UWS Shows Support for Car-Free Park, But Broader Campaign Is Lacking

Last night’s unanimous votes in support of a summer-long car-free Central Park by Manhattan Community Board 7′s parks and transportation committees moved the ball forward for advocates of car-free parks. With no movement at the mayoral level on the issue, any successful push will have to come from the bottom up. Similar statements of community support will be needed from more than one neighborhood.

Everyone from members of the City Council to legendary Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving has said that Mayor Bloomberg has the power to make Central Park car-free overnight.

In 2008, students marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote 10,000 letters supporting a car-free Prospect Park. Current campaigns to make NYC's flagship parks car-free haven't seen the same level of local organizing. Photo: Ben Fried

Unfortunately, Bloomberg doesn’t appear disposed to do so any time soon. “If you did not allow cars in the park during rush hour,” the mayor said in March, “the rest of the city streets would be overloaded and it would create an awful lot of traffic.”

So the pressure to keep cars out of parks will have to come from the local level in the communities surrounding Central Park or Prospect Park. The CB 7 votes in favor of a summer pilot are an important step forward on that front; while the full board still needs to pass the resolution, it is likely to do so with that kind of committee vote.

This year, the City Council has become another arena for advancing car-free parks proposals. Upper West Side rep Gale Brewer recently introduced legislation to make Central and Prospect Parks car-free.

But Brewer’s efforts in the Council haven’t gained traction. Only four of her colleagues — Fernando Cabrera, Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Daniel Dromm — signed onto the bill. Last month, Brewer decided to drop Prospect Park from her bill in the wake of opposition from Brooklyn officials.

At the community board level, much work remains to be done to build the momentum necessary to make change happen. Ken Coughlin, a long-time leader in the fight for a car-free Central Park, was enthused by CB 7′s support but said he wasn’t aware of any parallel effort in the other community boards surrounding the park.

The Upper West Side appears to be the epicenter of the movement for car-free parks. But for the campaign to succeed, more neighborhoods will have to join the fight.