cars in central park

Council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal have introduced a bill that would close Central Park to cars next summer, allowing the Parks Department to study the effects in advance of a possible permanent ban. Right now, cars are allowed on parts of the loop road during limited times during the day.

Although the park has been partially closed to cars before, including in summer 2013, Rosenthal says that there hasn’t been a full closure that allowed for a study like this.

“The bill would close the Central Park loop to motor vehicles between June 24, 2015 and September 25, 2015, and the Parks Department would be required to present a report on the closure to the City Council no later than December 31, 2015. The study would examine motor vehicle traffic volume on nearby roads, pedestrian traffic flow, environmental impact, and other criteria deemed relevant by the Parks Commissioner. The study would have no effect on the park’s transverse roads.”

They say taking cars out of the park could reduce the congestion on the loop road, which is filled with runners, walkers, bicyclists, pedicab drivers and horse-drawn carriages. “Currently, the Central Park loop is packed with cars, cyclists, and runners all vying for limited space; removing cars from the loop will dramatically reduce the risk of dangerous collisions,” they said.

Levine also pushed for the speed limit to be lowered to 20 mph from 25 in the park following a bicycle crash that killed pedestrian Jill Tarlov. His spokesman tells us that new limit (which would apply to cars and bicycles) could be imposed by the Department of Transportation without a council vote. Rosenthal, whose office considered but then rejected the idea of making bicyclists use license plates, has not released any other proposals.

Photo by J Biochemist.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 38 comments | permalink
    1. m.pipik says:

      While this is a good idea, perhaps a reporter should sit down with the CP Conservancy, Parks Dept and Police and ask why they do not have more than token signs in the park explaining how to use the roadways and paths. Why bicycle renters are not given the rules of the road (not just in the park).

      Why there isn’t a rule for the horse carriages and pedicabs that does not allow two abreast EVER. NO passing another carriage or a car.

      And why there are no signs advising pedestrians to stay off the roadway south of 72nd Street. They add too much congestion which makes it more dangerous for runners and cyclists who have smaller lanes there. (Exercising fast walkers are not pedestrians).

      Does the Conservancy not want to alienate the tourists? It’s OK to have residents of the area injured or killed, but the tourists can’t be made to think NYers are mean.

      • Steve says:

        These are all great points! If the decision sion makers are listening to you, this will make the park more enjoyable and safer for all of us.

    2. UWSBiker says:

      When was the last time a speeding car mowed down a pedestrian in the loop? It’s the bikers that ride at dangerous speeds that endanger the people in the park.

      • Pedestrian says:

        Cyclists are “holy”. We wouldn’t want to offend them. As a result, they will go on speeding and doing their high speed biking in the Park and on the Hudson RiverPath and pedestrians should just be silent.

        Its all about the optics; not about solving the problems.

    3. Dave says:

      Yes. please ban cars from CP!

    4. DMH says:

      I love this plan!!

      I wonder when the photo above was taken? It is odd to see four cars and just one pedestrian in the park – to my knowledge, even in winter you’d likely see a lot more strollers, joggers, and bike riders on the loop road these days.

      • AC says:

        Picture looks off or photo shopped, , , note how the green light is facing away from the drivers. No wonder people are getting hit left & right!

        • Mike says:

          The stoplight is for the bike lane.

          • Cato says:

            Bikes are supposed to go in the same direction as cars. So the light is *still* facing in the wrong direction for bikes, too.

            • TFJWM says:

              On that part of the loop Im pretty sure bikes go both ways if you look at the pic you can see that both of the two lanes has a bike on it

            • Mike says:

              Yeah, that is pretty apparent in the picture, but let’s pretend it is photoshopped.

            • AC says:

              For those unfamiliar with Central Park, there is only one bike lane and one running lane. Also, runners, in particular bikers, are suppose to run/bike in the direction of traffic. A central park ‘rule’, which is seldom enforced.

    5. NikFromNYC says:

      Statistically so few fatalities happen in the Park that banning cars there will send much more traffic into the US where a hundred times more pedestrians are interacting with it. Busybody activism kills, all based on moral preening, a desire to be seen addressing non-existent problems. We are the safest big pedestrian city in the country, already.

