March/April 2000, p.8

Car-Free Central Park Campaign Mobilizes

Central Park's once-bucolic loop drive is being used as a traffic artery - not only destroying the pastoral experience of the park for thousands of park users, but funneling thousands of additional cars into the Central Business District. Ironically, Central Park's loop drives are creating one of the very urban problems the Park was designed to help New Yorkers escape.

The Car-Free Central Park Campaign is gearing up for the spring-summer 2000 season, renewing its call for a three-month trial closing of the park's loop drive. Last summer we collected nearly 1,000 signed post cards at the park's north end, addressed to City Councilmembers Philip Reed and Bill Perkins, whom we met with earlier in the year. This year we will be delivering these cards, as well as launching a new card-signing campaign. We also are embarking on an ambitious "next mayor" strategy. A key part of this strategy will be to persuade notable or influential people to go on record in support of a car-free park. Already, we have the wholehearted support of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted's biographer (see box). We also will focus on winning the support of at least one of the Community Boards surrounding the park and on gaining advocates within the Central Park Conservancy, which runs the park. We understand that some members of the Conservancy's Board of Directors already support a car-free park.

Help Save Central Park!
There are many ways you can help make a car-free Central Park a reality - from data entry to gathering signatures to gaining celebrity endorsements. Join us today by calling T.A. at (212) 629-8080, or by visiting our web site at www.transalt.org.  ListServe e-mail list: please visit http://www.transalt.org/campaigns/cpark/join.html.

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The singular achievement of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's plan for Central Park is its long-lived ability to adapt to a range of uses and users entirely unforeseen by their makers. Roller blading, speed walking and even bicycling were unknown in the nineteenth century, yet the park is ideally suited to these activities. The Sheep Meadow has been the site of progressive playgrounds in the early 1900s and antiwar demonstrations in the sixties. Concerts and plays likewise take their place. Yet there are limits to Central Park's flexibility. Olmsted and Vaux went to great lengths to ensure that commercial traffic could cross the park with the least visual impact, by sinking the four transverse roads. Today, the presence of cars on what were intended to be leisurely carriage drives within the park seriously compromises their vision of a place to escape the bustle of the city. Cars are simply too large, too noisy, and too fast. "Crowded thoroughfares," Olmsted wrote, have "nothing in common with the park proper, but every thing at variance with those agreeable sentiments which we should wish the park to inspire."

-Witold Rybczynski, September 1999.

Rybczynski is author of "A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century" (Scribner; 1999). Rybczynski's book was on President Clinton's summer reading list in 1999.