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Car-Free Parks

Flashback Friday: TA’s 1997 Car-Free Park/Earth Day Ride (With Chants!)

After news broke that the east and west drives of Central Park will be car-free for two months this summer, this seemed like a fitting installment from the vault of Clarence Eckerson this week: The Transportation Alternatives 1997 Earth Day ride, which held up the goal of a car-free park Central Park as a symbol of environmentally-friendly transportation policies.

New Yorkers have been demonstrating for a car-free Central Park at least since 1966, when Ed Koch rode in a horse-drawn carriage, leading what the Times called a "heterogenous throng" of cyclists calling to get cars of the park. At the time, drivers had unrestricted access to the park drives -- all day, every day. But later that spring the city enacted car-free hours on summer weekends, the first roll-back of automobile incursion into the park since cars were first allowed in 1899.

Many more demonstrations would follow, as did expansions of car-free hours. The 24/7 car-free zone in Central Park north of 72nd Street this summer wouldn't have happened without all the activism of the last 50-plus years. With traffic still allowed during rush hours most of the year, not to mention the south end of the park this summer, I'm sure we haven't seen the last car-free Central Park demonstration.

This ride also went over the Queensboro Bridge, where pedestrians and cyclists still did not have a full-time dedicated path. With the city letting motorists use the North Outer Roadway, bike commuters had to stop and board a shuttle bus to get over the bridge on the evening ride home. The 1997 action was part of a long fight for access that advocates won a few years later. Young Clarence had yet to master Streetfilms logistics, however, and that part of the ride is lost to history.

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