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Posts from the "Car-Free Parks" Category

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Eyes on the Street: The Part of Central Park That’s Only for Cars

Instead of making the park car-free, DOT's pedestrian safety improvements marked off space only for cars. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT’s recent changes to the Central Park Loop, intended to improve pedestrian space, include these markings to designate who belongs where. The safety barrier in the background is removed when cars are allowed in the park. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Central Park loop now has a 20 mph speed limit, new lane markings, and shorter pedestrian crossings during car-free hours. The changes, implemented last week, came in response to two pedestrian fatalities in separate bicycle collisions over the summer. The park’s traffic signals remain unchanged, and the park is still a shortcut for taxis and car commuters during certain hours.

One change in particular should help galvanize the car-free park movement — the text “CARS ONLY” has been added in giant highway-scale type to the lanes where motor vehicles are allowed.

New markings indicate lower speed limits in advance of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller

New markings urge slower speeds ahead of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD has installed portable electronic signs telling park users that the loop’s speed limit has now dropped from 25 to 20 mph. Speed limit signage throughout the park has been replaced, as well. And as loop drive users approach crosswalks, new signage and road markings recommend traveling at 10 mph at the approach to crossings. New signage and barriers have been installed at some crosswalks to mark the pedestrian crossing.

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Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. ”I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

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Traffic Lights Don’t Belong on a Park Loop

It's full of cyclists and joggers, but Amsterdam's Vondelpark loop is designed differently than the one in Central Park. Photo: Jannes Glas/Flickr

Cyclists, joggers, and walkers coexist on the loop in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. Photo: Jannes Glas/Flickr

Two separate crashes in which cyclists struck and killed pedestrians on the Central Park loop have garnered more media attention than any other traffic safety issue in the past two months. In addition to the inevitable reemergence of a few bikelash trolls, the collisions have led to a round of less spiteful stories that still miss the mark, framing the whole issue in terms of adherence to traffic lights. Collisions on the loop roads in both Central Park and Prospect Park are preventable, but trying to compel pedestrians and cyclists to obey signals won’t get the job done.

It’s easy to gather a ton of B-roll of cyclists in the parks proceeding through red lights and pedestrians crossing against the signal or outside crosswalks. This type of coverage, however, misses the point: The problem in the park isn’t that people are disobeying the stop lights. The problem is the traffic lights themselves, which cause more conflict than they prevent.

Traffic signals came to New York in 1920, to impose order on what the New York Times recently called “the growing onslaught of automobiles” navigating the city’s right-angled intersections. On the park loops, conditions are quite different: People crossing on foot, no longer on the lookout for high-speed motorized traffic, expect greater freedom of movement, while the stream of joggers and cyclists on the road, unencumbered by bulky metal cages and generally moving at speeds that enable eye contact with other people, can engage with their surroundings in a way that drivers cannot. It’s nothing like the intersection of two city streets, yet it has similar traffic control devices.

Expecting pedestrians and cyclists in Central Park to obey traffic lights is like expecting drivers on the Belt Parkway to use hand signals before they change lanes. It’s the wrong technique, applied to a situation where it just won’t work.

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Summer Streets and (Mostly) Car-Free Central Park: Same As Last Year

It's back, but not bigger: Summer Streets and a mostly car-free Central Park will return this summer, as smaller car-free streets events in all five boroughs continue to grow. Photo: DOT

It’s back, though not bigger: Summer Streets and a mostly car-free Central Park will return this summer (sorry, Prospect Park), and smaller car-free streets events in all five boroughs continue to grow. Photo: DOT

Six years ago, when Summer Streets was introduced, the New York Times asked: Will it work? This year, the question is: Why isn’t the city doing more of it?

The ciclovia, which attracted 300,000 people over three Saturdays last August, will mark its seventh year by returning to the East Side on August 2, 9, and 16 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The event brings car-free streets, art, and activities to almost seven miles of Park Avenue and Lafayette Street between 72nd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Like last year, there will also be by a completely car-free loop drive in Central Park north of 72nd Street, removing car traffic from that section of the park 24 hours a day from Friday, June 27 to Labor Day.

Trottenberg said that after this summer, the city will look at expanding Summer Streets and car-free hours in both Central Park and Prospect Park, which was left out of today’s announcement.

