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.

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