New NYC Park Design Guidelines Envision Greater Role for Biking and Walking

pub_11HPLG_cover_300A properly designed park must help promote cycling and walking, according to new city guidelines. “High Performance Landscape Guidelines: 21st Century Parks for NYC,” a new blueprint for the design, construction and maintenance of the city’s parks, puts forward a transportation vision with active modes at the center.

The guidelines, a joint venture of the Parks Department and the Design Trust for Public Space, envision bike and foot paths connecting parks to each other and to surrounding neighborhoods, providing new opportunities for physical activity. At the same time, they recommend reducing (but not eliminating) the footprint of the automobile on city parks.

The Parks Department sees active transportation as a way to bind the entire park system together. “Understanding connectivity has to become part of the design mindset,” said Nette Compton, a senior project manager for design with the Parks Department.

In waterfront parks, for example, the guidelines reiterate the city’s commitment to a continuous greenway system for both cyclists and pedestrians. The city should create safe biking and walking routes to active recreation parks and playgrounds, it suggests, so that exercise doesn’t just begin when someone steps onto the basketball court. The Queens Plaza bike lane is held up as a case study in how to redesign the streetscape, as are Greenstreets plantings used to calm traffic.

At the same time, the guidelines make it a priority to reduce the amount of park space swallowed up by pavement.

“Large expanses of paved surfaces are detrimental to the overall health of landscapes,” the report states. “They disturb habitats, increase stormwater runoff, concentrate nonpoint source pollutants, instigate soil erosion, negatively impact soil health, and contribute to the urban heat island effect.”

The report offers a few suggestions to reduce and mitigate the presence of cars and traffic. The guidelines suggest that the amount of parking provided should be based on average use, not peak use, and that the size of each parking space should be reduced. Similarly, the driving lanes on park roadways should be narrowed as much as possible, and all pavement should be made permeable. The report stops short of noting the negative impact of traffic on park users or questioning the basic necessity of roads and parking lots in parks.

The guidelines also suggest that whenever possible, bikes and pedestrians should be kept separate, particularly if the bike path is used by commuters or cyclists riding at high speeds. The report does not, however, take the line that cyclists need to dismount in pedestrian areas, a position the Parks Department has enforced at times. Rather, they urge that sightlines be extended at intersections and entrances where cyclists and pedestrians mix, so that different users are visible to each other.

The guidelines, which include forewords from both Mayor Bloomberg and Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, should serve as the foundation for city park design in the years to come. Compton said that the principles and best practices of the report would guide all new projects the Parks Department takes on, including new parks and renovations to existing ones. One change Parks Department planners will see is a renewed emphasis on interagency cooperation. “There’s a real stress toward looking beyond the bounds of your site,” said Compton.

Noting that the guidelines are context-sensitive, she added that “which best practices are selected for each park will be very different.”

  • Peter

    Since the Parks Department seems to be unwilling to ban cars entirely, why not reduce the number of available lanes in both Prospect and Central Park? One lane for pedestrians & joggers, one for bicyclists, one for cars.

  • As long as there is a parking lot in Prospect Park near the skating rink, I always wonder why they don’t charge for parking for all but people with handicapped plates. It would reduce the number of people who drive into the park and raise much-needed revenue for repairs.

  • Doug, that’s a great idea. When I asked a Parks employee what could be done about the noise and trash facilitated by the parking lot at West 155th St and Fort Washington Park, I heard back that “the community” wanted the parking there.

  • Tila

    I would love to know what Riverside Park’s management has to say about the unilaterally imposed cyclist dismount zones at W 72nd and W 67th Streets in light of this new guidance from the Commissioner. He seemed in the past to be unaware of any preference by NYC Parks to encourage cycling and greenway use, which has now been made all the more explicit.

  • J


    That is a brilliant idea. By doing so, it would severely restrict the ability of cars to speed through the park, since speeds would be governed by the slowest vehicle. This would make it safer and more comfortable for joggers and cyclists and would also make it much less attractive as a short-cut for commuters. You would need to clearly delineate where vehicles are allowed or they would drive over everything (and everyone).

    The extremely low volumes of vehicles would then provide a great argument for simply closing the park drives altogether.

  • Peter


    The inspiration came from thinking about just how hard it is to ride a bike in the park when traffic is going through – squeezing bicycles into the pedestrian path is a major accident waiting to happen.

    Cars are already forced to a single lane on the south end of PP to access & exit the parking lot, and it’s never a problem, save the awkward and dangerous access to the lot itself. That doesn’t exist anywhere else – you could limit cars to the rightmost lane, and things would go fairly smoothly.

  • Ben from Harlem

    I live up in West Harlem, near two great Hudson River Parks with poor bike access.

    One, Riverbank State Park, is arguably one of the best athletic facilities in Manhattan, has an overall bike ban, posted at the entrances to both pedestrian bridges. You can drive there with a car or take the bus, but if you’re on two wheels, you’re not allowed.
    I think this outright ban may be related to a state regulation, but I’m not sure. A far better situation, even if they don’t want any riding within the park facility, would be to encourage biking TO and FROM the park by providing bike parking at each entrance.

    The other park is the northernmost reaches of Riverside Park. A lot of us think of Riverside as the pretty park in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. It is, but it actually continues north many blocks into Harlem (exact number, not sure, maybe up to 140 or so…) Just north of Riverbank Park, Riverside Park features a HUGE automotive parking lot, and each weekend there are lots of people who drive over there and set up tailgating-style picnics. I’m all for picnics, but we don’t have bike racks provided in many places along the Hudson River Greenway bike path. So, simply put, by providing some nice and simple bike parking near where hundreds of cars get free space, we can encourage cycling to parks just as we do for car drivers.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  • Ben, there are bike racks near the basketball courts on the south end of Riverbank State Park. If you ride over the 138th St crossing, then dismount, they might be no more than 100 meters away.

    As for “nice and simple bike parking” in Riverside Park, when I bike there, I usually just lean my bike up against a nearby tree. Can’t get much simpler than that.


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