Prospect Park’s West Drive Is Now Permanently Car-Free

Photo: Ben Fried
Photo: Ben Fried

A week after Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before the de Blasio administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

  • Kevin Love

    Don’t we love the bigotry on the sign. The park is only “closed” to car drivers. Looks like everyone else doesn’t count.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Thanks, Chicken Underwear! You are the man. I remember you really giving Mayor Lindsay a piece of your mind at that meeting in 1966. He never would have implemented weekend car-free hours if it weren’t for you.

    Then there was that amazing 1991 demonstration you organized and led. We marched around the Park Drives with hundreds of people, effectively closing the park to cars with our bodies. That sure got Borough President Golden’s attention.

    Then in 2002, who can forget?… You organized and led a months-long petition drive — not an easy-peasy Internet petition drive, mind you. You had us out in the park itself collecting signatures by hand every weekend for eight weeks in a row. Under your leadership we gathered 12,000 signatures calling for a three month car-free park trial. Then at a big public meeting at Union Temple in front of 400 people and the press we got all five City Council members around the park (including a first-termer named DeBlasio) to pledge their support for the three month car-free trial. That was huge! Immediately after that, DOT implemented a major expansion of weekday car-free hours in the park. What a win that was.

    And on and on and on through the decades. One win after another. Steadily and surely you expanded the amount of car-free time and closed park entrances and lanes to cars. And now here we are, after forty-five years of your bold leadership, with the park finally, nearly, completely car-free. Thank you for your service, Mr. Chicken Underwear! You did it all yourself. Get that East Drive closed and they’ll build a Chicken Underwear statue for you in Grand Army Plaza. ; )

  • red_greenlight1

    “(A)t some point in the coming years.” Meaning after the areas completely gentrify.

  • It’s not that. The streets on the east side of the park aren’t prepared to handle the quantity of cars that would be pushed on to them in the mornings. The am rush has almost 3 times as many cars as the pm rush.

  • KeNYC2030

    I have news for Commissioner Trottenberg: You provide a road, and drivers are going to use it. You take it away, and drivers will mysteriously vanish. But I imagine she knows this already. What she is really saying is that maybe in a few years the political pressure for a totally car-free park will be strong enough to overcome the perceived political pressure not to temporarily inconvenience a relative handful of drivers.

  • joe shabadoo

    I’d guess the only way Ocean Ave could handle even 50% of the east drive’s traffic would be to make it two lanes by taking away a hundred parking spots and also modifying the left turn onto Flatbush.

  • That would be a good start. But I know someone who takes the Flatbush Avenue bus towards grand Army Plaza in the mornings. She often gets off by the zoo and walks to the library because it’s quicker.

  • BBnet3000

    You mean a half dozen cars per light cycle at most? That’s ridiculous.

    Just because Ocean Ave has a lot of traffic doesn’t mean the park road is necessary to relieve it. If the Park Road is so necessary why don’t more people switch from Ocean Ave today?

  • BBnet3000

    Its still not that many cars.

  • BBnet3000

    Only in America does a road with more people using it than before count as “closed”.

    I just hope I don’t get a ticket for riding on it…

  • Daniel

    Actually, there is a huge speeding problem on Ocean Ave during rush hour and the people living along the street want the DOT to reduce the number of lanes during rush hour to slow it down. This is because there is a rush hour regulation so there are two lanes in the prevailing direction, but there are too few cars utilizing the capacity leading to the speeding problem. Most likely we’ll lose the excess lane on Ocean Ave to slow it down in the next year or two, and then whenever the current city council members term limit out we will eliminate cars on the East drive. The whole “too much traffic” argument holds no water. It is a translucent fig leaf intended to protect Laurie Cumbo and Mathieu Eugenge from criticism for their failure to stand up for no cars on the East Drive.

  • In this case, since the purpose of the sign is to inform drivers at Grand Army Plaza that they won’t be able to use the West Drive as a shortcut anymore, I’m glad they went with this language.

  • joe shabadoo

    do you know where to get traffic volumes for the park drives and surrounding streets? haven’t been able to find it online

  • Parker Walker

    Removing automobile commuters from Prospect Park during the morning rush would almost certainly have a negligible impact on traffic congestion outside the park. Traffic is bad now. And it’ll continue to be bad after the park is completely car-free. Unless transit is improved, streets are redesigned to prioritize more efficient modes, and commuters are encouraged through policies like congestion pricing to leave their cars at home, traffic will be bad. Leaving a small number of cars in Prospect Park will have no real impact on commute times. It only ruins the park.

    Every effort to remove cars from the park over the last 30 years has been met with this same claim — traffic will become impossible on the streets immediately adjacent to the park. This claim has always been proven to be flat out wrong. If Mr. Underwear was even remotely aware of the history of the Car-Free Prospect Park campaign, he’d know that.

    The most glaring example of these incorrect traffic predictions came in the late ’90s and early ’00s. NYC DOT did a big traffic volume study that claimed removing car traffic from the park was simply impossible and unacceptable. Not long after the completion of this study, Transportation Alternatives succeeded in winning a huge expansion of car-free hours during weekdays. None of DOT’s cataclysmic traffic predictions came true. Most reasonable people stopped believing DOT’s dire traffic congestion predictions after that. And, mostly, DOT stopped making these predictions after that.

  • Parker Walker

    You can find some older data on NYC DOT’s web site. The archive might also have some good links.

  • I’m honestly just repeating what was said at the press conference in Prospect Park a few weeks ago

  • joe shabadoo

    I found average daily traffic but that’s for the entire day, not broken down by hours.

  • joe shabadoo

    Good to know. I haven’t driven there during the AM rush for a few years but my recollection was that it was congested and slow.

  • Kevin Love

    Because “West Drive Car-Free” is so much more difficult for car drivers to understand?

  • red_greenlight1

    Funny some people argued that about the west side too.

  • I hear you. The city is clearly not the making of a change in the traffic patterns this summer. If we keep the pressure on and get them to count some cars and some studies maybe things will change

  • David Horowitz

    Brooklyn is filled with immigrants from all over who speak scores of different languages. I can easily imagine some motorists thinking “Car-Free” means “It’s free for cars to drive through here.” But I get your point. It is pathetic that the park is now considered “closed.”

  • The thing is, it’s not car free. There still to be tons of cars. Police on and off duty, and all sorts of service vehicles.

    That’s not even the problem. The problem is the continual use of the term “car free”. It really brings out a knee-jerk negative reaction from most of the people who live in New York City. Even for New Yorkers that don’t own a car they think of that phrase as coming from the hipsters and automatically against it.

  • Fear not, dear park Loving motorists! You can always come to SF’s Golden Gate Park(ing)! It was built on a cartopian dream & an apologetic amount of space for pedestrians & bikers.


Mayor de Blasio speaking at Grand Army Plaza this morning. Photo: David Meyer

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