Bloomberg Announces Trial Closure of Travel Lanes
May 8, 2006--Councilmember John Liu will be holding a hearing tomorrow Tuesday at the City Council, on whether Central and Prospect Parks should be closed to cars this summer. Intro 276 specifically mandates a car-free summer in Central Park, June 24 to Sept. 25, 2006, as well as automobile free afternoons in Prospect Park during that period.
At the same time, the New York Times reported today that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has moved to increase the number of hours that the park is closed to vehicles, perhaps in effect, pre-empting the Council vote. The west and east drives will only be open during rush hours, the west side in the mornings, and the east side in the afternoon. The closures will remain in effect for a trial 6-month period beginning June 4.
Both the Mayor and Councilmember Liu, who is head of the council's transportation committee and has been an active proponent of progressive transportation policy in the city, may have been influenced by the growing tide of criticism from advocates and park users that parks crowded with baby carriages, horse and buggy users, cyclists, runners, walkers, and families, are not the proper home to cars.
According to advocates, summer months draw an even larger number of users than during other months, and cars present a danger to many. Liu will be joined in introducing the bill by Councilwoman Gale Brewer whose district borders the park along the upper west side, and whose policies are perceived by many observers to be sympathetic to quality of life issues.
Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group in New York that has been working for years to close both parks to cars, announced their findings May 4 of a survey of Prospect Park users that showed them leaving the park in greater numbers when cars are present. Paul White, the group's executive director, said that stroller traffic decreased by 40 percent when cars were present, and that 75 percent of park users said they had had a close call with cars. He also said that 81 percent said they would use the park more if cars were absent.
In a video summary of the press conference by BikeTV, Councilman David Yassky (Dist. 33) said of closing the park, "Now is the time to do it." He was joined by Councilwoman Leticia James (Dist. 34) who noted, "I don't want any child to stay clear of Prospect Park because they are afraid of cars." Carl Andrews, NY State Senator of Brooklyn, and Chris Owens, a spokesman for Rep. Major Owens of Brooklyn, also made statements supporting the summer closures.
Ken Coughlin, head of TA's Car-Free committee sent out an email to its subscribers May 8 asking them to appear at the 10 a.m. hearing on Tuesday at City Hall to voice their support for the closings this summer. It is not expected that many car users will be present to object: according to records compiled by RIght of Way, an advocacy group, 59 percent of New Yorkers do not own cars, and in Manhattan, more than two-thirds of the population are without automobiles.
Photo Courtesy of www.CentralParknyc.org.