Central Park Administrator Pushes East-West Bike Routes, Car-Free Park

Central Park Conservancy Administrator Douglas Blonsky,
Central Park Conservancy Administrator Douglas Blonsky, former PlaNYC head Rohit Aggarwala, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Dasha Rettew of the Climate Group announce greener lights in Central Park. Benepe, Sadik-Khan, and Blonsky could make the park car-free today. Photo: NYC DOT via ##http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/park-and-highway-lampposts-get-more-efficient/##City Room##.

Central Park Conservancy head Douglas Blonsky wants his park to get a lot more bike-friendly, he revealed at a meeting of Manhattan’s Community Board 7’s parks committee last night. Not only is he working to create shared use paths that would allow cyclists to cross the park east-west safely and legally, he repeatedly announced his support for removing vehicular traffic from Central Park entirely.

The context for both positions is what Blonsky called “the skyrocketing use” of Central Park. Estimating that the park is visited 35 million times annually, there are ever more conflicts between cars, cyclists, joggers, strollers, dog-walkers, and other park users each year.

The result is a stream of complaints. Cyclists say park rules force them to choose between violating the law by riding on pedestrian paths, looping miles out of their way, or navigating the treacherous transverses, where a cyclist was killed in 2006. Pedestrians say they feel threatened by the cyclists illegally riding on pedestrian-only paths. “A lot more of the complaints are from the side of people who don’t like bikes on the paths and are afraid of them,” said Blonsky.

With cyclists riding east-west whether it’s allowed or not, Blonsky hopes that re-orienting some existing paths as legal routes for cycling will help everyone get along. He suggested four routes. (It might help to follow along on a Central Park map, available here). The easiest to implement would travel roughly along 102nd Street, a route which he said is already used by as many bicyclists as pedestrians. Another path would travel either on the north or south side of the 97th Street Transverse. Another route would likely pass near the Great Lawn, in the low 80s, but heavy pedestrian volumes might force that path to include a segment where cyclists have to dismount.

Each of these routes would be a relatively narrow shared-use path, perhaps similar in look and feel to the Hudson River Greenway above 103rd Street, and intended for slow speeds. While potholes on the paths might get filled, they wouldn’t be widened or rerouted.

The fourth path would travel along the 72nd Street Cross Drive, making it a slightly different challenge. While the first set of paths are currently walkways under Parks Department jurisdiction, the Cross Drive is a road with car traffic, operated by DOT. “If we didn’t have vehicles in the park, that would be easy to do,” said Blonsky. In the meantime, he suggested that DOT could perhaps reduce the Cross Drive to only one lane for cars.

In the long term, Blonsky also suggested paving pieces of the bridle paths through the park and opening those to bikers as well. That would be expensive, however, while opening the four routes he suggested could happen almost immediately with sign-off from Parks and DOT.

As for when these east-west routes could be open, the ball is in the Bloomberg administration’s court. “Right now, DOT’s looking at it and we have to wait until we hear back from them,” said Blonsky. He explained that DOT needs not only to make a decision about the 72nd Street path but to think about integrating these routes with the on-street bike network.

Blonsky suggested that supporters of his plan contact Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and let her know how they feel. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has been “supportive of coming up with a plan,” continued Blonsky, but nothing’s official.

“The Parks Department and the Department of Transportation are working together with the Central Park Conservancy to try to develop some shared east-west paths that would allow cyclists traveling at a low rate of speed to traverse the park legally in several locations,” said a Parks Department spokesperson, noting that details are still being worked out.

Every committee member but one, and every community member who showed up to speak, supported the plan to provide east-west access for cyclists. “Although none of these paths is as wide as you want them to be to accommodate every use,” said committee co-chair Klari Neuwelt, “that’s New York.” In cramped quarters, she said, Blonsky’s plan has “the best shot at meeting all those needs.” The committee decided not to pass a formal resolution, however, because Blonsky wasn’t sure whether one would be helpful.

One striking feature of Blonsky’s comments was his repeated support for making Central Park car-free. When one committee member mentioned the danger of allowing dogs to go off-leash in the park, Blonsky replied, “Another reason to get cars out of Central Park.” He brought up a car-free park again as the solution to complaints about cyclists on the park loop ignoring red lights and the inability to bike around the park clockwise. “It’s way too much recreation use blending in with the vehicles,” he explained, “or too many vehicles.”

