City to Study Traffic Impact of Central Park Car Ban

By Jill Colvin on July 12, 2011 3:37pm 

Bike riders use the paths at Central Park.
Bike riders use the paths at Central Park.
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Getty Images/Spencer Platt

MANHATTAN — The city is studying the potential impact of permanently eliminating cars from Central Park’s East and West drives, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.

“We are doing studies,” the mayor told reporters at an unrelated press conference Tuesday when asked about a proposal to bar motor vehicles from the drives that make up the park's "Loop."

The mayor said that he and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan discussed the proposal Monday, but will hold off on any decision “until we really can understand the traffic patterns and what effect it will have.”

“We’re just not going to go and rush to do it,” he said. “You just can’t willy-nilly say, ‘Well let’s just ban them,’ without doing the real scientific research.”

Each of the community boards surrounding the park voted in favor of testing the proposed ban over the summer when pedestrian traffic is at its height.

But, as DNAinfo first reported in May, the city has so far failed to endorse the plan.

"We do not have any trial period coming online," Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for the mayor, said at the time.

Still, the mayor said that regardless of what the city does, the impact will be minimal.

“The roads where they’re talking about, we have banned cars 90 percent of the time already. So we’re really only talking about 10 percent,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “It would not make that big a difference."

The New York Times reported this week that there is internal disagreement in the administration over the issue and that some advocates believe the city is dragging its feet because it fears the potential political fallout of banning cars in yet another public space.

The mayor has faced tough criticism for many pedestrian-friendly initiatives, including the controversial expansion of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

But Bloomberg said that fear has nothing to do with his caution about the plan.

“I don’t think anybody should question our Department of Transportation and this administration’s willingness to try new things with cars, bicycles, pedestrians,” he said. “We’ve tried to be very innovative, creative and run risks. But every one of those things we did with real data.”

Under the community boards’ plan, the park’s transverse roads would remain open, but "The Loop" would be permanently closed to cars.

The park's East Drive is currently open weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., while Center Drive is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

West Drive is open only to high-occupancy vehicles weekdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Members of the community boards surrounding the parks had hoped that testing the ban over the summer would give officials the most effective data about how it might impact traffic city-wide.

“I don’t know how you can study something without seeing what it’s like,” said Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore. “That’s the whole point of our idea.”

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer has also proposed legislation that would ban traffic on the roads permanently.

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