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Car-Free Parks

In Flushing Meadows, Parking Encroaches on Queens Park Space

1:10 PM EDT on August 1, 2012

New parking garages, in the top left and top right of the image, would add 500 more parking spaces to Flushing Meadows park. Image: United States Tennis Association via Parks Department

When New York City played host to the 1939 World's Fair, the most influential attraction in Flushing Meadows was General Motors' Futurama, a miniature vision of a future with highways crisscrossing through cities and mass ownership of the personal automobile. A science fiction vision at the time, it wasn't far off from what ultimately happened.

Today, Flushing Meadows is a beloved park for the many Queens neighborhoods that border it, but one that retains an unusual degree of accommodation for the automobile. Residents are cut off from the park by two highways, the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, while the Long Island Expressway effectively cuts the park in two. Like the World's Fair itself, all are Robert Moses creations.

And unlike in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where decades of activism have steadily reduced the amount of space and number of hours where cars are allowed in Central and Prospect Parks, in Queens' premier park, the city is moving in the other direction. There are no car-free hours on Flushing Meadows' park drives, for example.

And now, the desire to expand the park's use as a site for major sports stadiums could bring hundreds or even thousands of new parking spaces inside the park, drawing new automobile trips on park roads.

As first reported by the Daily News, the United States Tennis Association wants to build two new parking garages as part of its proposed expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The expansion, which is focused on adding capacity during the U.S. Open, would turn two existing surface lots into structured garages, adding about 500 parking spaces in the process.

Those new parking spaces would be built directly adjacent to the 7 train and Long Island Railroad stations and just steps further from CitiField's 8,800 on-site spaces and 3,680 spaces in remote lots.

Local community boards have loudly spoken out against the added parking, according to the News. “Queens is getting to be a parking lot. It’s wrong,” Eugene Kelty, the chair of Community Board 7, said. “We’re not building parking garages. I can’t see my board voting that way.” Agreed Marta Lebreton, chair of Community Board 3, "You don’t need to put a large structure and ruin what the park is. It is still a park."

Those 500 spaces may not be the only ones added to Flushing Meadows, either. Momentum is growing to build a new soccer stadium in the park as well, likely on the site of the current Fountain of Industry. In many ways, it's a great fit; soccer's popularity is growing city-wide and the fan base in immigrant-heavy Queens would be huge. But if the idea comes to fruition, it would likely mean even more cars in the park.

It's hard to imagine the new stadium being built without a single parking space -- even in Brooklyn's most transit-rich location, that didn't happen -- and local politicians are already calling for parking to be included. State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, for example, told Newsday she was worried about there being enough parking on site (the soccer stadium would require approval from the state legislature).

Queens community groups are ramping up for an effort to keep their park from becoming a parking lot. Stay tuned for continued coverage of the newest fight for car-free park space.

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