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,” Rosenthal spokesperson Stephanie Buhle told Streetsblog in April.

Last year, DOT repeated the Central Park plan from 2013, which cleared the loop north of 72nd Street from late June until Labor Day while allowing drivers on 72nd Street and below. No changes were made for Prospect Park.

Will the big breakthrough for car-free parks come in 2015? Everything is in alignment. Public support is not in doubt. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has expressed support for a car-free trial for Prospect Park, and Manhattan beep Gale Brewer has long been a proponent for getting cars out of Central Park.

With the unofficial start of summer upon us this weekend, hopes are high, but time is also running short to get in a full three-month car-free trial.

DOT sent us this statement today:

We continue to have productive conversations with Council Members and other stakeholders on the topic and continue to work on this. Mayor de Blasio is a long-standing supporter of car-free parks.

So it seems something is in the works, but we don’t know what.

One thing to watch is whether both sides of Prospect Park will go car-free. Currently, the east side of the park is open to motorists during the morning rush, and the west side for the afternoon rush. Word is the city has been more reluctant to make the east side car-free because it gets more traffic. Central Park south of 72nd Street also remains a question mark.

We will resume our regular publishing schedule on Tuesday. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, everybody.

  • I don’t understand why this is taking so long. Eventually, rush-hour traffic is going to be banned from Prospect and Central Parks.

    My amateur efforts to circulate a purpose petition got 1000 signatures in a week. http://bit.do/4ZGJ

    Brad Lander, the City Councilman that represents Prospect Park just said this”“In light of strong and growing support from my constituents — as reflected in the Change.org petition created by our good friend Michael Ring — of the long-term success of the Prospect Park Drive reconfiguration in 2011 that significantly reduced traffic in the park, and of our continued work together toward Vision Zero, I agree: the time has come to get rush-hour traffic out of Prospect Park. I look forward to working with you in this effort.”

    And when the Mayor was my Councilman he saw limiting cars in Prospect Park as a beginning of ending traffic in Prospect Park

    There isn’t any one left who thinks it’s a good idea to have rush-hour traffic zooming through Prospect and Central Parks. Are the people who have the ability to make this change just waiting for someone to die?

  • Niles

    It can’t come soon enough, but given that they just reconfigured the 72nd Street traverse, I’m not holding my breath.

  • kevd

    What does a care free loop have to do with the transverses?

  • Jeff

    I believe this person is referencing the at-grade roadway that goes through Bethesda Terrace and whatnot.

  • Maggie

    It boggles my mind that bicyclists get zero notice of three summertime detours to the Hudson River Greenway, we wait for six(?) or eight (?) years for Brookfield to open the bike path along an eight-lane highway, and years later, DOT is still in “productive conversations” with “stakeholders” about whether local joggers and parents who want to take bike rides with their kids will have to dodge taxi-cabs in New York’s most famous park over Memorial Day weekend.

  • kevd

    Oh. Okay.

    I don’t get up there much so I was wondering exactly what sort of reconfiguration might have happened.
    There is also the frequent misunderstanding among non livable streets types that this would remove traffic from the transverses.

  • Eric McClure

    Let’s not make this a tale of two cities – both Central Park and Prospect Park need to be car-free, now.

  • Niles

    Perhaps traverse was the wrong word. It’s the 72nd street crossover on the loop. They restriped it to add a running lane. And added some extensive connecting bike markings at the intersection below strawberry fields. I tried to post a photo, but it’s too big.

  • kevd

    Ah. Got it. The walking / bike path, not the car / bus road (which I see is at 79th)

    It appears to be called “Terrace Drive”. Though there is no way I would have known that without the aid of google maps!

  • Mathew Smithburger

    Here’s an idea, how about we just do this? It’s not rocket science, stake holders and productive discussion with city council members aside just shut the thing down to car traffic for three months. This is a park in the middle of NYC not an on ramp in Fort Lee NJ to the GWB. It’s this kind of “We are working so hard….on this hard project….it’s hard…” crap that keep things in this city from not progressing.

  • AndreL

    You either believe community should engage in local projects or not. The problem with going steam-rolling is that it can work for the best and for the worse.

    Maybe Community Board members should be elected in open elections instead of appointed.

  • qrt145

    I’m still waiting to see some evidence, inkling, suggestion, heck, even an anecdote that any of the times that Central Park has been closed to cars have had significant harmful effects on surrounding traffic. This happens every year for marathon week and has also happened a few times without warning due to storms.

  • qrt145

    What I’d like to know is who those mysterious “stakeholders” who have reservations are. Last I heard the CBs, the Mayor, City Council members and DOT all said they supported car-free parks, and have for years, and yet nothing gets done.

