Who Let the Cars In?
Cars were first permitted on Central Park's then bucolic loop drive in 1899 after car owners in the city (about 500 at the time) lobbied to join the regular afternoon parade of carriages in the park. It is believed that Prospect Park was opened to cars soon after. But as the car became increasingly common, drivers came to care less about joining the carriage procession and more about using the park as a quick alternative route to slower main streets.
In a letter to the New York Times in 1906, one concerned citizen described automobiles in the park as "ugly, noisy and evil-smelling," and inquired, "Where can one look for a remedy?" The writer had to wait 60 years; in 1966, Mayor John Lindsay declared car-free weekends in Central Park-6 am to 6 pm, Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The trips that cars make through the park today are no more necessary than the afternoon parades of the 1890s. Taxi and livery car trips, trips that are just as easily made by subway or bus, make up 80% of the traffic on Central Park's loop drive. If the mayor can make the switch, the handful of other folks now taking a shortcut through "nature's cathedral in the city" can too.
Taxi and livery cars make up 80% of the traffic on Central Park's Drives and represent trips that are just as easily made by subway.
A powerful coalition of elected officials, large and small civic groups and tens of thousands of everyday New Yorkers want to make Central and Prospect Park Car-Free. Thirty thousand people have signed the current petition for a Car-Free Central Park, and, in just the last few months, about half that number have sent postcards supporting a Car-Free Prospect Park. Meanwhile, T.A. has been rapidly acquiring the support of elected officials for a three-month car-free trial period. Among the elected officials is the powerful Gifford Miller, Speaker of the New York City Council, whose district is on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Audubon Society/New York City
Give us a three-month trial
car-free period for Prospect Park!
Give us a three-month trial
car-free period for Central Park!
Missing in Action
Advocates for car-free parks lost a guiding spirit when Shirley Hayes died in May at age 89. Hayes was the feisty mom who spearheaded the struggle for a car-free Washington Square Park in the 1950s. Her fight put her head to head with the "Power Broker" himself, Robert Moses, who proposed carving a four-lane highway through the park. Until 1959, Washington Square Park was crossed by busy roads linking Fifth Avenue with LaGuardia Place and Thompson Street. Mrs. Hayes marshaled children in strollers, including her own four sons, into the park to convince city officials that the park had no business being a traffic thoroughfare. Indeed, the "traffic chaos" that officials had predicted never materialized during a trial closing, and the road was permanently closed in 1959.
Read the latest news about the Car-Free Central Park campaign.