Gale Brewer Introduces Bill to Make Central Park, Prospect Park Car-Free

City Council Member Gale Brewer reenergized the fight for car-free Central and Prospect Parks by introducing a bill in the City Council today. Image: ##

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 the impact of creating car-free parks on motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and on the environment.

We’ll have much more on this new push for car-free parks as it develops, but today it seems worth reminding New York of what car-free parks are really all about. The New York Post, which broke the news of Brewer’s bill this morning, says that the bill will “ban cars,” “restrict vehicles” and “turn Central Park and Prospect Park into no-drive zones.” For them, it’s all about what you won’t be allowed to do.

A more historical perspective would remember that when Central Park was built in 1859, the automobile hadn’t been invented yet (the bicycle hadn’t really caught on either). It was only grudgingly allowed into Olmsted’s masterpiece forty years later, and even then cars needed a permit to enter, according to Transportation Alternatives. Car-free parks are about restoring space to pedestrians and cyclists, not taking space away from automobiles.

As this decades-long debate kicks back into high gear, here’s some more history to keep in mind:

  • A car-free Central Park is unbelievably popular. A petition in support of a car-free park was signed by an unprecedented 100,000 people.
  • A car-free Central Park also has the support of park administrator Doug Blonsky, the man responsible for running the park.
  • Car-free parks wouldn’t snarl traffic. One 2008 study by Transportation Alternatives found that Central Park was actually increasing congestion in Harlem, and former Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz said that the long-term impact on traffic would be barely measurable.
  • The city has been pursuing an incremental approach to re-creating car-free parks for decades. It has consistently cut back the hours in which cars are allowed and closed many park entrances to them. Most recently, the city expanded car-free time in each park in 2007.
  • As long as cars are allowed in Central Park sometimes, non-motorized users’ experience can be threatened even during car-free hours. Recently, the police department have cracked down on cyclists for not following the traffic signals meant to regulate cars and unilaterally expanded the hours when cars were allowed for the holiday season.
  • Does this mean they’ll let the M72 cross 72nd Street instead of detouring on 65th/66th?

  • vnm

    I rode the West Drive to work last Friday March 18, entering at 7:32 a.m. according to my Garmin device and exiting at 7:49 a.m. It appeared that the employees responsible for opening the gates to cars did not do so that morning, as the gates were closed when I entered the park and I saw no cars at all on the loop drive except for Parks Dept. vehicles.

    I don’t recall seeing any news reports about major traffic congestion around town as a result.

  • Anon

    So the final bike/ped/car/park Armageddon is upon us! Let loose the tabloids! Mobilize the Critical Masses!

  • This is the right move at the right time. I will listen closely to what electeds say about this and will adjust my future votes accordingly.

  • Albert

    Can we please call the asphalt in question “the Loop”? Not “East Drive”, “West Drive”, “Loop Drive” or “the Drives”? To distinguish The Loop, once and for all, from The Transverses? Pretty please?

    It’s not an unimportant or too-subtle distinction to make:

    Confusing the ground-level Loop (always meant for park-like recreation) with the Transverses (a completely separate system of below-grade roads always meant for cross-town traffic) has long been a source of misunderstanding among many people who chose not to sign the Car-Free Central Park petition specifically because they mistakenly thought that banning cars from the park would necessarily include the transverses — which they (rightly) thought was nuts. And they often couldn’t be talked out of it.

    I might add the obvious, that the relatively recent use of the word “drive” implies that “the drives” were originally meant for “driving” — which they were not. Ken C. might know when/how/why this unfortunate word started to be used officially. Sounds like a Robert Moses word to me.

  • car free nation

    Wow! why can’t my city council rep grow a backbone and support things like this? Stephen Levin, you listening?

  • Zulu

    Close the loop to cars please!!!!!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr

    I was about to ask if anyone knew Steve Levin’s position.

  • This would be great!

  • Daphna

    @vnm You did not see vehicles in Central Park from 7:30-7:50am because the West side of the loop is open to vehicles from 8-10am, not 7-9am. Parks officials usually open the entrances exactly on time.