  • Joe R.

    We’ve had enough experience on this matter to know that community engagement DOES NOT work with projects which span neighborhoods, or in this case projects which involve facilities which many outside the neighborhood use. Community involvement is fine for projects of a strictly local nature whose presence or absence doesn’t affect the city as a whole.

    Also, as qrt145 points out, a supermajority has wanted car-free parks for years. Why are we still “studying” the idea instead of just implementing it? It seems to me a vocal minority has been a major roadblock.

  • joe shabadoo

    If drivers ‘need’ to be allowed to drive through parks I should be allowed to spread out a chair and blanket on the street, right?

  • Matthias

    Is the ketchup commercial a reference to Memorial Day weekend or slow progress on this issue, or something else?

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    I thought it was just me seeing the ketchup since I bought a bottle at a bodega last night and what with the NSA ..

  • Indeed, I would say that you ‘need’ to do that.

  • J_12

    I don’t think the issue is lack of community engagement. Various forms of this proposal have been studied, discussed, and even implemented in limited fashion, for many years.
    At some point, somebody needs to make a decision. Doing nothing is basically a decision that making the park car-free is not important and is not going to happen.

  • J_12

    It’s obvious that all these officials do not support car-free parks. Anyone can say they are in support of something, but if they are not willing to actually take some action to get it done, the implication is clear.

  • Big news!

    From: Mayor’s Press Office [mailto:pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov]
    Sent: Thursday, June 18, 2015 9:48 AM
    To: Mayor’s Press Office
    Subject: MAYOR DE BLASIO ANNOUNCES MAJOR SECTIONS OF CENTRAL PARK AND PROSPECT PARK WILL BECOME PERMANENTLY CAR-FREE, DEDICATED SOLELY TO RECREATION

    THE CITY OF NEW YORK

    OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

    NEW YORK, NY 10007

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 18, 2015

    CONTACT: pressoffice@cityhall.nyc.gov, (212) 788-2958

    MAYOR DE BLASIO ANNOUNCES MAJOR SECTIONS OF CENTRAL PARK AND PROSPECT PARK WILL BECOME PERMANENTLY CAR-FREE, DEDICATED SOLELY TO RECREATION

    Changes will make two of NYC’s crown jewel parks safer and healthier, enhance public space and encourage New Yorkers to get active

    Central Park Drives north of 72nd Street will be permanently car-free starting June 29

    Prospect Park West Drive will be permanently car-free starting July 6

    BROOKLYN, NY—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced permanent improvements to Central Park and Prospect Park that will make the majority of each park car-free, with park drives dedicated solely to recreation for the first time in more than a century. The changes will restore major sections of two of the city’s crown jewel parks to their original vision as recreational paths, making the parks healthier, safer and more accessible to millions of New Yorkers.

    Central Park’s entire loop drive above 72ndStreet will be permanently car-free. Prospect Park’s West Drive between Grand Army Plaza and Park Circle, previously open to motor vehicle traffic for two hours during weekday afternoons, will likewise be permanently reserved solely for recreation. With these changes, more of each park will be car-free than at any time since the first automobiles were introduced to them at the turn of the 20th century. Combined, more than 45 million people visit Central Park and Prospect Park each year.

    “Prospect Park has always been my family’s backyard. That’s a sentiment New Yorkers in every borough feel about their parks. Making the loop drives in Central and Prospect Parks permanently car-free for the first time in more than a century will make these great spaces safer, healthier and more accessible to the millions who flock to them,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    The Department of Transportation conducted extensive traffic analyses of both parks’ loop drives and surrounding streets prior to undertaking these improvements. Neither change is projected to impact travel times or congestion in nearby neighborhoods. In Central Park, this change is consistent with the seasonal car-free summer hours of the past two years, which have proven to have had no adverse impacts.

    The four Central Park Transverse roads will remain open to motor vehicle traffic. Emergency and parks maintenance vehicles will continue to have access to the loop drives as necessary. To further improve mobility in Manhattan communities adjacent to Central Park, the DOT will extend the Fifth Avenue bus lane north to 110th Street from 7-11 a.m. on weekdays. Fifth Avenue is one of the heaviest travelled bus routes in the City, with over 74,000 local and express bus riders each day.

    “This is great news for the millions of people who come to walk, bike, and enjoy Central Park and Prospect Park every year,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “Thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s leadership, this expansion of car-free parks will create a greener, safer and more serene experience for all.”

    “Prospect Park and Central Park are known throughout the world as classic urban parks that have evolved to serve 21st century cities,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “Thanks to Mayor de Blasio, these great parks are now on the verge of the next stage of their evolution: a cars-free vision that will improve air quality, safety, and the park-going experience.”