He implied, however, that such a move wasn’t happening in the very short-term: “I think DOT wants to look at the numbers right now and evaluate them in light of our last reduction [in car-free hours],” he said.

  • On behalf of park users all over New York, thank you for your advocacy, Mr. Blonsky. Where does your counterpart at the Prospect Park Alliance stand on the cars-in-the-park issue?

  • Albert

    Hopeful news after all these years!

    Also needed for slow, courteous bicyclists is legal access to/from the Central Park loop at Columbus Circle. A stripe or two would do the trick on this relatively short, fairly wide path.

    (And a legal way to get from there to the bicycle paths down Broadway!)

  • Ken Coughlin

    Albert, cyclist access to the Columbus Circle path came up as well and Blonsky appeared receptive, noting that some changes were in the works there anyway.

    As someone who has fought for a car-free park for nearly two decades, being a part of that meeting was a surreal experience!

  • Glenn

    This is real and substantive progress on an issue that has stalled while there has been great progress on so many other fronts. Kudos to all the advocacy that went into building up to this point. Hopefully we can tip this one over the top with a smart plan and smart advocacy.

  • Moser

    “Bike routes” where cyclists have to dismount are not bike routes. Also people walking bikes take up even more lateral room than rolling cyclists.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Moser, that’s a little silly. As someone who commutes across the park pretty much daily, I’d be glad to have a legal cross-park pathway, even if I had to dismount and walk my bike for 100 feet of it. The current alternatives are walking the entire mile and a half across, getting yelled at or summonsed for rising on the paths, or taking my life in my hands on the transverse.

  • Nice to see an important Central Park stakeholder take a stand on having a car-free park!

  • “Benepe, Sadik-Khan, and Blonsky could make the park car-free today.”

    So, what’s stopping them? This is an administration with a supposedly green agenda, right? And it’d be a move with a great deal of popular support, too.

  • It would be nice if, in addition to closing Central Park for cars, they reopened 72nd Street for buses.

  • kevd

    How about lanes on the transverses? And some speed bumps to slow down the homicidal drivers.
    I feel pretty safe on them, but I bet most don’t.

  • I’m all about a car-free everywhere, including Central Park, but we should take gradual steps to get there. If cars were banned outright, I’d worry that Central Park would become Rob & Rape City — we need ‘eyes on the street’. In the end, that could require some inventiveness. 8-to-80, men _and_ women. Safe from cars, and safe from attackers, too.

  • The gradual steps have already been taken. The times when cars are allowed in Central Park are also times when the park is crowded with people walking and biking.

  • nobody

    “So, what’s stopping them? This is an administration with a supposedly green agenda, right? And it’d be a move with a great deal of popular support, too.”

    Bloomberg and his rich benefactors near the Park.

  • I’m very proud of the Central Parks Conservancy for the special care and planning that led to this proposal. And I am also proud of cyclist after cyclist who testifies that we understand the paramount issue of safety for ALL park users and will step up all of our efforts to tame dangerous cycling too. The cross-town routes on theses carefully selected paths would be used for slow riding, much as the exiting shared bike/ped path in Central Park that connects 106th Street & Xentral Park West to the loop drive or the shared E/W path in City Hall Park.

    It was also great to hear Blonsky endorse signage, “Ride at Walking Speed,” where bike/ped conflicts might be anticipated. Such an enlightened rule would work well for pedestrians and is much better for cyclists than “Dismount” orders. Finally someone understands that there is a minimum speed nececcesary for a cyclist to remain on their bike that can achieve the same
    degree of safety for pedestrians as a “dismount.”

  • Glenn

    Absolutely right Peter – “Ride at Walking Speed” is the win-win solution that would reduce conflicts on the paths.

  • @Peter Smith (#11), I understand your concern for park users’ safety, but allowing cars to use the park as a through-route during rush hours does absolutely nothing to deter crime. Cars in general move too fast to provide effective eyes on the street, unless the driver is deliberately patrolling the area (e.g., police). And, as Ben points out, there are plenty of people on foot using the park during the rush hours when cars are permitted. Indeed, letting cars in the park degrades park safety by increasing the risk someone–a jogger, a child, a bicyclist–is going to get hit by a fast-moving vehicle. In fact, this has already happened.

