The Car-Free Central Park Campaign

The goal of T.A.'s Car-Free Central Park Campaign is to permanently close Central Park's loop road to car traffic. We believe there are two important reasons why the park's loop road must be permanently closed to traffic.

First, the presence of car traffic mars the experience of the park for recreational users and poses a serious and ongoing safety and health hazard. Drivers are in the park precisely when recreational use is at its peak: in the mornings before the work day begins and in the evenings when children and adults flood the park to run, walk, bicycle or simply sit and enjoy a little nature in the midst of the city. Allowing drivers access to our nation's foremost urban sanctuary is one of the starkest examples of our city's willingness to cater to the "needs" of motorists at the expense of all other values.

Second, allowing vehicles on the loop road worsens congestion in our city. According to the Regional Plan Association, closing the loop would induce anywhere from twenty to sixty percent of motor vehicle drivers to switch to other transportation modes or significantly modify their driving patterns. As Danish urban planner Jan Gehl has said, "The amount of traffic in any city in the world is arbitrary. It's a matter of how much asphalt you gave them in the first place. If there were two avenues less in New York, there would be less traffic in Manhattan."

The hard work of T.A.'s Car-Free Central Park Committee has resulted in significant incremental gains in recent years. In fall 2004, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a number of reductions in driver access to the park including: extending daily car-free hours from 7 pm to 7 am the following day; closing four entrances and one exit; imposing an HOV requirement on the West Drive during the morning rush hour; and lowering the speed limit on the loop drive to 25 mph. In June 2006, the Bloomberg administration initiated a six-month trial closing of portions of the loop drive during the morning and evening rush hours. This fractional closing was renewed in January 2007. Finally, in August of 2007, Mayor Bloomberg granted Central Park an additional car-free hour from 7-8 am along the West Drive. On this latest action, DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan explained, "Central Park is busy in the mornings with walkers, joggers and cyclists. I am pleased we will be able to provide additional time for everyone to utilize the park free from vehicles."

As welcome as these new restrictions are, they still leave much of the park's bucolic loop road, which has become the park's main recreational attraction, open to drivers for many hours each day. (See current rules)

Goal for 2010: A Car-Free July, August & September + "Friday Weekend Hours"

The Car-Free Central Park Campaign has a two-pronged strategy to reclaim Central Park from drivers. First, we are gaining the backing of a growing roster of key elected officials and organizations; click here for a list of officials and organizations that have expressed support for a car-free Central Park. Second, we launched a petition campaign to demonstrate to the city administration the overwhelming public support for a totally car-free park. In October 2005 we reached our goal of 100,000 signatures. We know of no other grassroots campaign in New York City's history that has achieved this level of support.

The two prongs came together in March 2006 on the steps of City Hall when hundreds of rallying supporters formally announced the signature total and called for passage of a City Council bill that would create a trial closing of Central Park to traffic that summer. Although the bill gained broad support among council members, it was set aside in favor of the Mayor's fractional closing (described above).

T.A. is currently working aggressively with both the Mayor and the City Council to win a summer 2010 trial closure, while also continuing to push for the permanent banning of cars from the loop drive. In addition, T.A. is recommending to the city that they experiment with extending weekend car-free hours to Friday.

Why a Car-Free Central Park?

Central Park was created 150 years ago as a refuge from the street noise and bustle of the surrounding city. Tragically, the park's status as a retreat from the urban din is compromised every weekday by the presence of drivers on the loop drive. Families with strollers, runners, bicyclists and tourists seeking respite must jockey for space in a narrow "recreational lane" inches away from the car traffic they are trying to escape. (See "Close the Loop," The New York Times, May 7, 2006.) As a result, there are increasingly frequent collisions between the cars and recreational users. (Read people’s personal experiences about cars in Central Park and what it’s like to be hit by one.)

In Brooklyn's Prospect Park, which also allows drivers on its loop drive, a woman cyclist was killed by a speeding van in summer 1997. We fear that it is only a matter of time before a fatal accident occurs in Central Park. This is hardly what Central Park's designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, had in mind when they created their haven from the "confinement, bustle, and monotonous street-division of the city."

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