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Central Park is now “Car-free Forever” North of 72nd Street!

Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot more elbow room.

Officials and advocates celebrated the permanent expansion of the park’s car-free zone under sunny skies this morning. While traffic is still allowed in the heavily-used southern section of Central Park, today’s ceremony marks a big step on the path to completely car-free parks.

Effective today, the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street is permanently car-free, except for emergency and service vehicles [PDF]. In Prospect Park, the West Drive will go car-free next Monday, July 6 [PDF]. Traffic will continue to be allowed at various hours on the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street, and during morning rush hour on the East Drive in Prospect Park.

The park is most crowded south of 72nd Street. That area, where the loop widens from one car lane to two, also has the highest levels of motor vehicle traffic, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. She hopes the new car-free zones will further reduce traffic and tee up a completely car-free park.

“What we’ve found over time as we’ve closed more and more entrances in the park, the traffic volumes have gone down,” she said this morning near 92nd Street. “We all hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, we will have a press conference 20 blocks south of here.”

Supporters of car-free parks are going to keep the pressure on. “Allowing cars in the park is actually increasing congestion in the city,” said Manhattan Community Board 7 member and longtime car-free park advocate Ken Coughlin. “It’s drawing cars to Midtown like a magnet, and encouraging driving, which is the last thing we need to do. So we need to continue the fight to eliminate cars on the south loop.”

With cars out of big chunks of Central Park and Prospect Parks, the city’s traffic lights make less sense. Other interventions stand a better chance of reducing conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists, but don’t count on the city changing the current set-up.

Meanwhile, the car-free parks plan includes a significant transit improvement. To keep any spillover traffic from slowing down southbound buses, DOT is extending the Fifth Avenue bus lane, which carries 74,000 riders each day, north from 86th Street to 110th Street. Trottenberg said the bus lane will be installed “by the end of the summer.”

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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