May/June 2000, p.10

There Are NO Good Reasons for Cars in Central or Prospect Parks

Myth: Cars make the parks safer.

Fact: In Prospect Park, more violent crimes are committed while cars are in the park. One reason: walkers, joggers, cyclists and other park users are far more likely to notice a crime than drivers speeding past, sealed in their cars. All other things being equal, more people in a given area usually means more crime, because of more human interaction. But when it comes to parks, more people means safer parks.

Myth: If the parks are closed to cars, more traffic will clog neighborhood streets surrounding the park.

Fact: A massive 1998 British government study of 50 locations around the world conclusively shows that reducing street space actually reduces traffic. (See page 12 of this issue.) It's the opposite of "If you build it they will come." Here in New York City, the closure of Washington Square Park to cars in 1958 resulted in an overall reduction in traffic in Greenwich Village. When the elevated West Side Highway was closed in 1973, all north-south traffic in Manhattan declined by 8% overall by 1975. During the annual two-week car-free period at Marathon time, the streets surrounding Central Park are no more congested than normal. Motorists take whatever route is quickest. If park shortcuts are closed, drivers will stay on routes better equipped to handle traffic. A three-month trial car-free period in both parks can dispel this myth once and for all.

Myth: Motorists are "park users" too.

Fact: Yes, everyone loves Central and Prospect Parks. But a relatively small number of motorists endangers walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists, creates an enormous amount of noise, monopolizes large amounts of space, pollutes the air and kills hundreds of small animals and birds by driving their motor vehicles in these parks. Automobiles are antithetical to the premise of a park as an urban oasis; after all, they are one of the main things people go to parks to get away from.

Myth: Closing the parks to cars prevents the disabled from enjoying the park.

Fact: Without the menace and crowding of motor vehicle traffic, everyone can enjoy the park in more comfort and safety. People with disabilities have a much easier time on car-free park drives and can easily be provided access to park entrances via para-transit vans or special permits. In fact, reputable groups which represent the disabled, like the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans, for instance, have no problem, with car-free parks.

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