    There are many problems with the existing arrangement of cars in Central Park:
    1) The HOV requirement of 2+ passengers during the 8-10am hours that West Drive and 72nd Street are open is not enforced. 90% of the cars have a single passenger.
    2) The 25mph speed limit (and 15mph speed limit around certain curves) is not enforced. The 160 tickets that the 22nd precinct issued for all of 2010 were primarily for speeding on the traverses, but speeding on the loop is a much greater hazard to park users.
    3) The 12 hours that the 6th Avenue to 72nd Street section is open is entirely too long, and there is not HOV requirement.
    4) The 4 hours that the East Drive is open double the length of time it should be open, and does not have an HOV requirement.

    If Commander Philip Wishnia of the 22nd Police Precinct would enforce the HOV requirement during the 8-10am hours, this would at least be an improvement because it would drastically reduce the number of vehicles in Central Park during those 2 hours.

    If Wishnia would enforce the speed limit this would also be a huge improvement. Currently the motorists drive about 40mph and do not stay centered in their lanes and partially straddle the bike lanes in order to achieve speeds beyond what the curves would allow if driven properly. When the bike lane is full of joggers/pedestrians and cyclists must use a road lane, the motorists do not acknowledge the right of cyclists to do so. Instead they tailgate, blow their horn, yell, intentionally pass without a safe passing distance, etc.

    As the park become more and more full of people who are not regular cyclists but who rent a bike for a ride – those riders are going to be terrified of this type of driver aggression and are going to be startled by the horn honking, the tailgating and the intentional near side-swiping. These recreational riders are not going to be able to react well to that dangerous driver behavior and there are going be accidents.

    Since Commander Philip Wishnia can not be counted on in any way to enforce the laws for motorists (neither the HOV morning requirement nor the speed limit on the loop), the best solution is to make the park care free. Something must be done to make it safe.

    Wishnia has the manpower to issue 638 summonses a month to bicyclists but has shown no willingness to issue summonses for the truly dangerous motorist behavior going on in the park. Rather Wishnia’s officers witness the speeding and even drive along side motorists going 40mph and do nothing. Wishnia does some kind of very occasional “spot check” of the HOV requirement which obviously is not working. Wishnia declines to station officers at the entrances to enforce the HOV restriction in any meaningful way.

    A car free Central Park would be such a great solution to all these problems because police enforcement of laws that would make the park safer is not going to happen.

  • Glenner

    Free the loop!

  • Stephen

    This is a great legislative move, and the right time to get it done.

    Regarding yet more bike tickets for faded 15mph signs, I never hear anyone mention the fact that there are numerous signs, clearly visible, that ‘disallow’ driving in the lane closest to the bike lane on certain sections of the loop, esp. on the southeastern and mid-western sections. They are definitely there, and there’s a big red dash across the cars symbol for driving in that ‘left’ lane. Does this get discussed, and why don’t they just sit there and hand tics to cars for that?

  • vnm

    Daphna, thanks. I thought it was 7-9 for some reason.

    At any rate, the same thing happened to me last August when there was a movie shoot that really did open up the west side of the loop to peds and cyclists for the entire morning. No traffic nightmare then either.

  • LN

    Enforce the 25MPH speed limit on CARS in the CP and Prospect Park loops, and the car drivers will leave on their own accord.

  • Lisa

    Go Gale! I’m proud to call you my city council representative! We will support you 100% with this proposed legislation!

  • Pandabear

    LN, please keep in mind that the Central Park Precinct gets to make up its own speed limits. Why stop at 25? I vote 12 for cars, 55 for bikes.

  • As a NYC transplant, here in Portland [14 years], I can attest to the “decades-long fight” to get cars out of Central Park [off the Loop Drives]. I participated in many rallies … it was a no-brainer then, and is a no-brainer now. Please, get it done.

  • I vote 51 for cars and 75 for 4 wheelers.

  • JJ

    I’m way late to this discussion, but I live in San Diego, CA and wish my city council representatives would introduce similar (if not exact!) legislation for Balboa Park! Central Park is obviously the greatest “city park” in the US, in many peoples opinion. Balboa Park has/had potential but they have allowed swaths of land to be taken up by many things including but not limited to: a middle school and a high school, a Naval Hospital, the 163 & 5 Freeways, and numerous parking lots, the biggest which belongs to the San Diego Zoo: 19 acres. The park started at 1400 acres from the late 1800s to the 1940s. Officially, it is a 1200 acre park now. In my opinion, it has less than 1000 acres of usable parkland. Disgrace.


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