The Times Invites Drivers to Take a Spin Through the Central Park Loop

Say what you will about yesterday’s Corey Kilgannon piece extolling the “guilty pleasure” of driving on the Central Park loop, it’s refreshing to see the New York Times veil of objectivity stripped away, revealing the naked windshield perspective beneath.

I mean, here it is, raw and unfiltered. Driving on city streets is miserable (“the doldrums of Midtown traffic”), and…

As a reporter who covers stories all over the city and suburbs, I often need a car. When heading uptown from the paper’s newsroom in Midtown, I regularly find myself using the park drives.

Kilgannon’s elegy to Central Park motoring is several shades more reasonable than another classic in the windshield perspective genre: John Cassidy’s infamously irrational anti-bike treatise from this March. Where Cassidy, an economics writer at the New Yorker, came across as an entitled boor, utterly clueless that streets should not be designed to maximize the convenience of his evening Jaguar excursions, Kilgannon writes with awareness and remorse. Enjoy it while you still can, he says to Central Park motorists, we don’t belong here.

In his eagerness to share one last drive on the loop with other motorists, however, Kilgannon hands out instructions that will probably confuse anyone who actually takes him up on the offer:

Say you find yourself slogging up Avenue of the Americas, which ends — as well it should, that confounded, car-congested corridor — at 59th Street, the southern border of Central Park.

If it’s between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on a weekday, you’re in luck: Drive right in, and you are beamed, Star Trek-style, from the doldrums of Midtown traffic into a bucolic, meandering, charming thoroughfare of trees and lawns and lakes.

It’s true that people are allowed to drive into the park during those hours, but only from that entrance at Sixth Avenue and 59th, and they can’t go north of 72nd Street unless it’s the p.m. rush. Try driving into the park at any other point during those times, and odds are pretty good that you’ll do it during car-free hours. Later on in the piece, Kilgannon lays out the full schedule of where you can drive on the park loop and when, which is still pretty complicated.

Shortly before I read the Kilgannon piece, we got a tip in the Streetsblog inbox that explains why the confusion needs to end. Reader Albert Ahronheim wrote:

About 2:15 pm today I was on my bike, slowly riding west on the 72nd Street cut-through (i.e., during car-free hours in that location), among let’s say dozens of cyclists, pedestrians, dog walkers, joggers, etc., when I heard a car coming up behind me.  Annoyed as usual by this all-too-often situation, I turned my head to find out what parks emergency I’d have to get out of the way of, and instead, there was an ordinary-looking car (i.e., not parks, police, ambulance, etc.) approaching me quite briskly.

I started edging a bit to the left (no hurry, as far as I’m concerned) when suddenly the driver gunned his engine and passed me quite closely on my right.  Suddenly the driver was heading directly for a woman on a bike riding down the hill from the 72nd Street entrance.  She screamed, very much like you hear in a horror movie, and fell off her bike when she swerved right-then-left to try to get out of the guy’s way, while he accelerated and swerved around her and continued on up the hill toward the 72nd street entrance.

I happened to have my voice recorder with me and I quickly spoke the guy’s license # into it, asked the woman if she was OK (she was), and rode off to chase the guy.  I caught up with him turning left at CPW and yelled at him that I had his license #.  I followed to the next light, hoping to see a policeman.  When there was none, I rode back to talk to the woman.  She was gone and no one there seemed to have witnessed the incident.

I rode on to the meeting I’d been on my way to (now late) and realized that the “safety” of my voice recorder had been on and I hadn’t actually recorded the license #.  I then took off the safety and recorded the number I remembered and cursed myself for no longer being 100 percent sure of it.

On my way home at 4:15 I saw a police van parked at the side of the 72nd Street cut-through near 5th Avenue and told a policewoman the story.  Although she seemed sympathetic, at first she mentioned the possible extenuating circumstances. “Maybe he was authorized to be driving in the park.” To which I replied that if he was authorized, he still shouldn’t be driving recklessly in the park.  She nodded her agreement but told me there was nothing they could do about it anyway because they hadn’t witnessed it themselves.  She said that if the woman had been hurt then it would have been a hit-and-run and they could then use the license number to look for the guy. I said to her that this is why there shouldn’t be any cars in the park at all, and she replied, “Yeah, it would make our jobs so much easier.” I said, “Yeah, I’ve heard that from other police, that they’d like the cars to be out of the park altogether,” and she nodded and said I was right.

Luckily no one was hurt.  Sad that this guy — a white man, gray short hair, about 70 — in his (sporty) very clean white car (I guess I’m a true livable streets advocate because I have no idea what make, model or year car it was) — sad that this guy won’t be called to account.  I do hope he’s shaking in his Corinthian leather bucket seat for a few days.