Happy Independence Day: Central Park North Loop Is Car-Free This Summer

Beginning next week, Central Park’s north loop will be closed to cars for two months, DOT announced today.

From a DOT Summer Streets 2013 press release:

Beginning Monday, July 8, Central Park’s drives north of 72nd Street will be car-free for the remainder of the summer, greatly enhancing access for pedestrians, bike riders and all park-goers.” The West Drive is currently open to motor vehicle traffic from 8 to 10 a.m. and the East Drive from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays only and they are closed to traffic all other times. This two-month expansion follows numerous community requests to expand car-free access to the park and is possible because of decreasing car volumes in recent years on both the park drives and adjacent roadways. Pedestrians and bicyclists on the park drives outnumber cars by 3 to 1 during the summer, when citywide traffic volumes are at their lowest, and local avenues are expected to see traffic volumes comparable to what they already see in other months. DOT will monitor the closure until limited hours return on Sept. 3.

New Yorkers of all stripes have for years pressed the city to return Central Park to its natural car-free state. A car-free trial has been endorsed by community boards, electeds, and, of course, park users. Hopes for trials in 2011 and 2012 didn’t pan out — the city collected traffic count data two summers ago — and for the first time in a while, there was really no buzz to speak of this year.

Tireless car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin says he and other community board members got the news yesterday. He sent us this statement:

I am both delighted and disappointed. This temporary closing means that for a brief time park-goers north of 72nd Street will experience the park as it was always meant to be experienced — as a true refuge from the city. Nevertheless, it is hard to understand why this administration has not seized the opportunity to institute a trial closing of the entire park to car traffic. Every community board surrounding the park has called for a trial closing, and despite the progressive scaling back of car access to the park over the years, car volumes on adjacent roadways have actually decreased. Still, we must be grateful for this symbolically important step towards a park free of cars, which many officials now view as an inevitability.

Years of activism by Transportation Alternatives and others have led to the reclamation of space on the park loops, the closure of vehicle entrances, and fewer hours of car access. In 2005, TA gathered 100,000 signatures in support of a car-free park. (Check out the video above for Streetfilms coverage.)

While it’s not all advocates hoped for, TA welcomed today’s news.

“Central Park, Manhattan’s own backyard, will be a lot safer and more inviting for New Yorkers this summer,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, via press release. “This is a welcome development for all who utilize the park on foot or bike.”

In other news, car-free events across the boroughs are back with Summer Streets and Weekend Walks. From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on August 3, 10, and 17, Park Avenue will be open to people from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park.

Streetsblog will be off tomorrow and back publishing on Friday. Happy 4th everybody.