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Posts from the "Central Park" Category

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If Central Park Was Car-Free, New Safety Measures Could Be in Place 24/7

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The pedestrian safety improvements coming to the Central Park loop narrow crossing distances the most during car-free hours. When cars are in the park, pedestrians will have a longer distance to cross. Image: NYC DOT

Four major pedestrian crossings on the Central Park loop will be redesigned to shorten walking distances and alert approaching drivers and cyclists, the city announced today. The new crossing treatments are part of a package that will also lower the speed limit on the loop from 25 to 20 mph.

Two people were killed by cyclists in separate collisions on the loop this summer — 75-year-old Irving Schachter, struck by a teenage cyclist who reportedly swerved into the running lane to avoid a pedicab, and 58-year-old Jill Tarlov, hit at a marked crossing by a cyclist who frequently trained in the park (but whose speed at the time has not been determined).

The changes DOT will implement should reduce the risk of pedestrian injury on the park loop. If motor vehicle speeds decline, all other traffic on the loop should be less harried during the hours when cars are allowed in the park. When cars are not in the park, the four major crossings will be even shorter for pedestrians, with movable barricades and signs with concrete anchors narrowing the distance further. These are the locations that will get the new treatment:

  • West Drive at Delacorte Theater (near W. 81st Street)
  • West Drive at Sheep Meadow (near W. 68th Street)
  • West Drive at Heckscher Ballfields Crossing (near 63rd Street)
  • East Drive at Terrace Drive (near E. 72nd Street)

Still, the fact that this design will minimize crossing distances when cars aren’t around points to the basic shortcoming in the plan: As long as the design of the loop has to accommodate car traffic, safety measures can only go so far. In a completely car-free park, the safer pedestrian crossing distances could be permanent, and the city could get rid of the traffic signals that cause misunderstandings between pedestrians and cyclists.

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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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Sanity Prevails as Advocates and Officials Discuss Central Park Safety Issues

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Monday night, Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, the commanding officer of NYPD’s Central Park Precinct, led a discussion of street safety in Central Park. Convened by the Central Park Conservancy, it drew representatives of most major advocates and organizations of recreational users of the park, including NY Road Runners, Transportation Alternatives, Asphalt Green Triathalon, Central Park Skate Patrol, and various bike clubs and bike racing organizations.

Responding to the tragic killing of Jill Tarlov, the group worked to build on education and enforcement programs for users of the Central Park loop. In contrast to the overheated rhetoric in the tabloids and local TV newscasts, sanity prevailed. Some of the more radical proposals that have surfaced of late — such as closing the loop to bikes — were not even mentioned. Lowering the speed limit in the park did not come up either. It appears that, at least in the short term, cyclists’ use of the park will continue as it has before, albeit with a continuation of the increased level of enforcement already seen for most of 2014.

Inspector Corey started with some statistics: Year to date, there have been 168 crashes involving cyclists in the park, with six involving motor vehicles, 98 involving cyclists crashing on their own, 27 involving two or more cyclists, and 37 involving pedestrians. In addition with the two recent pedestrian fatalities, she mentioned three cases involving pedestrian skull fractures, including one which occurred during the early morning hours when training bicyclists are supposed to use the park loop.

Corey also reported nearly 700 moving violations and 100 criminal citations issued to cyclists year-to-date — a nearly six-fold increase over the first nine months of 2013. Most of these summonses were for failure to yield to pedestrians, although she indicated that there has been an increase in red light tickets as well following the two recent fatalities and other serious crashes.

I raised the issue of criminal summonses, since I’ve received several reports of cyclists on the loop going slowly through red lights, while no pedestrians were in the crosswalk, receiving summonses for “reckless driving” — a misdemeanor charge that applies only to motor vehicle operators and is used only for the most serious misconduct by motorists. The recipients of these summons will be forced to appear in criminal court — there is no way to resolve the summons by mail — but will have the charges dismissed (because they are not motor vehicle operators) after wasting half a day at court. I explained that this kind of criminal summonsing is not only completely improper, but breeds contempt, rather than respect, for the law. Inspector Corey promised to investigate these criminal summonses.

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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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Cyclist Strikes Woman in Central Park — Victim on Life Support

A cyclist in Central Park struck a woman yesterday afternoon, inflicting life-threatening injuries. The victim, 59-year-old Jill Tarlov of Fairfield, is on life support, according to the Daily News. The Post reports that she has been declared brain-dead.

The collision happened on the West Drive of the park at around 4:30 p.m. Tarlov was in a crosswalk near 63rd Street, which has a traffic light, when Jason Marshall struck her on a racing bike. Accounts in the Post and the Daily News don’t specify who had the right of way or what speed Marshall was traveling. Police told Gothamist that Marshall had swerved to avoid other pedestrians. An investigation is ongoing.

Regardless of the color of the traffic light, this crash happened in a park that’s supposed to be a refuge for everyone.

Transportation Alternatives released the following statement regarding the crash:

Because we are serious about reaching Vision Zero, we need to speak out in response to every preventable tragedy and condemn all acts of reckless behavior in traffic. As the most vulnerable users of our streets, pedestrians must be safe from reckless cycling, just as they need to be protected from reckless driving. This is particularly true in our parks. As we await the conclusion of the investigation, our thoughts are with Jill Tarlov and her family during this difficult time.

It is extremely rare for a cyclist to fatally injure a pedestrian in New York City, but this is the second fatal or potentially fatal bike-ped collision in Central Park this year. After five years in New York without a fatal crash, a teenage bike rider struck and killed 75-year-old Irving Schachter on the east side of the park loop in August.

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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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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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Central Park Roadways Will Get More Room for Cyclists and Pedestrians

Above, a rendering of the type of roadway redesign that will be implemented in Central Park to expand space for cyclists and pedestrians. Image: DOT

This evening, DOT, the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy announced a change to road configurations in Central Park similar to recent changes in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The plan [PDF] would double available pedestrian space and bring the installation of plastic posts to separate cyclists from walkers and joggers.

DOT said that it has notified local elected officials and community board leadership of the proposal and will begin implementation in October.

Lane configurations would vary within the park, but would in most locations reduce the number of motor vehicle lanes to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists.

When reached via phone earlier today before the changes were officially announced, a spokesperson for Gale Brewer said the Upper West Side council member, a long-time advocate for car-free parks, would welcome a roadway design similar to what has been implemented in Prospect Park.

Transportation Alternatives also voiced support for the design. “Parks are for people and that’s why we’ve long supported a car-free Central Park,” TA said in a statement earlier today. “However, in the meantime, separate spaces could help. It’s a proven fact that separate spaces for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers keep everyone out of each other’s way and out of harm’s way.”

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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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