    Central Park is very safe during its car-free hours. I have been all over the park, including after dark late at night and never worried about my safety.

  • Ken

    I have a problem with “Ride at Walking Speed.” Walking speed is 3-4 mph. Whenever I try to do that on my bike, I nearly fall off. Besides, if I’m being forced to cross the park at walking speed, what’s the point of being on a bike at all? I’ve done tests using my bike and speedometer in the park and found that 7 mph, about twice walking speed, is just fine — slow enough not to alarm peds and to be able to quickly stop, and not fast enough to do serious harm. If all the signs will say “Ride at Walking Speed,” we’re just inviting more verbal attacks from self-righteous peds as we carefully pass them.

  • I hope these ideas spread thorough NYC, into places like Prospect Park.

  • To “Ken” (not Ken Coughlin’s) point about “Ride at Walking Speed.” I agree that for path use 7 MPH is a reasonable speed if the path is clear of other users, and is not likely to cause any alarm. “Ride at Walking Speed,” can be used in zones where there is heavier mingling with pedestrians, such as on the existing Central Park bike/ped path at 106th Street and Central Park West or on the bike/ped path in City Hall Park. “Dismount” should only be used in those very few cases where there is such heavy ped traffic that having a rider on a bike simply would not be safe for all the different users. Common sense and respect for safety as a priority should guide all these decisions.

    We can all be reasonable and get along. What’s great about the Conservancy’s approach is the care and thought they invested in understanding these issues, and their willingness to listen to various constituencies in coming up with a solution. If we get these routes it will be up to all of us to make sure they are used responsibly and that we support the Conservancy in its efforts to manage this wonderful park and safely accommodate good park uses such as responsible cycling.

  • Kaja

    > I have a problem with “Ride at Walking Speed.” Walking speed is 3-4 mph. Whenever I try to do that on my bike, I nearly fall off.

    You’re doing it wrong. Learn to stand near-motionless on your bike and not fall off, you’re completely capable.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_stand

  • Ken

    Kaja: No thanks. I prefer to use my bike to get from point A to point B as expeditiously and pleasantly as possible, not perform acrobatic feats.

  • Kaja, Track Stand is great for experienced riders and those of a certain skill. But these paths have to work for families out for recreational rides with kids, tourists, occasional users, and those who may be less coordinated because of joint pain, age, etc (we cyclists are a large and diverse group — and that’s a good thing). Let’s hope more cyclists acquire skills like “track stand,” but in the meantime, let’s give clear instructions to cyclists that keep these routes as safe and conflict-free as possible. If you’re not already doing it, please join the effort by TA and others that help educate cyclists who need help.

  • Kaja

    It’s not an acrobatic feat, it’s a basic part of learning to ride a bicycle; as important as coming to a smooth stop without jamming the brake pedal is for driving, or as looking both ways before crossing is for walking.

    Feel free to not drink, but here’s the water.

  • Kaja

    Peter: I’m a TA member, and the first thing they did was send me a “One Less Car” t-shirt that I’ll never wear because I own a car and love cars.

    Consider a trackstand advanced if you will; nobody should be on a bike if they can’t ride it at walking speed without falling off. “Ride at walking speed” is BASIC BALANCE ABILITY. If you can’t do that, seriously, get off your bicycle. And stop posting.

  • Kaja wrote: “Ride at walking speed” is BASIC BALANCE ABILITY. If you can’t do that, seriously, get off your bicycle.”

    I agree 100%..

  • steve

    “If you can’t do that, seriously, get off your bicycle.”

    I’ll be sure to tell that to my seven year old.

  • Kaja

    Seven year olds aren’t the issue here, Steve; they’re junior/learning users; we’re talking about the main body of cyclists.

