PARK SLOPE — The city is putting the brakes on cars in Prospect Park.
Starting July 6, cars will be permanently banned from the park's West Drive, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday. Right now cars are allowed on West Drive during evening rush hour on week days.
Cars will still be allowed on the park's East Drive, which runs northbound from Park Circle to Grand Army Plaza, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on week days.
Cars will also be permanently banned in Central Park north of 72nd Street starting June 29, the mayor said.
"Today we are taking a big step to returning our parks to the people," de Blasio said at a press conference in Prospect Park, as cyclists and runners whizzed past in the background.
"We're creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone to know that they will be safer and they can enjoy the park in peace.”
Central Park and Prospect Park will now have the most car-free space they've had since 1899, when cars were first allowed in city parks, de Blasio said. "This is the best we've done in 116 years and we're very proud of that fact."
More than 200 cars an hour use the park's West Drive when it's open during evening rush hour, but the change is expected to have "minimal" impact on local traffic, de Blasio said.
As for the southern part of Central Park and the east side of Prospect Park, removing cars from those sections can't happen overnight, because spilling traffic onto nearby streets could create safety hazards for pedestrians and other motorists, said Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
Both of those areas get far more vehicle traffic than the sections where cars will be banned, she said.
In the southern part of Central Park, "there's still very high car volume," Trottenberg said, about 400 to 500 cars per hour. On Prospect Park's East Drive, traffic is twice as heavy as it is on West Drive, with more than 400 cars an hour using the road when it's open to traffic on week day mornings.
She said DOT will monitor how the ban on West Drive affects traffic patterns, but didn't give specifics about whether or when DOT might consider a car ban on East Drive.
The decision not to include East Drive in the ban puzzled some Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts-Gardens residents.
East Drive and West Drive are the two halves of the 3.35-mile loop drive that circles Prospect Park. The road is shared by joggers, cyclists and stroller pushers. Advocacy groups such as Transportation Alternatives have lobbied for years to make the road car-free, and local runner Michael Ring recently put the issue back in the news with an online petition.
De Blasio has long supported the car ban movement and was even featured in a 2002 video on the issue back when he was a City Council member representing Park Slope.
Susan Fox, founder of the online community Park Slope Parents, hailed the car ban, saying that traffic safety in Prospect Park had long been a concern of PSP's 5,500 members.
“When there are cars present, there’s like a tension in the air," Fox said. “We no longer have to worry about cars rushing by after baseball and soccer practice. We can all feel safer and we can all take a collective sigh of relief.”