Central Park, the 843-acre crown jewel of Manhattan green spaces, will become car-free beginning on June 27. The move follows permanent banning of cars from Prospect Park in Brooklyn as of the first of this year.
“It comes back to remembering the meaning of a park like this,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference in Central Park in advance of Earth Day. “This park was not built for automobiles. It was built for people.
“And this is such a powerful notion, to take this absolutely crucial piece of our city and liberate it from the automobile and help people return to what our ancestors used to know…people walking, people biking, that is what this park will now be about.”
Cyclists and pedestrians, residents and tourists, indeed all park visitors — numbering 42 million last year — will benefit in added enjoyment and safety, as will the environment, from reduced emissions, congestion and noise.
This didn’t happen overnight. It marks a major victory for steadfast advocacy, led by organizations like Transportation Alternatives and the New York Road Runners, with efforts to eliminate motor traffic in Central Park stretching back to the 1960s. (Central Park was opened to vehicular traffic in 1899.) Across four decades, beginning in 1979, Transportation Alternatives campaigned to reclaim the park from automobiles, with a massive petition drive, countless community board appeals, rallies and rides.
At the same press conference, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg recognized incremental steps.
“Over the years we have slowly closed entrances, reduced hours, we have more and more reclaimed the park… for families, for children, for runners, for cyclists, but today we are announcing we’re taking that final step,” she said, noting the success in managing traffic impact with car-free Prospect Park.
The city permanently closed the Central Park loop above 72nd Street to cars in June of 2015, with Prospect Park West Drive following that July. At the time, Mayor de Blasio hailed progress toward “returning our parks to the people.”
Transportation Alternatives plans a car-free parks celebration ride on the morning of May 1, the first day of Bike Month. Details here.
Under the new rules:
East-west transverses at 65th, 79th and 97th Streets will remain open.
Horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs will continue to be allowed inside the park.
Parks department, police and emergency vehicles will maintain access.
Photo: Hector Argüello Canals