    I am really heartened by Blonsky’s commentary. Just this past weekend, I rode to Central Prak’s Summer Stage with my lady, who’s a 1990s style bicyclist — she prefers to ride on the sidewalk, avoids cars like they’re out to get her, bells incessantly, just like it’s still 1995. (I’m working on her, don’t worry.) Anyway, we took the Park Drive to Rumsey Field and it was lovely; but then we couldn’t get back to Broadway south without using 5ave (far above her ability) or Park to 59th (only OK for her with me as an escort). At 10pm on a Saturday night.

    Bicycle transverse paths, or two-way traffic on the park drive, would solve this.

    I love what I’m seeing. Faster, please.

  • J:Lai

    Ride at walking speed is a great compromise for shared bike/ped paths. Would be nice to put that rule on the brooklyn bridge as well.

    To all those complaining that they will fall off the bike at walking speed – you are retarded.

    If riding that slow really frustrates you, then you can probably maintain at least 20mph on relatively flat ground and you can handle biking one of the transverse roads.

  • Geck

    “Ride at Walking Speed” is a great alternative to dismount signs on highly congested shared paths for short distances. It is entirely unnecessary on most shared paths or the Brooklyn Bridge where a moderately slow pace would suffice.

  • If you want to ban cars from Central Park, have at it. I ain’t stopping you. I put forward my concerns. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t do it — I wouldn’t ban cars outright, even what’s left of them right now. ‘Eyes on the Street’ is one reason, and there are others.

    @Peter Smith (#11), I understand your concern for park users’ safety, but allowing cars to use the park as a through-route during rush hours does absolutely nothing to deter crime.

    bold statement.

    Cars in general move too fast to provide effective eyes on the street, unless the driver is deliberately patrolling the area (e.g., police).

    another bold statement.

    and i’m assuming police cars are currently banned as well? does Central Park have bike cops?

    Central Park is very safe during its car-free hours.

    compared to what?

    I have been all over the park, including after dark late at night and never worried about my safety.

    well then, i guess that means everyone would feel safe.

    I’m on record!

  • J:Lai

    Peter smith, based on your comments I’m guessing you have never been inside Central Park.

    It is you who have made a bold statement.

    You assert that “If cars were banned outright, I’d worry that Central Park would become Rob & Rape City — we need ‘eyes on the street’.”

    If you assert a ban on cars in the park would lead to increased crime, the onus is on you to provide some evidence. Is this purely speculation on your part? I believe it is.

  • “Walking speed” is a difficult standard because different people walk at different speeds, and a cyclist can actually minimize conflicts with pedestrians on a multi-use path by gradually and gently accelerating clear of a group of pedestrians, rather than matching their speed and riding continually in their midst.

    In practice, I navigate multi-use paths by slowing down to a speed that is just a bit faster than a pedestrian I hope to pass, and then pass at that speed, perhaps (depending on conditions) verbally or with a bell letting the pedestrian know I’m passing to avoid startling them. On a very narrow or congested pathway, or when there are a lot of pedestrians, I’ll slow down to less than the pedestrians’ speed, and ride behind them at slower than walking speed until there is a clear safe way to pass. If a clear passage doesn’t open up after a minute or two, I may clack my brake levers somewhat noisily as I ride at sub-pedestrian speed behind the pedestrians, until they notice me and make way for me to pass.

    I also think one of the sources of tension on the Central Park paths are kids. My kids were often treated as a target for harsh scolding whenever they tried to ride on the park pathways, and neither of them have ever even come close to hitting a pedestrian or dog. But they do lack the biking skills and the judgment to handle interactions with pedestrians with the same finesse that I do, and they are attractive targets for jerks because they can’t defend themselves against absue as easily as adults.

    What people need to recognize is that kids should, and usually do, bike more slowly than adults can, alleviating most safety issues. And citywide, kids 12 and under (including my 5’9″, 145-lb. son) can bicycle legally on sidewalks. Parents should of course do everything reasonable they can to make sure their kids bike safely and respectfully, but I don’t see why from a safety persepctive the rules for kids on the Central Park pathways should be different than those on regular city sidewalks. People have to accept that while kids introduce a unique bit of risk into traffic interactions, they have the same right to in traffic as adults. And they won’ learn how to responsibly navigate traffic unless they get experience doing it.

