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Posts from the "Central Park" Category

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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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Bike Ticket Blitz Reportedly Underway in Central Park

Heads up if your p.m. bike commute takes you through Central Park, or if you’re planning on an after-work ride. This just in from reliable source (and Streetfilms star) Marcus Woollen:

If you have an encounter in the park this evening, tell us about it in the comments or email tips@streetsblog.org.

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Making History: 2004 Car-Free Central Park Film Chosen for MCNY Exhibit

In the midst of a 2004 petition drive and campaign, Transportation Alternatives hired me to produce a mini-film called “The Case for a Car-Free Central Park.” It featured interviews with many prominent New Yorkers, like Columbia professor Ken Jackson and author Roberta Brandes Gratz, along with dozens of everyday park-goers testifying about how they felt about cars in the park.

The film was the centerpiece of a TA rally attended by nearly 700 people. Just a few weeks after the rally, the city took substantial action. From TA’s chronology of cars in Central Park:

2004:  Speed limit on the loop drive reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph. West 90th and East 102nd Street entrances and exits closed to cars. West 77th and East 90th entrances closed to cars. West 72nd street slip-ramp closed to cars. People reclaim overnight and early mornings in the park. Cars get to enter 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 7 pm. HOV 2+ rule on West drive during morning rush hours.

It’s an absolute honor that “The Case for a Car-Free Central Park” was selected as a featured element for “Activist New York,” an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Beginning May 4, the program will examine social activism from the 17th century to the present. We’re glad the curators realized the significance of this video in New York’s history.

Make sure to check out what surely should be an excellent exhibit. For now, you can watch the entire 20-minute film, available for the first time ever on Streetfilms!

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Three CB8 Committees Approve Two-Way 72nd Street Central Park Bike Lane

In Central Park, 72nd Street is going to have more space for bicycles and one less lane for cars come June.

A plan to transfer one lane of 72nd Street from motor vehicles to bicycles in Central Park earned a thumbs up from three committees of Manhattan Community Board 8 last night, a strong show of approval from a board with a mixed record on bike infrastructure. The total vote was 13-1, with one abstention, according to transportation committee co-chair A. Scott Falk.

The two-way buffered bike lane was proposed last month and would be the second path for cyclists trying to cross Central Park. It will run continuously from Central Park West to Fifth Avenue, unlike the current cross-park path near 96th Street, which includes dismount zones, and should be striped by June.

The near-unanimous support from Community Board 8′s transportation, parks and landmarks committees was far from preordained. The board opposed the creation of the 96th Street path through Central Park by a 31-13 vote last year. That route allows cyclists to share what was formerly a pedestrian-only path through the park. The 72nd Street proposal, in contrast, takes space away from cars and met with a warmer reception from the board.

Many board members were also persuaded by the argument that without a legal way to cross the park between 96th Street and 59th Street, cyclists would just cross the park illegally, and with more potential for conflict with pedestrians.

“While two of the CB members seemed to have an ideological problem with the project because it provided a benefit to cyclists, all of the other board members but those two voted for the project without voicing any serious reservations, with several voicing strong support,” said Transportation Alternatives East Side Committee chair Steve Vaccaro. “It may be that CB8, under its more recent leadership, is finally turning the corner and joining the rest of the city in welcoming livable streets.”

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Two-Way Bike Lane Will Cross Central Park Along 72nd Street

In Central Park, 72nd Street is going to have more space for bicycles and one less lane for cars come June.

This summer, cyclists will have a second path to safely cross Central Park.

At a meeting of CB 7′s Parks Committee last night, Central Park Conservancy President Doug Blonsky announced that the Department of Transportation will paint a new two-way bike lane along 72nd Street all the way between Central Park West and Fifth Avenue, reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes on that stretch of the park road from two to one.

Unlike the new cross-park bike route near 96th Street, this one won’t be a shared path for cyclists and pedestrians, nor will it include dismount zones at either end of the park. Blonsky said the redesign should be in place by June.

“This is a significant step both toward making crossing the park on a bicycle less perilous and toward a car-free park in general,” said Manhattan Community Board 7 member and car-free Central Park advocate Ken Coughlin. “For the first time, cyclists will legally be able to traverse the entire park without walking their bikes at any point or risking their lives on the sunken transverses.”

At the meeting last night, Blonsky said that reviews of the designated bike route along 96th Street have been positive so far, but that no additional crosstown bike paths through the park are planned until the Conservancy has more time to observe the first two, according to Coughlin. Previously, the Conservancy floated plans for additional cross-park paths at 102nd Street and 86th Street.

The removal of a traffic lane from 72nd Street, which is open to cars during rush hour, marks another step in the incremental reclamation of Central Park from motor vehicles. ”The fact that non-motorized transportation now has priority on a park road bodes well for a return to the true urban refuge the park’s designers envisioned and created,” said Coughlin.

Last year, several community boards surrounding the park and the Manhattan Borough Board voted in favor of a summer car-free trial. In response, the Bloomberg administration apparently began to measure traffic volumes on the park road so the effect of a trial can be quantified.

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Rumor Mill: City Collecting Data for Car-Free Central Park?

Central Park advocate Ken Coughlin tells us he’s spotted a traffic counting strip on the park loop, near Tavern on the Green.

The theory is that the city is gathering traffic data this summer as a baseline for a car-free park trial next year. That would jibe with recent remarks from Mayor Bloomberg and references to park data collection reported in the Times earlier this month.

Over the spring, supporters of a car-free trial lined up endorsements from every community board surrounding the park, and had hoped to free the park for recreational use from the July 4 weekend until Labor Day. The mayor was unmoved to implement a trial this year, but recently hinted that something might move forward once the city collected sufficient data.

“We are doing studies,” Bloomberg said on July 12. “Until we really can understand the traffic patterns and what effect it will have, we’re just not going to go and rush to do it.”

A request to DOT for confirmation that the city is indeed counting cars in the park was not immediately answered.

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Community Boards Line Up for Car-Free Central Park. Whither Bloomberg?

By unanimous voice vote, the full board of Manhattan CB 11 has passed a resolution endorsing a summer trial for a car-free Central Park. Says park advocate Ken Coughlin, “We have the agreement of all the boards surrounding the park and are now waiting for a response from DOT on whether they will move ahead with a July 4 weekend to Labor Day closing.”

The proposal has gained near-universal support at the community board level, with hundreds of board members voting in favor and only a handful of votes against, and is simpatico with the wishes of Central Park Conservancy head Douglas Blonsky. But it will need a push to overcome resistance from Mayor Bloomberg.

Coughlin says the next step will be a public campaign by Council Member Gale Brewer and others. (Streetsblog has messages in with Brewer’s office for details.) The Manhattan Borough Board must also cast an official vote on the resolution, Coughlin says, “Which will give us another opportunity to raise the issue, but we hope we won’t need it by then.”

Not only would the trial give users much needed room and the freedom to enjoy the city’s premier green space without having to dodge cars and suck exhaust this summer, the effect would spill over into surrounding neighborhoods, which could expect a major drop in cut-through traffic. Given the benefits and such a diverse base of approval, it’s hard to imagine what constituency the mayor would be playing to by refusing to close the Loop Drive for two months.