In Its Third Year, Car-Free Day Isn’t Getting Any Bigger

Car-Free Day is a fine event that suffers from the fact that Mayor de Blasio has never embraced it and made it his own.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez announcing this year's Car-Free Day earlier today. Not present: Bill de Blasio. Photo: Office of NYC Council Speaker
Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez announcing this year's Car-Free Day earlier today. Not present: Bill de Blasio. Photo: Office of NYC Council Speaker

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez on the steps of City Hall this morning to announce that New York’s third annual “Car-Free Day” will be held on Saturday, April 21.

Car-Free Day is a fine event that suffers from being something of a political orphan. Mayor de Blasio has never embraced it and made it his own, and without mayoral backing it hasn’t attained the scale of more notable car-free events around the world.

An accompanying press release today noted that the initiative “has grown every year,” but the 2018 plans don’t seem much different than last year. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the city will open up Broadway from Union Square to Times Square, and St. Nicholas Avenue from 181st Street to 190th Street. There’s no mention of the neighborhood car-free events that DOT scheduled concurrently with Car-Free Day last year in Astoria, Sunnyside, Brooklyn Heights, and Melrose.

We have an inquiry in with Rodriguez’s office to see if there will be any additional car-free streets in 2018.

In other cities, mayoral enthusiasm has turned car-free day into a genuinely transformational event. In Bogota, the annual car-free day initiated by Mayor Enrique Peñalosa in 2000 is estimated to take 600,000 cars off the streets, as the whole city forgoes private motoring.

Recently Peñalosa implemented a variation on car-free day, setting aside a large network of streets where people can bike free from car-induced stress for eight days:

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In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo keeps expanding the scope of car-free day, which last year covered 40 square miles of the central city. The number of cars on Paris streets falls by as much as two-thirds on car-free days, and Hidalgo views the event as a way to communicate the potential for permanent changes to reduce traffic and change the transportation system.

In New York, de Blasio hasn’t taken to car-free day with much enthusiasm, and there doesn’t seem to be any incipient momentum for the City Council to join forces with the mayor and turn our version of the event into a launching pad for policies to reduce traffic and improve walking, biking, and transit.

Car-free day will be fun for everyone who can make it to Broadway or St. Nicholas, and it’s a welcome gesture by the City Council. But the day after, New York won’t be any closer to a low-car transportation system.

Photo: Jeff Prant
Broadway at 18th Street during last year’s Car-Free Earth Day. Photo: Jeff Prant
  • Larry Littlefield

    I still want a car-free weekend for Manhattan south of 60th Street for the first weekend in August, organized as an annual “World of New York” festival. A real street fair with different ancestries all over the area, culminating in a multi-ethnic parade several miles long on Sunday.

    The event would begin Thursday evening at 10 pm, making it a three day event. Just buses and people bringing in stuff to set up after that. Fireworks Saturday night. Several outdoor music stages. Various oddball sports competitions. Etc.

    Sean Sweeney could get out of town to his presumed second home somewhere.

    It could be held in honor of my birthday. Or perhaps Barack Obama’s, who was born one day later.

  • Zero Vision

    The BQX is essentially a zombie project, dead but still lumbering along. The mayor has mostly come around on congestion pricing, but did a lot of damage by being so dishonest about it for so long. He refuses to do anything about placard abuse and has made the problem worse by doling out parking passes as political favors. My bet is that for the rest of his time in office, he’ll remain mostly agnostic about DOT’s work, stepping in here and there to support a bike lane or an SBS route, but mostly letting things move at a snail’s pace.

    Bill de Blasio is a complete disaster on transportation and not up to the challenge of moving NYC into the 21st century. If people realized how central these issues are to their lives and the city’s success in terms of a center for business, education, and culture, they’d surround City Hall with pitchforks and torches.

  • Jeff

    I’d argue that, in terms of impact, it’s gotten smaller, as this year it’ll be on a Saturday as opposed to a weekday. This falls more in line with the usual, “You can play a bit on the weekends, but during the week the Real Adults with Real Places to Go need to drive their cars.”

  • A “car-free day” should be a day when it is illegal to drive anywhere in the City!

    I think Jimmy Breslin had the idea of such a day occurring regularly when he ran for mayor in 1969.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No more bullshit.

  • ohnonononono

    Philadelphia came somewhat close to this idea in 2015 when they banned cars in Center City for the weekend of the Pope’s visit. Is this the closest an American city has come to creating a major car-free area in post-war history? It could serve as a good model as even the unfaithful heathens who live and work within the restricted zone had a good time: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/us/streets-closed-to-cars-for-pope-francis-visit-transform-philadelphia.html

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