  • I was particularly impressed with some of the suggestions Blonsky stated he would entertain if he could get cars out of the park, including:

    (1) eliminating the automatic red/green lights cycles on the Loop in favor of push-button signals for pedestrians who need them to cross;

    (2) installing a counterflow lane on the loop;

    (3) eliminating the fences that separate the runners’ and cyclists’ paths on the Loop from W.72nd to E.74th, which would in effect open up more space for everyone, and help segregate these two flows of traffic.

  • How about this for signage: BIKES SLOW/YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS

  • Peter smith, based on your comments I’m guessing you have never been inside Central Park.

    is it amateur hour in the Streetsblog comments section again?

    If you assert a ban on cars in the park would lead to increased crime

    not _just_ increased crime, but an increased sense of fear among would-be users of the park, especially more-vulnerable users, particularly women.

    the onus is on you to provide some evidence.

    disagree.

    that said, i believe i could provide both direct and indirect evidence for my statements. the point is not important enough to take my valuable time to do the research, especially given that the traffic folks running NYC/Central Park are now headed in the correct direction policy-wise, they are being pressured in the correct direction by advocates, and they are generally more sane than insane — all reasons why they won’t ban cars outright.

    Is this purely speculation on your part? I believe it is.

    i’ve been speculating that the sun would rise ‘tomorrow’ for years, and so far i’ve been proven right. whether it is ‘purely speculation’ on my part or not, i’m not sure, but i doubt it’s relevant.

  • Woody

    Peter Smith has apparently spent a lot of time in Central Park — driving his car. That question above, are police cars prohibited during car-free hours?, is the telling sign of ignorance of the subject under discussion.

    Not only police cars and ambulances, but Parks Dept vehicles as well, always have access to the Loop Roads. The difference between those motorized users and most other drivers is that they drive slowly and carefully and do not put pedestrians and bike riders at constant risk.

    I’m feeling kind of touchy about this subject today. Yesterday I was riding up the East Loop and at 72nd St. I passed two police cars and two policemen, the driver of a Porsche Carrera convertible pulled over just ahead, and a bleeding bicyclist sitting on the curb — apparently a victim of the Porsche, waiting for an ambulance.

    If someone wants to speed along in his hot sports car on the Autobahn, fine. If he wants to drive it in Central Park, no. Hell, no.

  • That question above, are police cars prohibited during car-free hours?, is the telling sign of ignorance of the subject under discussion.

    It is true that I do not have perfect knowledge of All That Is Knowable, including the travel habits of William Santiago, and I’m also unafraid to admit such a thing in public. However, my ignorance of the subject under discussion could not possibly extend as far as the arrogance of your comments.

    If you think I’m wrong about something, then say so, but if you just want to ridicule people for asking questions here, I’d suggest you find somewhere else to post.

    Not only police cars and ambulances, but Parks Dept vehicles as well, always have access to the Loop Roads.

    So much for ‘car-free’.

    The difference between those motorized users and most other drivers is that they drive slowly and carefully and do not put pedestrians and bike riders at constant risk.

    Tell that to the victims of police, ambulance, and ‘parks’ vehicles every year — in Central Park, other parks, and non-park environments. The only difference in getting hit by some type of official vehicle is that you can be sure the chances of justice being served are even closer to zero. And this says nothing of the psychological injuries, and deterrence effects, suffered by non-motorized users even when when physical collisions do not occur.

    I’m feeling kind of touchy about this subject today.

    I’m sorry your fee-fees were hurt. Still, I’d suggest using a little more tact next time.

  • Woody

    Peter Smith, I’m not asking for perfect knowledge. I’m saying that anyone who has been walking or riding a bike in Central Park during car-free hours has seen police cars on the Park Loop, frequently. That you didn’t know that simple fact leads me to believe that you don’t know what you’re talking about. How’s that for tact?

    And I was touchy on the subject and my “fee fees were hurt” having seen just yesterday a bleeding bicyclist who had been injured by the driver of a speeding sports car. Could that have been you? Otherwise I don’t understand why the image of a bleeding bicyclist waiting for the ambulance doesn’t seem to hurt your fee-fees at all.

