Will City Hall and DOT Finally Commit to Car-Free Parks This Summer?

Photo: Stephen Miller
The city’s most crowded parks double as shortcuts for taxis and black cars. More than 100,000 New Yorkers have signed petitions asking City Hall to make the park loops car-free. Photo: Stephen Miller

Spring is here, and that means the loops in Central Park and Prospect Park are increasingly crowded, with cyclists, joggers, and walkers squeezed by rush-hour traffic. Will the de Blasio administration finally make the parks car-free this summer?

Last year, DOT repeated the same partially car-free regime in Central Park that the Bloomberg administration introduced in 2013. While the loop north of 72nd Street was free of cars from June 27 to Labor Day, motor vehicle traffic was still allowed in the park south of 72nd Street during rush hours. (The car-free geography in Prospect Park did not change at all.)

Trottenberg explained at the time why she wasn’t expanding car-free hours:

“I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are interested in making both parks a lot more car-free, and I can tell you we’re working on it,” Trottenberg said, adding that traffic signal or engineering changes might be required because traffic picks up after Labor Day. “We would love to expand the program,” she said. “You just have to make sure you have a good plan to accommodate that.”

Now, the question 10 months later is: Does DOT have a plan? Last October, council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced Intro 499, a bill that would have forced the administration’s hand by requiring the entire Central Park loop to go car-free for three summer months, followed by a study “determining the effects, if any, of the closing of the loop drive.”

It looked like the bill was headed to a hearing at the transportation committee last week, but it was removed from the agenda after Levine tweeted out a message urging support for the bill. That could actually be a good sign: Word is that City Hall may take action without legislative prodding.

“The council members have been working with the administration on this, and things are moving forward outside of the legislative process,” explained Rosenthal spokesperson Stephanie Buhle. “There’s no plan to have the bill heard for now.”

Staff of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have also spoken in recent months with city officials and the Prospect Park Alliance about a car-free trial this summer. “The Borough President continues to support a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” said Adams spokesperson Stefan Ringel. (Adams’ Manhattan counterpart, Gale Brewer, has been a longtime supporter of a car-free Central Park.)

There is no done deal, however, according to DOT. “We are continuing to discuss possible scenarios with Council Members and other stakeholders,” said agency spokesperson Bonny Tsang.

Stay tuned.

  • Jesse

    Here’s a plan:
    1.) Put up barriers.
    2.) ????
    3.) Profit!

  • BBnet3000

    Prospect Park has a lot of places that need added “yield to pedestrian” warning lights (right by the Grand Army Plaza entrance for instance), and other places where the traffic light could be removed entirely (the back hill) if the park road were not set up for the tiny portion of each day where a handful of cars drive through.

    Most of the existing lights are at entrances for cars (most of them now closed to all but service vehicles) rather than natural desire points for pedestrians.

    Did anyone else notice that during the winter despite there being a handful of drivers in Prospect Park at a time that they were using the bike lane as a second car lane? On two occasions I was buzzed ridiculously close and nearly ran off the road while riding at the left side of the bike lane.

  • BBnet3000

    The barriers are already there 90% of the time. They just have to leave them there for good. As this article details, all the ducks are in a row for this. It’s really not clear to me what is holding this back.

  • AlexWithAK

    I’d love to see numbers on how many cars use Prospect Park when it’s open to them. The number can’t be very high and I’d imagine resistance would be relatively low there to closing the park to cars.

  • AlexWithAK

    I constantly see cars sneaking through the park at non-car hours, too. Talk about entitlement.

  • Reader

    This should be a no-brainer. One of the keys to Vision Zero success is limiting places where people on foot and on bicycles interact with motorists. There’s no more natural place for that than in a park. That it’s taken this long is just insane.

  • com63

    Underpants!

    It would be nice if they just put up the barriers and then “forget” to remove them in the fall, just like how they “forget” to re-stripe bike lanes when they repave streets.

  • The concept that cars can use the park as shortcut in this way is utterly ridiculous. I never even really understood the concept until I saw it.

  • KeNYC2030

    At this point the evidence and sentiment in favor of car-free parks is so overwhelming that the DOT needs to explain exactly whose interests it is championing in continuing to allow motor vehicle access.

  • SheRidesABike

    Every year most of the drive shuts down for at least a week before and after the NYC Marathon, which takes place a mere 8 weeks after Labor Day. There is never a single GD peep about the traffic problems this creates on the rest of the midtown grid. Perhaps because shutting the park to cars does not significantly impact auto traffic in Manhattan, hmmm?

  • And in just we have to wait for someone to die?

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

De Blasio Gets More Cars Out of Central Park and Prospect Park

|
Starting in a few weeks, people will be able to enjoy the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street and the west side of Prospect Park year-round without having to worry about motor vehicle traffic, Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The changes will significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in both parks while stopping short of […]

Central Park Above 72nd Street Is Now Car-Free Forever

|
Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot […]

Car-Free Parks: The Anticipation Builds

|
When City Council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal withdrew a bill that would have made the entire Central Park loop car-free for three summer months, the assumption was that City Hall was preparing to lead on the issue. “The council members have been working with the administration on this, and things are moving forward outside of the legislative process,” […]
Central Park should not be a taxi shortcut. Photo: Simon Alexander Jacob/Flickr

Saturday: Ride for Car-Free Central Park

|
A car-free Central Park is a popular cause, and advocates have made a lot of progress, but the job's not done yet. Below 72nd Street, car traffic still roars on the West Drive and Terrace Drive on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. The Center/East Drive between 6th Avenue and Park South and East 72nd Street is a motor vehicle shortcut on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.