Happy Independence Day: Central Park North Loop Is Car-Free This Summer


Beginning next week, Central Park’s north loop will be closed to cars for two months, DOT announced today.

From a DOT Summer Streets 2013 press release:

Beginning Monday, July 8, Central Park’s drives north of 72nd Street will be car-free for the remainder of the summer, greatly enhancing access for pedestrians, bike riders and all park-goers.” The West Drive is currently open to motor vehicle traffic from 8 to 10 a.m. and the East Drive from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays only and they are closed to traffic all other times. This two-month expansion follows numerous community requests to expand car-free access to the park and is possible because of decreasing car volumes in recent years on both the park drives and adjacent roadways. Pedestrians and bicyclists on the park drives outnumber cars by 3 to 1 during the summer, when citywide traffic volumes are at their lowest, and local avenues are expected to see traffic volumes comparable to what they already see in other months. DOT will monitor the closure until limited hours return on Sept. 3.

New Yorkers of all stripes have for years pressed the city to return Central Park to its natural car-free state. A car-free trial has been endorsed by community boards, electeds, and, of course, park users. Hopes for trials in 2011 and 2012 didn’t pan out — the city collected traffic count data two summers ago — and for the first time in a while, there was really no buzz to speak of this year.

Tireless car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin says he and other community board members got the news yesterday. He sent us this statement:

I am both delighted and disappointed. This temporary closing means that for a brief time park-goers north of 72nd Street will experience the park as it was always meant to be experienced — as a true refuge from the city. Nevertheless, it is hard to understand why this administration has not seized the opportunity to institute a trial closing of the entire park to car traffic. Every community board surrounding the park has called for a trial closing, and despite the progressive scaling back of car access to the park over the years, car volumes on adjacent roadways have actually decreased. Still, we must be grateful for this symbolically important step towards a park free of cars, which many officials now view as an inevitability.

Years of activism by Transportation Alternatives and others have led to the reclamation of space on the park loops, the closure of vehicle entrances, and fewer hours of car access. In 2005, TA gathered 100,000 signatures in support of a car-free park. (Check out the video above for Streetfilms coverage.)

While it’s not all advocates hoped for, TA welcomed today’s news.

“Central Park, Manhattan’s own backyard, will be a lot safer and more inviting for New Yorkers this summer,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, via press release. “This is a welcome development for all who utilize the park on foot or bike.”

In other news, car-free events across the boroughs are back with Summer Streets and Weekend Walks. From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on August 3, 10, and 17, Park Avenue will be open to people from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park.

Streetsblog will be off tomorrow and back publishing on Friday. Happy 4th everybody.

  • Daphna

    I echo Ken Coughlin’s sentiments. This is good news and is long overdue, but it’s disappointing that it is only from 7/8 – 9/2 and is only making a portion of the park car-free.

    Reducing the car lanes from two to one at 72nd Street and above in Central Park beginning last October was a tremendous improvement. If misguided political will wants to keep Central Park open to drivers after 9/3/13, I do wish the evening hours would be shortened from 3-7pm to 4-6pm, to make it a two-hour period just like the morning 8-10am two-hour period.

    Also, from 59th & 6th Avenue to 72nd and 5th Avenue still will be open 12 hours a day from 7am-7pm. These hours should be shortened: the section should only be open for the 8-10am morning and 3-7pm evening (or less).

    I wish the animal rights advocates who care so much about the horses would push for this. Those drivers race around that lower section despite the painted lines that have narrowed their lane by striping a bike lane and a horse carriage lane on either side of the motorist travel lane. The horses would be so much happier and safer with a car-free park; they would also benefit at least from having the hours of vehicle traffic lessened in that section.

  • Daphna

    Summer Streets also being only three Saturday mornings in August is disappointing. Street fairs close streets up to 6pm when they run. I wish Summer Streets could be a full day instead of just the morning. Starting at 7am and ending by 1pm is too early for many people to enjoy.

  • Anonymous

    Hopefully people will love this and demand it’s kept. Up next car free Prospect Park!

  • Albert

    It’s almost funny how the distance to the goal of a car-free park is halved, then halved again, and then halved again, like Zeno’s paradox, in an attempt to stave off the inevitable, forever. First it was increasing the number of car-free hours, then it was closing some entrances to cars, then adding HOV rules, then lowering speed limits, then closing parts of the loop at different times of the day, restriping, etc., etc. [and there were many more increments!]

    As Ken says, delighted and disappointed.

    But this increment appears to have an additional benefit that hasn’t been mentioned by DOT or anyone else: from 3-7 PM cars will (apparently) no longer be entering the park at E. 72nd, and northbound cars will have to exit the park at E. 72nd. This means that these two streams of traffic will no longer interfere with legitimate park users using the east-west 72nd Street part of the loop (which is officially closed to cars during that time but in actuality is currently still “shared” with cars at this dangerous intersection).

    At least this new configuration will last for the rest of the summer.

  • Albert

    One more thing:

    I can’t imagine that this DOT stat from their press release is accurate: “Pedestrians and bicyclists on the park drives outnumber cars by 3 to 1 during the summer.”

    There are thousands of people running, walking and cycling on the loop throughout the year, the whole day long and into the evening, 7 days a week, and that number explodes during the summer, while the number of cars ruining it for everyone else is actually relatively small during the thankfully restricted hours only 5 days a week. Even during the highest car volumes, from 8:45 to 9:15, there are only in the hundreds per hour for that 1/2 hour. 3 to 1? I’d say it’s more like 300 to 1. Which is even more reason to make the park car-free, finally.

  • Anonymous

    They left out the part of the park where cars cause the most problems. South of 72nd Street, the loop is narrower, and it’s also where most of the pedestrians are (not to mention horses and pedicabs).

  • Voter

    What a sophisticated understanding of traffic John Liu used to have before he decided to run for mayor!

  • Ex-driver

    Where are those traffic counts, anyway? It sure seems to me from casual observation that not many cars even use those northern sections. Though the ones that do seem even more out of place now that they are restricted to one lane.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps that stat refers specifically to the hours that the loop is open to cars.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Little by little we are getting closer to a car-free park. I hope this trial proves that the sky doesn’t fall when you reduce car access to Central Park. Then, next year, we can go for a full car-free trial.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo to Ken Coughlin and TA for a terrific step forward.. I think we can pick up the pressure in September for Bloomberg to keep it closed permanently.. adn reduce the hours south of 72nd … What does he have to lose?

  • KillMoto

    And perhaps people running, strolling and cycling choose to avoid those hours… it’s possible that if they counted ratios only during car hours, the number of humans on the road is still artificially depressed by the presence of motorists.

  • Mark

    I see your point, but I don’t know if its truly fair to compare the number of users for the whole time when some of them are barred except in a very narrow window.

    It doesn’t really make a fair comparison.

  • Andrew

    Very good point.

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