“I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are interested in making both parks a lot more car-free, and I can tell you we’re working on it,” Trottenberg said, adding that traffic signal or engineering changes might be required because traffic picks up after Labor Day. “We would love to expand the program,” she said. ”You just have to make sure you have a good plan to accommodate that.”

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What’s the Status of Car-Free Central Park and Prospect Park in 2014?

Last year, the city announced that much of Central Park’s loop drives would go car-free all summer long. With temperatures warming, the park is again filling with people walking, jogging, and biking — all sharing space with car commuters looking for a rush-hour shortcut. Will it happen again — or expand — this year? Negotiations are underway to bring a car-free summer back to Central Park, and meanwhile it’s still an open question whether Prospect Park users will get similar summer traffic relief for the first time.

A pleasant, car-free Central Park. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr

Central Park could be pleasant and car-free all the time. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr

The movement for car-free parks has gained momentum and major political support after years of advocacy, yielding design changes to park roads and steady expansions of car-free hours in two of the city’s busiest parks.

The push for a car-free Central Park has been complicated of late by a de Blasio administration pledge to ban horse carriages and replace them with old-timey electric cars in the park. Last week, the Central Park Conservancy came out against the electric cars, saying they would “increase congestion” and “make the park less safe.” Cars in the park are tied with crowds as the top complaint of Central Park visitors, according to a 2011 survey by the conservancy [PDF].

Horse carriage operators have seized upon the car-free park message to argue against a ban on their industry. ”As carriage drivers, our priority is safety,” said carriage industry spokesperson Christina Hansen in a statement released by the Teamsters union. “With tens of thousands of injuries caused by car crashes every year in New York City, why bring cars into Central Park at all times of day?”

The landscape has also shifted across the East River, where Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took over from car-free Prospect Park opponent Marty Markowitz. It remains to be seen, however, if Adams will become a champion of getting cars out of the park. His old state Senate district included the park, and he has a record of equivocating on the issue. “I would love, ideally, to close all our parks to vehicular traffic, but I don’ t want to do it in a manner that would put the surrounding communities into an environmental or traffic shock,” he told Patch in 2011.

Adams’s Manhattan counterpart, Gale Brewer, has a much more direct take on Central Park. “I remain committed to a permanent ban on cars in the park,” Brewer said in a statement. ”In the meantime, an almost car-free park in the summer months is a great initiative and should continue.”

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Flashback Friday: TA’s 1997 Car-Free Park/Earth Day Ride (With Chants!)

After news broke that the east and west drives of Central Park will be car-free for two months this summer, this seemed like a fitting installment from the vault of Clarence Eckerson this week: The Transportation Alternatives 1997 Earth Day ride, which held up the goal of a car-free park Central Park as a symbol of environmentally-friendly transportation policies.

New Yorkers have been demonstrating for a car-free Central Park at least since 1966, when Ed Koch rode in a horse-drawn carriage, leading what the Times called a “heterogenous throng” of cyclists calling to get cars of the park. At the time, drivers had unrestricted access to the park drives — all day, every day. But later that spring the city enacted car-free hours on summer weekends, the first roll-back of automobile incursion into the park since cars were first allowed in 1899.

Many more demonstrations would follow, as did expansions of car-free hours. The 24/7 car-free zone in Central Park north of 72nd Street this summer wouldn’t have happened without all the activism of the last 50-plus years. With traffic still allowed during rush hours most of the year, not to mention the south end of the park this summer, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last car-free Central Park demonstration.

This ride also went over the Queensboro Bridge, where pedestrians and cyclists still did not have a full-time dedicated path. With the city letting motorists use the North Outer Roadway, bike commuters had to stop and board a shuttle bus to get over the bridge on the evening ride home. The 1997 action was part of a long fight for access that advocates won a few years later. Young Clarence had yet to master Streetfilms logistics, however, and that part of the ride is lost to history.

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Car-Free Parks? Not During This Hudson River Greenway Drive-In Picnic

Driving over a mile on a car-free greenway for that perfect picnic spot? No problem. Photo: Katty Van Itallie

New York City’s parks are supposed to be a respite from the noise and stress of the city. It seems a few people haven’t got the message — and are using the Hudson River Greenway bicycle and pedestrian path as their personal driveway to the Upper Manhattan waterfront.