      Growing antibiotic resistance is a far graver problem for the aging UWS, but again the busybodies call for R&D funds to by siphoned *away* from Columbia’s hard sciences and put into junk science climate alarm and Solyandra level boondoggles, cropping the NY economy too by banning delightfully low impact fracking. Wake up kids, tell your fossil Hippie parents that dragged you to the red banner Marxist climate march, to read about real facts, real impacts, and to stop pushing their destructive cult of activism on you.

    6. Dan says:

      I bike to work every day down the Hudson River bike path. I’m an avid bicyclist.

      I am also a parent of a 6 year old and we go to Central Park a lot.

      I can really see the problem from both points of view – both the cyclist and the pedestrian.

      I avoid riding in the Central Park loop because it has has become so confusing. This confusion is leading to accidents, like the recent fatal accidents.

      A major source of the confusion is the traffic lights on the loop.

      Let me explain…

      When I used to bike in Central Park, I never understood whether I was supposed to stop at the red lights or just ignore them. Other cyclists just ignored them. Why? Because we just assumed the traffic lights were for cars, and usually there are no cars on the loop. There’s nothing on the traffic lights that indicate that they are meant for bicycles, even if no cars are present.

      (most bicyclists don’t know that technically every red light applies to them)

      As a pedestrian, the traffic lights are also confusing. They look light traffic lights for cars, but usually there are no cars. Pedestrians don’t think the bicycles will stop at the red traffic lights for cars, so the pedestrians don’t bother waiting for “walk” signs.

      All this confusion leads to bicycles and pedestrians colliding on the loop.

      Another major source of confusion is whether bicycles should be in the marked bike lane (too close to joggers), or in the car lane (if there’s no cars). Different bicyclists do different things because of this confusion, and this also leads to accidents.

      The following steps would eliminate so many bicycle-pedestrian collisions in Central Park:

      1. Replace the car traffic lights with bicycle traffic lights (see Hudson River bike path for example of these) so bicycles know that these traffic lights are absolutely meant for them.

      2. Eliminate cars on the Central Park loop because now there are no traffic lights for them and their infrequent presence adds too much confusion to the bicycle-pedestrian patterns.

      3. Clearly mark the bike lane (previously the car lanes) as a bicycle lane (maybe paint it green).

      4. Clearly mark the pedestrian crossings (the bike path crossing in front of Chelsea Piers is an example of how to do it correctly – with signs clearly warning both bikers and pedestrians about the crossing).

      We really need to make it 100% clear to bicyclists that they need to stop at the red lights. We also need to make it 100% clear to the pedestrians that the bikes should stop at the bicycle lights, and that they need to wait for the “walk” signs.

      Anything less than that will lead to more accidents because it is really hard for pedestrians to judge the different speeds of different oncoming bicycles.

      • ursus arctos says:

        These strike me as well thought out and constructive suggestions, which are attributes that too often lacking when it comes to reactions to these initiatives.

        I’d like to see figures on car use during the summer before instituting a ban; the displacement concern is a real one, but we can’t assess the possible impact without meaningful data. It would be disappointing if the only way to assemble that data is to enact the ban first (which is what seems to be suggested by the piece).

      • Noreaster says:

        Your suggestion is so well thought-out and so well communicated that our borough will be worse off if you don’t somehow make this text known by those with the power to implement the changes. Very nice work.

    7. Brenda says:

      This is absurd. Creating more congestion on other roads is simply moving the ring around the bathtub a la The Cat In The Hat. The problem is bicyclists and their flagrant disregard for the rules of the road. But I suppose addressing that wouldn’t be politically advantageous.

    8. richard says:

      I find that biking in the park when cars are allowed is actually safer than when they are not allowed. Everyone (bikers, pedestrians, and drivers) tend to pay a bit more attention to their surroundings. It’s when cars are banned that chaos ensues as pedestrians and bikers feel they have nothing to worry about and zone out.
      When was the last time there was an accident involving a car and a biker or pedestrian in the park vs. a bike and pedestrian accident. Maybe they should study that, but that’s too easy…

      • webot says:

        good points Richard. and others.

        Clearly this needs to be really thought out.

        Every action has a reaction.

        If the cars are not in the park, they will be on our Streets.

      • Nathan says:

        I agree. Banning cars is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t actually exist. And, counterintuitively, might actually make the park more dangerous.

