Central Park Drivers Get Bigger Holiday Gift Than Usual

Photo: Ken Coughlin.

Photo: Ken Coughlin

In what’s shaping up to be a yearly tradition, car-free hours in Central Park have been cut back for the holiday season. Each weekday this month, on the southeast corner of the park drive, the park’s pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers have three fewer hours of quiet and safety.

The stretch of the park drive between Sixth Avenue and Central Park South and E. 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue is already open to cars more than any other part of the park. Year-round, it’s open to cars from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m on weekdays. But between November 29 and December 30 this year, drivers have an extra three hours each day to use Central Park as a shortcut to the Upper East Side.

That means 2010 will actually be the second annual step backwards from the goal of a car-free Central Park. During the 2009 holiday season, the same stretch of road was opened to traffic until 9:00 p.m. For the two years before that, DOT had actually done away with the practice of imposing holiday hours to move more cars through the park.

Last year, Streetsblog reported that the decision to open up the park for longer wasn’t made by DOT, the agency in charge of the city’s streets, but rather by the NYPD.

Photo: Ken Coughlin.

Photo: Ken Coughlin

This year, the changes aren’t posted where vehicle hours are listed on either the Parks Department or Central Park websites, and the reduction in car-free time isn’t included in DOT’s annual holiday traffic plan [PDF]. The DOT press office referred our initial request to NYPD. We’re awaiting a response from the police.

At least this year, the city put up sufficiently visible signage alerting those on foot or a bike that they’re headed into traffic at hours when there normally isn’t any. Last year, the only signs were laminated 8½ by 11-inch flyers stuck to signpoles. One reader wrote in to say that the same flyers are back, and they’re just as hard to notice. This time, however, park users without an engine also merited the same electronic signs that alerted drivers of their extra hours.