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“The Case for a Car-Free Central Park” (A 2004 Flashback)

Though it's sad we still allow cars to drive through NYC's Central & Prospect Parks, there've been numerous victories over the years as advocates have nibbled away hours cars have been allowed in our parks.

Flashback to 2004:  there had been little to get excited about in nearly ten years on the car-free Central Park movement. Looking for a way to gain momentum and take advantage of a 100,000 signature campaign in progress, Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) hired me to produce a mini film called, "The Case for a Car-Free Central Park", which featured interviews with many prominent New Yorkers like Columbia Professor Ken Jackson and author Robert Brandes Gratz amongst dozens of everyday parkgoers testifying about how they felt about the issue of cars in the Park.

The film was the centerpiece of a T.A.rally attended by nearly 700 people.  The crowd reaction was dramatic and enthusiastic.  Just a few weeks after the rally, the city took substantial action.  From T.A.s website which features a great chronology of Car-Free Central Park:

2004:  Speed limit on the loop drive reduced from 30 mph to 25 mph. West 90th and East 102nd Street entrances and exits closed to cars. West 77th and East 90th entrances closed to cars. West 72nd street slip-ramp closed to cars. People reclaim overnight and early mornings in the park. Cars get to enter 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 7 pm. HOV 2+ rule on West drive during morning rush hours.

Although I had been promoting bicycle issues on my cable access show bikeTV since 1999, in many ways this was the first major activism victory in NYC transportation where film played a large role.  And a reminder: YouTube didn't get started until 2005, that makes it all the more impressive.

Thus, it's an absolute honor that "The Case for a Car-Free Central Park" was selected as a featured element at the Museum of the City of New York's upcoming exhibition "Activist New York".  Beginning May 4th, the program examines social activism from the 17th Century right up to the present. We're glad the curators realized the significance of this video in New York's history.

Make sure you go check out what surely should be an excellent exhibit.  And for now if you want to watch the entire 20 minute film, you can right here, for the first time ever available on Streetfilms!

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  • http://profiles.google.com/felipe.a.fernandes Felipe Fernandes

    In São Paulo we have the Ibirapuera park that is most likely as the Central Park (but a bit smaller) and when we had to make room for the car we did a tunnel that goes under the park (it also goes under the park lake). It was an over-priced tunnel (but that is another history) but we would never allow the car to go through the park, New Yorkers shouldn't neither.

  • Trorb

    And check out this car-free Prospect Park "theater" video from nearly ten years ago!


  • Clarence Eckerson

    Exciting moment in the video: at 2:15 for 10 seconds see footage of cars roaring down Broadway where there are now ped plazas at MACY'S.

  • markphilips

    Outstanding video! Parks must solely be for people, not cars. Wait! Could we interchange Park and City? ---> Cities must solely be for people. The video clearly demonstrates that cars take too much space from people and lowers the quality of life. 

  • tom


  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    Wow just stayed up past my bedtime to watch.
    Clarence, congrats on the honor, you deserve it!
    Your films have really made a difference, and we all appreciate it.
    Now also wishing you a speedy recovery!

  • Anonymous

    Even with the current car hours, I think it would be a great improvement if the interpretation of the HOV 2+ rule did not count cab drivers. Most of the cars I see on the West drive in the morning are cabs with a single passenger. But a cab with one passenger is functionally equivalent to a private car with just the driver!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Harshbarger/100001115946032 John Harshbarger

    Though I don't live in NYC or have even visited, it surprised me that cars were even allowed in the park at all. In a city already dominated by the car it would be nice to see a small island of sanity for people. This is a fight that I can see as not just important for the citizens of NYC but for the united states as a whole. Once the precedent is set, other cities will follow.

  • KeNYC2030

    Eight years later, it's still a beautiful piece of work, Clarence.  And eight years later, cars are still in the park yet I still have confidence that city officials will do the right thing, sooner rather than later. 

  • Steely

    at 6:55 you will see your salvation