Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park
The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.
On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.
While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)
There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.
While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”
Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. “I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”
The campaign to achieve car-free parks goes back at least to the 1960s. Ten years ago this month, Clarence Eckerson Jr. debuted what he considers his first Streetfilm: a 20-minute epic about why the Central Park loop should not be a shortcut for drivers. A bill covering both Central Park and Prospect Park was introduced by then-Council Member Gale Brewer in 2011, but died in committee. It was co-sponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has since ascended to the speakership.
With a bill once again before the City Council, the de Blasio administration has been cagy so far. On Tuesday, reports Capital New York, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver said, “I believe it is something that very soon we’ll have to weigh in with a response. At this point, it’s something I haven’t given enough thought to.”
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last month that she has heard the call for car-free parks loud and clear, but argued for more study and consultation with community boards. Those community boards, incidentally, lined up in support of a car-free park very recently.
“The mayor has long been a proponent of reducing traffic in our parks,” said City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “We look forward to closely reviewing the Council’s proposal.”