        Though in general I’m all for removing lanes, entire roads, and parking to discourage car travel in the city. It’s worked really well in Copenhagen. The same ideas used there have already been applied in some areas like Times Square and the city is better for it.

      • Amy says:

        There was an op-ed in NYT last week that made same point and I believe it’s an excellent one. It is when the cars aren’t there that the cyclists really ride at top speed without braking AND the pedestrians wander out without looking. Having cars present makes everyone else slow down and take precautions. It’s something to consider.

        • m.pipik says:

          Everyone, before you make suggestions try bike riding in the park. Not every accident has been caused by a speeding bike. Bikes have to swerve to avoid other hazards (pedicabs, pedestrians walking/crossing where they shouldn’t, park vehicles that need to use the 3rd lane,tourists stopping their bikes in the middle of the road.) Riding at any speed is nerve wracking because of those hazards.

          There is no easy answer here. But remember there is NO place in Manhattan for cyclists to ride for exercise at a fast enough speed to make it meaningful. Riding at 15mph is just barely a cardio workout. As it is now, most of those people are getting up at dawn and getting to the park early. There are few riders who race after 9:30am. Let the cops go after them.

          Also, it might be a compromise to have a speed limit under 15mph on the south (below 72nd Street) loop where most of the foot traffic is.

          Going to NJ is not a solution because it is MILES from most of Manhattan and there is the bottleneck of the GWB.

    9. KG says:

      I think cars should be allowed in the park during weekday morning and evening rush hour, otherwise it will just distribute the traffic burden to other surrounding streets as other people have mentioned. I agree with Richard, having the cars there actually keeps the rest of the ecosystem behaving well, respecting traffic lights, etc. Its the rogue bicyclists running sprint times in crowded pedestrian surroundings that needs to cracked down upon, if the city council really wants to make itself useful.

      • richard says:

        “if the city council really wants to make itself useful.” Now that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that these buffoons are paid over $100K per year for the nonsense they produce.

    10. Chris says:

      I am glad someone is listening to me, lol…

      (Just posting a comment I made earlier on another post):

      “THIS IS MY CONCLUSION: SPEED is the problem. (READ DETAILS below; I didn’t have more time to edit this so please excuse some confusing points; otherwise, you should understand).

      MY 1st SOLUTION: Get rid of cars from Central Park at all times. They have enough space in NYC. Make the pedestrian and bicycle lanes wider utilizing the current car lane. Add a protected barrier between the pedestrian and bicycle lanes. Force bikers to drive at 15 MPH or less, and STOP at pedestrian crossings. Also force pedestrians to wait for the light.

      MY 2nd SIMILAR/DIFFERENT SOLUTION: Get rid of cars from Central Park at all times. They have enough space in NYC. Make the pedestrian and bicycle lanes wider utilizing the current car lane. Add a protected barrier between the pedestrian and SLOW bicycle lanes. Add a 2nd protected, COMPLETELY CLOSED, FAST bike lane on the right that allows all the crazy bike speeders to speed at 35 MPH or more for what I care. (ULTRA FAST BICYCLE EXERCISERS can only enter and exit the lane at a few entrances around the 6-mile loop.) Oh yeah, and BUILD pedestrian bridge crossings at current traffic lights. Get rid of traffic lights for the FAST ENCLOSED-”EXERCISE” bike lane. Keep traffic lights on the SLOW bike lane to allow SLOW bikers to hop off their bikes and exit through the traffic light “protected barrier” gap to cross the pedestrian bridge crossing to exit the park, etc.