  • Peter Smith, I’m not asking for perfect knowledge. I’m saying that anyone who has been walking or riding a bike in Central Park during car-free hours has seen police cars on the Park Loop, frequently. That you didn’t know that simple fact leads me to believe that you don’t know what you’re talking about. How’s that for tact?

    i haven’t been walking or riding around Baghdad either, and yet I can speak intelligently about what goes on there — so intelligently that people should listen to me when making policy decisions, and I’ve never even been to Baghdad — i couldn’t even take a guess at what a Baghdad police car looks like — and yet i’m still able to spot disastrous policies from over 7,000 miles away. Incredible? Or common sense?

    For instance, I know that removing Baghdad’s occupation forces instantaneously (i.e. ‘ban them outright’) would be a complete disaster for all the people we left behind, so I would never recommend it. Instead, the forces of occupation of Baghdad (US Soldiers) and of Central Park (all motorized traffic) should be withdrawn gradually, not suddenly. It’s common sense, but don’t take my word for it — just look at every shock to the living situation in the history of mankind, and what you’ll find more often than not is extreme deprivation and misery. This is all plainly true, and obvious, and predictable — which is why it makes no sense to you.

    Otherwise I don’t understand why the image of a bleeding bicyclist waiting for the ambulance doesn’t seem to hurt your fee-fees at all.

    i dunno, maybe because i choose not to cry about stuff and actually do stuff instead? like, when i found out yesterday that a cyclist in my town was killed by a hit-and-run driver, i emailed my city rep. i’m still trying to find out if i can do more. the mayor gets an email tomorrow. i was a victim of a hit and run myself the other day. i could cry or insult people in the comments section of Streetsblog (which, apparently makes some people feel better), or i could say that my experience was not different than what others face every day, so maybe i should just use the relatively privileged existence i’ve had bestowed upon me and get busy trying to change things instead? we’re all responsible for the predictable consequences of our own actions.

  • Peter, on the surface streets cars are present only at restricted times, when there are large numbers of pedestrians anyway. I used to walk on 72nd Street from York to Broadway, as it was often faster than taking the M72; in the daytime and early evening, there were plenty of people walking around on every segment.

    Emergency vehicles are a tiny minority of vehicles, so the danger they pose to each pedestrian is small; however, the benefit of giving them uncongested routes to reach hospitals, fires, and crime scenes is priceless. Unsurprisingly, it’s standard to let them use transit malls and pedestrian plazas when necessary – I know multiple examples of this, and multiple BRT standards that say it should be done.

  • i haven’t been walking or riding around Baghdad either

    The above statement, which i made, is incorrect as stated. The corrected version is: “i haven’t been walking or riding around Baghdad recently either.”

    Peter, on the surface streets cars are present only at restricted times, when there are large numbers of pedestrians anyway.

    so, you’re saying the ‘eyes on the street’ argument doesn’t hold — i’m skeptical, but let’s roll with it.

    so, do we ban cars outright? why or why not?

    it’s your decision, you’re the Mayor, you and you alone get to make the decision — what do you do?

    that is, an outright ban looks like this: you declare some date at which point Central Park is no longer available for use by private motor vehicles, nor taxis, etc. — just cops, ambulances, and other special-purpose vehicles — let’s say May 1, 2011 — 2012 if you want more time — up to you. you’ll have to deal with whatever fallout comes your way, but you get to make the decision. is that what you would do? an outright ban?

    as for whether or not allowing police/emergency/other vehicles into these mostly-non-motorized areas could ever be justified, i would argue ‘probably not’, but i’d be open to debate. i’d argue that the real risks and damage to non-motorized people in these areas outweighs those of any potential benefits of allowing emergency vehicle access. if, for whatever reasons, it turned out we needed to have fast cross-park access, then we could build/maintain special vehicle-only access lanes, or try myriad other possible solutions to the problem of how to safely accommodate non-tethered motor vehicles in an urban environment.

  • Woody

    Peter Smith asked, “is it amateur hour in the Streetsblog comments section again?”
    Later he asked is a Mayor should go to “an outright ban” — apparently asking, do we advocate going to an outright ban now, however precipitously.

    Maybe it’s newbie hour, and I should have been more tactful. Here’s some history.

