Central Park and Prospect Park were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvin Vaux whose vision was to create oases that New Yorkers could use as a refuge to escape the "confinement, bustle, and monotonous street-division of the city." Concerned, even then in the late 1800's, that a turbid stream of coarse traffic" would disrupt the park’s tranquility, they intentionally sunk the transverse roads (in Cenral Park) eight feet below the Park's surface. Little did they know that cars would come to invade and diminish the havens they had created.
As Transportation Alternatives, the city's premier bicycling and pedestrian advocacy organization, writes on its web page --
"Car were first allowed in the Park in 1899, by permit only, to join the afternoon parade of carriages that had been a fixture in the Park for the previous 30 years. But as the automobile became increasingly common, its drivers cared less and less about taking their place in this parade and more and more about using the park solely to bypass congestion on adjacent city streets. (See "Ban the Cars! A Historical Plea." The New York Times, May 15, 1994.)A campaign has been waged for many years to restore the Parks to their original pristine conditions -- a place for New Yorkers to rest and recreate free from the hustle and bustle, congestion, pollution and noise of the surrounding city. A place, perhaps the only place, where they can escape car traffic entirely.
"Today, the loop drive's primary purpose for 7 to 12 prime hours of every weekday is as a shortcut for a small number of drivers. Those people who come to the park to relax or exercise are herded into a crowded recreation lane and exposed to dangerous drivers."
Due to the outstanding activism of Transporation Alternatives and its supporters, over 100,000 New Yorkers have signed petitions demanding car-free Central and Prospect Parks. Slowly, the authorities (who have forever given priorty to cars over walking and cycling New Yorkers) have curtailed the hours that cars could enter the parks.
In recent days, Mayor Bloomberg has again cut back car use by partially curtailing either northbound and southbound traffic during certain hours. That's progress but still not nearly enough. Advocates have demanded 24/7 freedom from cars for at least three months as a trial to prove that banning cars from the parks would not lead to catastrophic congestion in the surrounding streets as car-use proponents have suggested would happen.
Legislation has been introduced in the City Council that would allow such a trial. Supported by councilmembers from neighborhoods adjacent to both Central and Prospect Parks, the bill, if passed, would mandate such a three month trial.
I stood on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday. A press conference had been called to announce the launching of Intro. 276 which, if passed, would close the park loops to vehicular traffic and return them to the exclusive domain of recreating New Yorkers from June 24th through September 25th. (Note that under the bill Prospect Park's loop would remain open to cars on weekdays from 7-9 am). In addition to several dozen NYC residents, transportation experts, civic leaders and others were prominent political leaders, including John Liu, head of the Council's Transportation Committee, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Upper Westside Councilmember Gail Brewer and Brooklyn councilmember Bill DeBlasio.
Interested New Yorkers can help out by signing the petition online and volunteering time and finances to help build support. Better yet, New Yorkers can call on their councilmembers to support Intro. 276. Find out who represents you in the City Council right here.
John Liu, City Councilmember from Queens and chair of its Transportation Committee, makes a strong statement on behalf of car-free parks.
Applause for John Liu for his strong support of Intro. 276.
Paul Steeley White, Chair of Transportation Alternatives, introduces Councilmember Gail Brewer.
White, Brewer and Manhattan Borough Pres Stringer.
Bill DeBlasio, councilmember representing Park Slope, supporting car-free parks.