      DETAILS: As far as I see it, SPEED is the main problem. First of all, there should be way more bicycle lanes in ALL of NYC, not only Manhattan or main streets in other boroughs. Yes, in Manhattan I agree, sidewalk bicycling is just out of the question. But, consider other boroughs where there are usually more cars than pedestrians, especially in the more rural areas. Obviously, its safer for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk at a SAFE speed of 6 miles per hour or less. If bikes are “considered” vehicles, why don’t they have mandatory mirrors? Imagine turning your head to check for an incoming vehicle riding at the so called “25 MPH.” Unfit bicyclists, especially older people, would lose control, and the vehicle would crash into them or another vehicle to avoid them. See what I am saying here: In all of my mentioned examples, SPEED is the problem. Cars want to go at least 25 MPH in the city. Since this makes sense for car drivers, then bicyclists don’t belong on the street, unless there is a protected bicycle lane with strong barriers. Car drivers are a completely different entity. Car drivers have a lot of protection from steel on all sides. 25 MPH may seem slow to car drivers so they might exceed it accidentally or on purpose. If bikers suddenly change the lane or fall of their bike, car drivers won’t have enough time to react. The same could apply for pedestrians on sidewalks. Since pedestrians usually walk at around 4 MPH or a little more, bicyclists should use their protected bicycle lane. However, the pedestrian VS. bicycle problem is completely different. Most bicyclists reach a normal speed of 8 MPH, unless they want to be exhausted or have too much energy. Obviously (8 MPH bicyclists) see (4 MPH pedestrians) and can STOP easily to avoid hitting them on the sidewalk. Seriously, cars and bikes don’t mix well at all. Imagine an elderly person driving on a bike down 5th avenue on the left hand side. Its a complete catastrophe. I know for a fact, that elderly person would be much safer on the sidewalk even if its Manhattan, considering that there is no protected bike lane on 5th avenue. To all you who oppose bicycle riding on sidewalks, I have one thing to say: Children of the age 12 or under the age of 12, who are allowed to ride on sidewalks with their bikes, are literally speed demons. Trust me, I see kids speeding on bikes all the time, possibly exceeding 14 MPH. That’s because they try to speed for the thrill of it. If children lose control on their bikes on the sidewalk, that obviously endangers pedestrians, especially other small children. KEEP IN MIND, 12 year old children usually have bicycles with 26 inch in diameter tires, which the law clearly states is illegal.”

      Response about Sidewalk Riding: Its NOT the problem. Sidewalk riding can be safe if cyclists would ride at a reasonable 6 MPH, (NOT including Manhattan streets). When cyclists race down at 10 MPH or more, that’s dangerous even on the street to unsuspecting car drivers opening doors, etc. Seriously, SPEED is the problem. Riding at 18 MPH on a bike is damn scary.

    11. Pat says:

      I am a retired Park Supervisor that worked in several parks over my 23 year career. I also walked to work tothe Arsenal in Central Park for years. I can tell you from my experience, BIKES are much more dangerous than cars. Vehicle drivers are much more cautious than bikers. I can’t tell you how many times I was cursed at by cyclists for being IN THEIR WAY. I agree the park is crowded but restricting only cars is not the answer. I also live on Central Park West and see now that the Parks Department has bicycle vendors renting bikes to tourists the bikes on pedestrian paths has also gotten much worse. People can rent bikes that can’t even understand english. So in my opinion why are cars in the park a problem. Bikes have injured or killed more people recently than cars. The elected officials need to wake up and STOP THE BIKES!!!! The Bloomberg administration has forced bikes and paths on all of us and it needs to be controlled!

    12. 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

      I would like to see cars banned from Central Park year round. The whole point of the Park is to be a sanctuary from such things not a shortcut for cabs.

    13. Cathy says:

      Banning cars from Central Park won’t make pedestrians or responsible bikers safer. An irresponsible and “entitled” bike culture has made us all at risk in Central Park, Riverside Park, at street crossings and even on sidewalks. If Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Gale Brewer and other officials commit to protect the public’s safety, they would courageously address that issue. Signs need to be posted and enforcement, guaranteed. Voters are well aware that the heavily funded bike lobby has endorsed politicians who act beholden to them rather than protect the public’s safety. Shame on them!

    14. MSJEAN says:


    15. StevenCinNYC says:

      The interest in banning cars is just political garbage. The bicycles, signage and traffic lights are the problems. Bikes not only need to go slower, but they need specialized pedestrian-activated lit crosswalks that flash along the whole length of the crosswalk any time a pedestrian triggers them. They have these in California and have been proposed for Central Park. They are what works because they make the bikes stop only when they really need to, plus the bicyclists see them even when their heads are down.

      Leave the cars in Central Park. Slow down the bikes, increase enforcement, and install the flashing crosswalks.

    16. jill says:

      what about the bikes hitting walkers and runners. get the bikes of the footpathes.

    17. Lucien Desar says:

      A full closure for cars the entire summer will be easier for the city because they don’t have to move the road block signs etc. It is a great idea and an easy win for safety.