bought bloomberg’s and the media’s bloomberg-is-green-and-progressive schtick hook, line and sinker.

    by the way, i never said a word about my opinion of thompson. you know that there were at least 6 or so other folks on the ballot this past november, don’t you?

    on a final note, don’t expect me to carry on this discussion any further because its pretty obvious that many TA/SB folks won’t change their mind despite the evidence. frankly, i am inclined to believe that for some folks there may have been more pernicious reasons for voting bloomberg rather than certain other candidates.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    It strikes me that the best way to reclaim the circular road in the park is for bicylists, preservationists, equestrians, hack owners and their animal rights opponents to come together in support of restoring the historic carriage drives. One lane of the drive should be soft surface for the horses and one lane paved for bicycles. It can also be used as an occasional speed course for horses (that should appeal to Bloomberg’s daughter Georgina. I am not a runner, but assume the soft surface would be better for them too. The single paved lane would serve when needed for park vehicles, emergency vehicles, etc.

  • Interesting proposal, Hilary, but I don’t see enough horses north of 72nd Street to really make it worthwhile, and while horses are better than cars, I wouldn’t really want to encourage people to ride horses in the park. Unless the two lanes were separated with a barrier, I could imagine lots of cyclists getting forced into the soft lane by other cyclists or by joggers, and then falling.

    It would not be quite as effective, but simply restriping the loop road for bikes, joggers, carriages and pedestrians would help give more permanence to the current arrangement.

  • J:Lai

    Horses are not better than cars. They are worse than cars.
    Also, there is already a “bridle path” in the park – it circumscribes the reservoir, and is separated from both the reservoir jogging path and the paved park drive by trees and grass on either side.

    I also do not see how cyclists would get forced into the soft lane and fall down unless they are 6 years old and riding with training wheels.

    In any case, if the NYPD has exceeded its legal authority by posting these signs, then a lawsuit is probably the best remedy.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    not gullible,

    While I’m disappointed about this Central Park thing and the Bedford Avenue bike lane, let’s put this in a little bit of perspective. This shit is minor compared to incredible advances that have taken place since 2006.

    The last two years of the B’berg Administration have brought about an explosion of livable streets innovation: Car-free Times and Herald Squares, separated bike lanes, a cohesive citywide bike network, the first real trials of bus rapid transit lines, new public plazas all over the place, new curbside parking policies… the list goes on.

    That’s why I voted for Janette Sadik-Kh… I mean, Bloomberg, a few weeks ago.

  • on a final note, don’t expect me to carry on this discussion any further because its pretty obvious that many TA/SB folks won’t change their mind despite the evidence. frankly, i am inclined to believe that for some folks there may have been more pernicious reasons for voting bloomberg rather than certain other candidates.

    So you just came to kvetch, and didn’t want to get any answers that didn’t agree with you, is that it?

  • Marty, don’t forget Thompson’s anti-bus “rally” and opposition to bridge tolls. There were lots of people who didn’t give a rat’s ass about the Grand Street bike lane, but won’t vote for a politician who campaigns against faster buses.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Not Gullibe, how can you suggest cyclists and cycling advocates are somehow exempt MB administration policing policies. Maybe you missed and event called the RNC a few years back. Cyclists didn’t fare well then and haven’t fared well under MB’s enforcer, Kelly, since–active persecution of “political” cyclists, and failure to enforce the laws intended to protect cyclists merely attempting to travel from point A to point B.

    For that reason, no matter how much I favor the partially-implemented PlaNYC–and no matter how genuinely impressed and grateful I am that MB has implemented it to the extent he has (very)–I value my civil liberties more than any bike lane or pedestrian plaza, so I (as a cyclist) couldn’t and didn’t vote for him.

    Take your veiled race-baiting somewhere else and stop generalizing about the commenters on this blog and TA supporters.

  • Frank Todisco

    News Alert:

    On the second day of Christmas, the NYPD gave to me,
    More East Drive sections that aren’t car free.