Reader Katty Van Itallie tells Streetsblog that she was biking on the greenway at about 6:30 p.m. yesterday when she came across a couple of SUVs parked on the grass near the Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park. The drivers and passengers had set up a sunset picnic nearby. When she snapped some photos, one of the members of the group approached her, telling her not to take pictures of their cars and that they had a permit for the drive-in.

“There would certainly be a permit for a picnic. I can’t speak to the driving,” said Parks Department spokesperson Phil Abramson. UPDATE: ”No permits were issued for any kind of event at this park,” Abramson said in an e-mail to Streetsblog.

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Eyes on the Street: New Stripes for Pedestrians and Cyclists in Central Park

Workers applying bicycle markings on West Drive in the 80s. Photo: Rod Huntress

Last month, Streetsblog reported that the Central Park loop would be getting a new lane configuration to clarify where pedestrians and cyclists belong, similar to changes recently implemented in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Less than 30 days after the announcement, walkers, joggers, and bike riders are all getting some extra room in the park, while the space for cars has been narrowed to one lane, calming vehicular traffic. Reader Rod Huntress sent in these photos from a ride this morning.

Council Member Gale Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, said the fix has been widely welcomed. ”Everybody seems pleased with the process and the outcome,” she said.

West Drive near the 90th Street entrance is already receiving the new treatment. Photo: Rod Huntress

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In Flushing Meadows, Parking Encroaches on Queens Park Space

New parking garages, in the top left and top right of the image, would add 500 parking spaces to Flushing Meadows park. Image: United States Tennis Association via Parks Department

When New York City played host to the 1939 World’s Fair, the most influential attraction in Flushing Meadows was General Motors’ Futurama, a miniature vision of a future with highways crisscrossing through cities and mass ownership of the personal automobile. A science fiction vision at the time, it wasn’t far off from what ultimately happened.

Today, Flushing Meadows is a beloved park for the many Queens neighborhoods that border it, but one that retains an unusual degree of accommodation for the automobile. Residents are cut off from the park by two highways, the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, while the Long Island Expressway effectively cuts the park in two. Like the World’s Fair itself, all are Robert Moses creations.

And unlike in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where decades of activism have steadily reduced the amount of space and number of hours where cars are allowed in Central and Prospect Parks, in Queens’ premier park, the city is moving in the other direction. There are no car-free hours on Flushing Meadows’ park drives, for example.

And now, the desire to expand the park’s use as a site for major sports stadiums could bring hundreds or even thousands of new parking spaces inside the park, drawing new automobile trips on park roads.

As first reported by the Daily News, the United States Tennis Association wants to build two new parking garages as part of its proposed expansion of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The expansion, which is focused on adding capacity during the U.S. Open, would turn two existing surface lots into structured garages, adding about 500 parking spaces in the process.

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Now You Can Bike Both Ways Across Central Park on 72nd Street

Photo: Heidi Untener

The two-way, buffered bike lane across Central Park on 72nd Street is rounding into form, with most but not all of the markings in place, readers tell us. The path is rideable in both directions, adding a critical piece of east-west connectivity to the bike network.

Reader Heidi Untener sends this pic from a recent trip on the improved 72nd Street, which used to provide only a westbound lane for bikes, and nothing between the Central Park loop and the eastern and western edges of the park. The two-way path consists of spacious seven-foot-wide bike lanes and a four-foot buffer, and the motor vehicle right-of-way has been slimmed from two lanes to one.

Heidi reports that there are no directional arrows yet, and that the bikeway is still a little “funky” where it crosses the loop on each side of the park. Overall she said the bikeway is going to make daily trips to school and camp with her kids much better. She and her family “cheer each time we ride through.”

When the Central Park Conservancy announced the DOT project last year, car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin called it “a significant step both toward making crossing the park on a bicycle less perilous and toward a car-free park in general.”

If you’ve been following the transportation bill news from Streetsblog Capitol Hill, then you know we are going to be posting a deluge of bad news. Savor this bit of progress, Streetsblog readers, because it’s probably the only scrap of news today that will nourish your hope for the future.

Here’s another angle, courtesy of Ken:

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