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Adrian Benepe

Who Can Make Parks Car-Free? Commissioner Hoving Says: “Benepe”

hovings_happenings.jpgThis photo from the Parks Department vault depicts what appears to be a pavement painting during Thomas Hoving's tenure as commissioner.

If New York City had a livable streets hall of fame, Thomas P. F. Hoving would be enshrined alongside heroes like Jane Jacobs. As Parks Commissioner under Mayor John Lindsay, Hoving spearheaded the original effort to reverse the onslaught of motor vehicle traffic in the city's flagship parks, instituting the first car-free hours on the Central Park loop drive in 1966. It was a pioneering act of reclamation for pedestrians and cyclists.

Hoving died last week at the age of 78. In his later years, he remained a supporter of car-free parks. After meeting up with Hoving in 2003, car-free Central Park advocate Ken Coughlin received this email, in which the former commissioner explained exactly who has the legal authority to make New York City parks car-free. In light of the NYPD's recent foray into traffic policy, the message is extremely timely.

The 1961 City Charter provisions stating that Traffic Commissioner is in charge of Traffic Flow but Parks Commissioner can select curb lines and park entrance gates are still in effect. Benepe needs no legislation, executive order or act of the almighty to close 24-7-365. He needs to get his courage perking.

ALL the arguments against any closing which will emerge today surfaced when I closed Central the first time, 6 a.m to 9 a.m. that Sunday

  • Traffic would jam from Tampa to Maine
  • NYC transport systems would collapse
  • Huge economic loss, Etc., etc.

But nothing happened.

In three months -- you can even check to Parks Horti records -- the trees on the drive flourished. It was as if a cloud of poison had been lifted from them.

Car carbon dioxide is like second-hand smoking. Which suggests that if permanent closing advocates use this as an argument Bloomberg can hardly be against it.

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