    The expanded hours for cars now extend to the East Drive north of 72nd St as well. I saw the following sign yesterday posted at Engineer’s Gate (5th Ave / 90th St entrance), which I copied:

    “Drive Alert

    Per the request of the NYPD, the East Drive hours north of 72nd St have been extended weekdays through Dec. 31. This section of the East Drive will close at 9:00 pm (instead of 7:00 pm). The new hours on weekdays for the East Drive are as follows: East 72nd/5th Ave entrance Northbound to 110th St & 7th Ave exit: 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm. 6th Ave/59th St entrance to 72nd St/5th Ave exit: 7:00 am to 9 pm. Closing hours on East Drive go back to usual 7:00 pm closings on Jan. 1. All other drive hours (West Drive and Cross Drive) remain same as usual, 8:00 am to 10:00 am.”

    There were two such signs, on the lampposts on the north and south sides of the entrance. Each was on a small piece of paper, on not much more than an 8 ½ by 11 sheet, wrapped around the pole. To read it required me to look up and move back and forth in a semicircle numerous times. It can only be absorbed by someone on foot who both notices it and stops and takes several minutes to read it.

    This policy change and its execution are troubling on multiple levels. As transportation policy, it is regressive and shortsighted, especially since “holiday hours” had been done away with two years ago with no adverse consequences. Then there are the safety issues. As Ken and others have noted, the inadequate signage (in addition to the policy itself) greatly increases the chance of a runner, cyclist, or other park user being killed or seriously injured. If such a tragedy were to occur, besides the terrible human cost, the city could (and probably should) get sued. Then there’s the open government issue. If it’s true that the NYPD continues to refuse to not respond to inquiries, that would be deplorable. Finally, as others have noted, there is the issue of why the NYPD is now calling the shots on certain aspects of transportation policy – and why the DOT and the Mayor’s office are allowing this to happen. A FOIA request may be necessary to bring to light relevant communications between and within the Mayor’s office, DOT, Parks Department, and Conservancy.

  • not gullible

    @captain – perhaps, but you do not provide any detailed answers while marty and bicycle provide more substantive rejoinders.

    @marty, there certainly have been advances and the recent setbacks are minor, but all in all i just am not convinced bloomberg has done enough. plus, he is a huge hypocrite:

    @bicyclesonly, indeed, i too cherish my civil liberties far more than my bike lane(s) or even my bike! indeed i do recall the rnc mess and was there knee deep in the hoopla from the get-go and suffered my civil liberties losses as a consequence. i in no way was exempting cyclists from bloomberg’s policing policies. in fact they are another example of bloomberg’s environmental hypocrisy. as for the pernicious reasons to vote bloomberg, one could apply any variety of prejudices to one’s voting decisions such as not wanting to vote for a crazy activist impostor reverend, a socialist commie pinko, and what-not. as for race, it actually may be considered fair to contemplate its role in voting. it is not something ot be ignored. the nyt did a nice job of pointing out the data pattering as it may relate to race/ethnicity, geography and income (among other possibilities):
    of course, how that may or may not apply to sb/ta folks, i have no idea.

  • J

    If you really want government agencies to pay attention to you, learn the FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) rules and submit often. Almost any document is up for grabs, including emails, etc. It takes a while, but if they know you’re gonna ask for them, they’ll think twice before implementing crappy policy like this.

    Successful opposition campaigns, such as Atlantic Yards, have used FOIL often, and have access to most documents.


Central Park Drivers Get Bigger Holiday Gift Than Usual

In what’s shaping up to be a yearly tradition, car-free hours in Central Park have been cut back for the holiday season. Each weekday this month, on the southeast corner of the park drive, the park’s pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers have three fewer hours of quiet and safety. The stretch of the park drive […]

Sacrificing Central Park to Appease the Traffic Gods

The Dept. of Transportation’s 2005 study showed there is no need to eliminate car-free hours during the holidays. So why did they do it this year? Every November, year after year, the city sends two contradictory messages to motorists. On the one hand, it urges all those coming to the city during the holiday season to use […]

A Tale of Intimidation From the NYPD Bike Crackdown

A week after NYPD announced that the agency will be stepping up its enforcement of cyclists, stories are starting to trickle in to our inbox and the comments section about encounters with cops on bike detail. Reader Greg, who asked to go by his first name only, wrote in to share his experience in Central […]

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 […]

Reason Makes a Comeback in Central Park

It may now be safe for cyclists who want to get some exercise — as opposed to waiting for lights to turn green or for officers to finish writing $270 tickets — to return to Central Park. At a meeting Wednesday night with representatives of groups that use the park’s loop road, the Central Park […]