    Robert Moses rebuilt the Loop Drive in Central Park in the 1930s, to allow more and faster auto traffic thru the Park. Then in the 1960s, Mayor John Lindsey closed the Park — for the Earth Day celebration. That was such an immediately popular move that the Park was soon closed on Sundays through the summer, on Sunday year around, then also on Saturdays.

    An organized campaign for a car-free Central Park arose under the umbrella of Transportation Alternatives, in the 1990s. Weekday car-free hours were set from 10 am to 3 pm, and car-free evening hours ran from 7 pm to 10 pm. A few years ago, after a petition campaign that got over 100,000 signatures (I spent a couple hundred hours as a petitioner), the car-free hours were again extended: from midnight until 7 am (when I’m still in bed but great for morning joggers), and then to 8 am.

    Morning traffic was limited to vehicles with more than one occupant — mostly taxis and limousines. Summertimes, in the morning, the northbound East Loop was completely closed from 72nd to 110th. In the afternoon, the southbound West Side Drive was completely closed, leaving only northbound traffic from Sixth Ave at 59th St to 110th St. At about the same time, several entrances to the Park were shut, for example, at West 77th St. A little short-cut to West 72nd St that cut through the crowds of tourists on pilgrimage to the John Lennon Memorial in Strawberry Fields was also closed.

    All that is left of traffic in the park is the HOV users in the morning 8 am to 10 am, the Southeast Corner from 59th St to 72nd St that’s open 7 am to 7 pm, and the East Side Drive from 72nd to 110th St from 3 pm to 7 pm.

    No one has been moving precipitously or abruptly on this issue. The hours for traffic use have been salami sliced over and over again. Every time a reduction in traffic hours was proposed or announced, opponents forecast traffic jams, higher crime, or other dire consequences, but they never materialized. By now the Police Dept, the Parks Dept, and the DOT can look at a track record of car-free hours in Central Park — now most of the hours, in fact. If there were higher crime or traffic jams on nearby streets, there would be statistics to show it, but there’s no evidence of such problems.

    Yet a complete closing of the Park remains at least potentially controversial.

    But I wouldn’t want to do anything precipitously at this point. A few more slices off the big salami: Extend the mid-day car-free hours from 3 pm to 5 pm. (They said they were keeping the Loop open during “rush hours”. Then apparently they got a “rush hour” definition from the MTA, forgetting that while school lets out at 3 pm, those kids crowding the buses and subways don’t drive. Afternoon rush hour should be 5 pm to 7 pm.) Next close the East Loop north of 90th St exit, then north of the 72nd St exit. Close the West Loop in the mornings, from 110th to 72nd, or all the way to 59th St, if that wouldn’t be too precipitous.

    The last segment to become car-free will be that little corner from 59th at Sixth to East 72nd. The fear is that closing it will worsen Midtown traffic and/or inconvenience important people on the Upper East Side. Well, if that road is so important, let’s toll it like a bridge, E-Z-Pass and go. Start congestion pricing in Central Park. If that guy really needs to drive his Porsche in the Park and leave bicyclists bleeding, let him pay for the privilege.

  • David V.

    97th street path is perfect for bicycles and peds. I believe there is even enough room to widen the path if necessary. One could name it the Coughlin traverse!

    102 & 103rd street entrances pose a problem thanks to a succession of hills. Bikes will go way too fast along those cross-park routes. It would be great to try and connect the 106th bike lane along the West Side with a cross park bikeway, but the harlem hill together with other natural obstacles might make such a trip difficult.

  • @Peter: I’ll defer to Woody on the north-south routes. But on 72nd, yes, I’d ban cars, and then use the space for the M72, making it more useful than it is now. Pedestrians would need to deal with a few buses at all hours instead of with many cars at the busiest hours, or they could just take the bus, which with no car traffic would be much faster than walking across.

    Special access lanes cost way, way too much. Better to use existing infrastructure. The cost of fully grade-separating roads and sidewalks is so prohibitive that the entire idea was scrapped by the 1920s.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Alon, I may sound like a purist, but I think expanding bus hours on the 72nd st. Transverse would feel like a step back. It would speed the crosstown trips of M72 users , but I don’t hear them clamoring for it. I know reasonable people disagree on this, but I think motor vehicles detract from enjoyment of the park in many ways and it would change the character of the park to allow even just buses to cut through the middle of the park, at grade, on a 24 hour basis.

