New York City has really been working hard to turn its infamous concrete jungle image into something greener and more sustainable. Last month, updates to PlaNYC 2030 were released with some pretty substantial goals set for 2013, including increased public transportation and more pedestrian and bike-friendly roads. Community Board 7, located in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, would like to take the city’s green efforts a step further by reclaiming park space in the name of, well, parks. Backed by City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, a new bill would keep cars out of Central Park, as well as Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The Community Board hopes to place a temporary test ban on cars this July through November.
The car ban may sound like a terrible idea to drivers, but the motive for the proposal gives priority to the health and safety of people — as should always be the priority (what good is a city with no people?). Even if the proposed ban is passed during the June board meeting, cars would still have east to west mobility in Central Park because the real issue is with the “Loop” that allows drivers to circumnavigate the park. The Loop is also used by runners, cyclists, and strollers, putting everyone on the same paths, often creating unsafe situations for those not behind the wheel.
Many of the longtime advocates for car-free parks emphasize the health issues that come with having cars in the parks. Cars release exhaust right in the faces of people trying to enjoy nature and escape the city. If Community Board 7 does vote in favor of the ban, the next step would be to get the Department of Transportation (DOT) on board, which might not be all that difficult. The DOT has really been pushing for a greener NYC with more bike and bus lanes to help promote alternative transportation options that are just as good as the personal automobile.
While some say that removing lanes of traffic will only increase congestion, there’s also the alternative argument that supports the idea of “shrinkage,” meaning if you remove automobile lanes there is in fact less traffic because drivers will begin to find alternative routes or even reconsider their current mode of transportation if traffic truly becomes unbearable. The Regional Plan Association reported that closing the “Loop” in Central Park would force as few as 20 percent and as many as 60 percent of drivers to either change their mode of transportation or significantly modify their driving patterns, forcing people to reconsider driving as a luxury not a necessity.
The removal of cars from parks is not new. It has been on Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda since 2001 when he campaigned for the reduction in private automobile use and a complete removal of cars from parks. Parks in the city were originally car free, and if June’s board meeting goes as planned, the city could be one step closer to returning parks to their original state.
Lead Image © Patrik Ragnarsson via Creative Commons; Other images © Mark Heard via Creative Commons