    “Central Park Conservancy has supported a car free park for many years and we think this is a fantastic step forward,” saidDoug Blonsky, President and CEO of Central Park Conservancy. “Fewer cars in Central Park will not only make it safer for recreational use, it will also make it more of a natural retreat from hectic the pace of city life which was the original intent of its creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. They would be very happy today as are all of us at Central Park Conservancy.”

    “The Prospect Park Alliance supports the Mayor’s decision to reduce vehicular traffic in Prospect Park,” said Sue Donoghue, Prospect Park Administrator and President of the Prospect Park Alliance. “The Alliance works closely with the community, our agency partners and stakeholders to balance the needs of the diverse users of the Park Drive, and is consistently working to promote a safe environment for the cyclists, runners, walkers and other Park visitors who depend on the Park Drive for recreation and outdoor enjoyment.”

    “The closure of West Drive to car traffic is a tribute to the residents and advocates who worked tirelessly to highlight the challenges to street safety in and around Prospect Park. We are one step closer to ensuring that parks are for people, and we can be assured that step will be taken across a car-free street. I look forward to riding my bike down West Drive with other Brooklynites enjoying the beauty and tranquility of Prospect Park,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

    “Closing the Central Park loop to cars would make a huge difference in helping New Yorkers enjoy the greatest public park in the world, while having a minimal impact on traffic,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Freeing these large parks from the intrusion of traffic is the right move for the parks themselves and the New Yorkers who visit them, which is why I’ve been working toward this goal for years.”

    “Central Park is a beautiful, serene, and cultural oasis in the middle of the greatest, and busiest, city in the world. People from all over, including myself, enjoy the jogging, picnicking and recreational opportunities this historic park provides. Today’s announcement that our beloved park is moving one step closer to being completely car-free will provide for a much safer, quieter and healthier environment for all to enjoy. I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio’s commitment to a greener and healthier New York City,” said State Senator José M. Serrano.

    “Public parks are for people and other living things, not automobiles, traffic, and car exhaust. I applaud the move by Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Department of Transportation to limit cars permanently and year-round from Central Park and Prospect Park. In a dense urban environment like New York City, our communities need and deserve car-free parks,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried.

    “Protecting pedestrians in our parks is an essential piece of Vision Zero. Making two of our biggest parks nearly entirely car-free is in keeping with the original vision for our parks as an escape from the city landscape. I’m happy that Mayor de Blasio has committed to this change, prioritizing pedestrian safety in our parks,” said Assembly Member Dan Quart.

    “Closing the Central Park Drive at 72nd Street is in keeping with Vision Zero and will make the park safer for pedestrians and cyclists alike,” said Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal. “I applaud this decisive step and look forward to continuing to work together toward making our City streets and parks safe for all users.”

    “I commend the administration’s commitment to Vision Zero in Central Park, closing the loop north of 72nd Street to vehicles and, last year, lowering its speed limit to 20mph and adding barricades to separate pedestrians from cyclists. In 2014 two pedestrians lost their lives while crossing the Central Park Loop, and removing vehicles from the northern part of the loop will give pedestrians and cyclists room to coexist safely on the path. I look forward to working with the administration to extend this policy to the southern part of the loop in the near future,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.

    “Our city’s precious green spaces should be a refuge. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to worry about looking over their shoulder for on-coming traffic if they are out for a run, or a stroll, or a bike ride in the park. For decades, park and open space advocates have called for both Central and Prospect Parks to be car-free. Today, I’m proud to stand with them, Mayor de Blasio and New Yorkers across the five boroughs as we make that dream a reality,” said Council Member Mark Levine, Chair of the Committee on Parks.

    “Our parks belong to our children. By closing the loop we are making sure that the children of our city are protected from traffic. Congratulations to my colleagues, Council Members Rosenthal and Levine, as well as Mayor de Blasio, who have worked so hard to achieve today’s victory,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of the Committee on Transportation.

    “In light of both the strong and growing support from my constituents and the long-term success of the Prospect Park Drive reconfiguration in 2011 that significantly reduced traffic in the park, as well as the City’s continued work together toward Vision Zero, I agree: the time has come to reduce rush-hour traffic in Prospect Park,” saidCouncil Member Brad Lander. “I am glad to support Mayor de Blasio’s decision today, and thank him for his leadership making our city’s parks a safer place for New Yorkers to enjoy.”

    “Avoiding cars in certain sections of Prospect Park was as exhausting as the cars’ emissions. Making our parks car-free is going to make our air cleaner and safer for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “I commend Mayor Bill de Blasio for taking the wheel on this important issue.”

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