  • There is no reason to have garden-variety automobile or bus through-traffic in Central Park at *any* hour–that’s what the transverses were designed for!

    It has been amply demonstrated by all the car-free hours already in place that Central Park has not become rob-and-rape central–believe me, the head of the Central Park Conservancy would not be advocating for a car-free park if that were the case–nor have the Upper West and Upper East Sides become choked with traffic that would have otherwise been on the loop drive.

    Incrementalism has gotten us this far; now it is the time for this “green” administration to put their money where their mouth is and close the park to through-traffic completely for a 3-month trial period (as Transportation Alternatives has advocated). So many people and organizations are in favor of a car-free Central Park, and no infrastructure would have to be built to accomplish it!

  • Albert

    I was glad to see Woody’s excellent outline of the car-free park movement. I was also pleased to see someone else call for a “rush hour” that reflects reality better (although I’d go all the way to a singular rush ‘hour’: 8:30 – 9:30 am and 5:30 – 6:30 pm).

    One thing I’d respectfully disagree with is the idea of tolling the southeast corner of the loop, which I think would be a terrible precedent. (Maybe you were being ironic?) The loop isn’t an “overflow” valve for city traffic. And it isn’t necessary, as shown by plenty of experience closing that portion of the loop — even during “rush hour” — for events like the NY Phil. City streets survived, even when drivers didn’t have weeks to become accustomed to the change and find different routes/modes.

    A small correction to BicyclesOnly: The 72nd Street portion of the loop is not technically (or architecturally) a ‘transverse’ at all, which is why having vehicles there would indeed change the character of the park. The transverses are all below grade level and were designed that way specifically to isolate cross-park traffic from park users. All the more reason not to let the M72 cross the park there.

  • I admit to being more than a little confused about what ‘car-free Central Park’ is actually supposed to mean to different people, but I do have something to say about the transverses.

    I don’t know what they were designed for, and don’t particularly care — what I do know is that walk/bike traffic needs to have the most direct routes available to get from Point A to Point B, and as far as I know, these are the transverses. Goodbye Autobahn, Hello Walk/Bicycle-bahn.

    The transverses need to be made safe and comfortable for walk/bike traffic — if that requires banning some/most/all motorized transport, then so be it, but we walkers/bikers need safety, comfort, and convenience. The transverses represent the most direct/convenient ways across the park, so they need to be made fully available (safe, comfortable, convenient) to non-motorized users.

  • I encounter the traffic in the morning running from 6th Avenue to 72nd Street, and it’s composed primarily of empty taxis heading back uptown to get a new fare to bring downtown. Which brings me to a question that perhaps Woody can answer: Why is the HOV restriction only on West Drive, not on East Drive? What rationale can possibly support that distinction?

  • Woody

    I have no inside info on how we got the West Loop car-free afternoons and the East Loop car-free in the morning. Looks like somebody wanted the loops car-free all the time and somebody else was crying about traffic, so each got half a loaf. Rush hour traffic flows south into Midtown in the am, and north toward the UES and Westchester in the pm. As anyone who rides the East Loop can see, north of 72nd St there’s not a lane’s worth of steady traffic, and it could easily be closed.

    Well, here’s another ironic idea: Widen the loop in that Southeast Short Cut. Let the cars have two lanes, but add a new full protected lane for bikes, and space for joggers. God forbid! taking Park space to be used for traffic — like we haven’t doing that for decades.

    Seriously, you could narrow the Southwest Loop, south of 72nd down to the 7th Ave exit. It’s extra wide, probably from the days when a stream of cars poured in from West 72nd to meet the traffic already on the Loop coming from uptown. If this section were closed to traffic, you wouldn’t need the several wide car lanes there. Narrowing that stretch, returning land to the Park, would offset putting in a new protected bike lane on the SE Short Cut.

    But perhaps this proposal is best used for showing that we really don’t need cars on the SE Short Cut, not even for empty taxis, Porsche drivers, or Very Important People on the Upper East Side.

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