Reflecting on the 10th Anniversary of the “First Streetfilm”: Central Park, Bikelash & Advocacy

Last month was a very bad month in the tabloids and local news for NYC bicyclists. As you've probably heard we had two awful tragedies on the loop drive of Central Park in 2014 with cyclists striking pedestrians, killing both. What followed was sadness, anger and head scratching. But also the predictable media manipulation demonizing cycling, much of it unfair or downright ignoring facts.

While there's no excuse for bicycling at excessive speeds in our public parks during heavy use periods, the fact there are still cars allowed in what should be places of solitude (Central, Prospect & Astoria Parks) is completely insane. I've been a member of Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) for nearly 20 years and know far too much the long campaign to rid our parks of cars. And that's why I really enjoyed Stephen Miller's recent Streetsblog post "Traffic Lights Don't Belong on a Park Loop", which I hope help enlightens the masses that our parks are not highways.

Back in 2004, I was hired by T.A. to produce the (above) short film "The Case for a Car-free Central Park." Though I had been doing transportation videos long before, now looking back I consider it my first Streetfilm. Running an epic 20 minutes we interviewed health care professionals, advocates, authors, electeds and a cross-section of users from all the adjacent park neighborhoods.

The film was screened for the first time on October 26th, 2004 at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Central Park West. Nearly 700 enthusiastic people showed up for a rally organized by T.A. to voice their strong support for closing the drives. And then an amazing thing happened a month later: the city announced it was closing the drives to cars overnight on weekdays from 7 pm to 7 am, five exits/entrances were shut to vehicles, and the speed limit in the park was lowered to 25 mph. Still not what advocates wanted, but an enormous leap forward for users wanting less danger in the park.

Unfortunately since then, not too much. And the push has been going on far too long to not finally try it. The above video is a rally on Earth Day from 1997.  Below is the momentous presentation at City Hall of 100,000 signatures in 2006 calling for a car-free Central Park, the culimination of years of signature gathering by the T.A.'s Car-Free Central Park Committee, led by the indefatigable Ken Coughlin.

Over the years there have probably been hundreds of car-free events staged. Even Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken part in many in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Near the end of the video below, he commends advocates at a Halloween "street theater rally" in 2002.  And you can also see him here on a very cold day in 2003  congratulating intrepid volunteers after winning new car-free hours in the Park.

It's long overdue we close our parks to cars and properly re-configure the roadways more sensibly for the growing throngs of New Yorkers wanting to walk, run, bike, stroll, rollerblade, skateboard, or whatever reasonable outdoorsy activity they love to do. Ten years ago the city made a stunning announcement, let's not wait ten years more for another.