Sunday, March 19, 2006

A car-free Central Park

The traumatic experience of seeing one of the West Drive Screech Owls fly directly into a passing car on the West Drive a few weeks ago mobilized many birders into joining the movement to ban car traffic in Central Park. Below is Cal Vornberger's recent posting on the subject, and a link to an organization that is at the center of the anti-cars-in-Central-Park movement. On their site you can learn more about the issue and if you wish you may sign a petition against cars on the looped drives of Central Park. [The east-west transverses are not at issue. They were designed to preserve the park's beauty and safety by going underground through a sunken drive and a series of bridges and tunnels.]

Support a Summer Ban on Cars in Central Park

If you are like me and deplore the pollution and other dangers posed by cars in Central Park then I urge you to support Transit Alternative's "Car-Free Central Park" campaign by attending the rally at City Hall on Sunday, March 26th at noon.

This is from TA's Web site:

"Car drivers 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.)

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.

Getting drivers out of the Central Park Loop Drive is not a huge or complicated task. Seventy percent of the car traffic on the Loop Drive is made up of cab and livery car drivers, whose passengers have easy access to alternative driving routes and to subways and buses. All of the drivers in the park each hour could easily fit into one subway train.

But while there are alternative routes for drivers, there is no alternative to Central Park. If we can't escape from the noise and insult of car traffic in Central Park, where can we go?"

Below, an article printed in Thursday's [3/17/06] Daily News: Below that, a link to the Transportation Alternatives website.


Fans of Central Park, led by some elected officials, want Mayor Bloomberg to prohibit cars from entering the roadway loop around the park for a three-month trial period this summer.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and other elected officials plan to deliver a car-free Central Park petition with more than 100,000 signatures to Bloomberg during a rally at City Hall this month.

"There's really no good reason that cars should be roaming Central Park," Stringer told the Daily News. "Cars just don't mix with this park."

In a letter last November to Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group leading the campaign, city Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall wrote that closing the loop to cars would "adversely affect congestion and pollution levels throughout Manhattan."

"While we continue to investigate opportunities to limit traffic on the Central Park loop, it remains a critical transportation link for commuters, and we are unable to prohibit vehicles from using the loop at this time," Weinshall said.

This week, aides to Weinshall and Bloomberg declined to comment on the parkgoers' request, referring all inquiries to the city's Parks Department.

Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesman, said the city is "reviewing their proposal."

Park advocates, who will rally Sunday, March 26, argue the summer is an ideal time to close the park's traffic loop for a trial period because recreational demand is at its highest and traffic volume at its lowest.

Graham Beck, the car-free campaign coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, said advocates recently received "strong encouragement" from inside the Bloomberg administration. He declined to comment further.

In 2004, the city announced it would reduce traffic in Central Park by closing four car entrances and barring cars for all but seven hours each weekday.

The loop is now open to cars weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. The park is car-free 79% of the time, city officials said.

Ken Coughlin, chairman of the car-free campaign, called the three-month trial a "reasonable" compromise, given that park users hope cars will be permanently barred from the loop.

He said it's an ideal way for the city to test its fears that closing the loop would wreak havoc on traffic.

"It's a park. It shouldn't be used as a traffic artery," Coughlin said. "It was created to be a refuge to the surrounding urban din."

Originally published on March 17, 2006