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Watch 18 Years of Car-Free Parks Advocacy and Progress in NYC

The exciting news about the big expansion of car-free zones in Central Park and Prospect Park is a milestone in a very long campaign. The movement for car-free parks goes back nearly 50 years -- much farther than the videos I've posted here. But it wasn't that long ago that car-free hours in these parks were the exception, rather than the rule. These clips capture the spirit of the last 18 years of activism, which has yielded tremendous progress.

The above video is a small segment I taped of one of the first "traffic calming rides" that Transportation Alternatives used to do in Central Park back in 1997!

There was a lot of action going on in Prospect Park as well. I was the chair of the Brooklyn Transportation Alternatives committee for two years and my immediate successor was Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek, who brought new energy and came up with the brilliant idea to do some car-free theater. Transportation Alternatives' director Paul Steely White (who then worked for ITDP) can be seen among the advocates -- and if you keep watching you'll see a rookie City Council member named Bill de Blasio endorse a car-free park trial.

The amazing thing? The event worked. Just months later we got some significant expansions of Prospect Park car-free hours. Council members de Blasio, David Yassky, and the late James Davis met us to celebrate on a very, very cold day!

Meanwhile, back in Central Park there was a big push led by the indefatigable Ken Coughlin to gather signatures and rally volunteers get something done there. This all culminated with a huge rally of nearly 700 people and a 20-minute film "The Case for a Car-free Central Park" that I produced for the event. Not long after the city reduced the hours that traffic was allowed in the park. More incremental progress.

Ken Coughlin's car-free Central Park committee kept up the pressure. His goal was to present 100,000 signatures for a car-free Central Park. On the steps of City Hall in November, 2006, that day came.

Streetfilms was helping to promote the cause any way we could. In the summer of 2007, our publisher Mark Gorton did a series of interviews with top transportation players in NYC. We spoke in-depth to former NYC Commissioner of Traffic Sam Schwartz about why a car-free Central Park should be a reality. We also talked with former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa about it.

Even though we had more car-free hours in Prospect Park, problems abounded. Frustrated at cars entering the park after hours, Doug Gordon (of Brooklyn Spoke fame) went out and filmed dozens of drivers illegally entering the 3rd Street entrance (now closed), and then I edited it into this short piece that was seen by about 10,000 people.

Over the years, Transportation Alternatives has organized many great rallies and gotten new partners involved in the advocacy for totally car-free parks. Here's one of the events Streetfilms has covered: Mobilized Moms for a Car-Free Central Park.

And students! Here's a video featuring the Prospect Park Youth Advocates, who gathered thousands of signatures for a car-free park and marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to deliver them to City Hall.

Here's a profile of Randy Cohen, who wrote the "Ethicist" column in the New York Times Magazine for many years. He discusses how our parks should to be places where people can find a sanctuary from the noise and danger of cars.

Today, we're not quite at the 100 percent car-free goal, but we're very close. For all those who have invested time, protested, gathered signatures, and cajoled their elected officials, THANK YOU!!!

  • Alexander Vucelic

    now to gradually move same program to West Side Highway :)

  • Joe R.

    I'd personally like to see one lane on ALL our limited access highways turned over to bicycles. Yes, you'll need separate entrance/exit ramps. It will also need to be physically protected from motor traffic by jersey barriers. Nevertheless, it would give cyclists the same benefits motorists derive from limited access highways without building any totally new infrastructure.

  • http://www.chickenunderwear.com Chicken Underwear
  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Yes you did. Thousands and thousands of people have been making this happen since the late 1970s. Thanks so much, I signed the petition not long after you put it up.

    There are so many people I wish I could thank individually, I can see on Facebook many folks that have moved away since the early 2000s that no longer live here chiming in about how they are so excited this finally happened! Some of them remember when we gathered thousands of signed cards at the PP Greenmarket to give to Mayor Bloomberg and Marty Markowtiz.

    There are even more videos on the site of related to the park, but when you reach 10 videos in a blog post, people start getting a little tired of watching towards the end. :)

  • Beth

    Arguably the most important advance for walkers and cyclists in many many years and we all owe a debt of gratitude to "the indefatigable Ken Coughlin" for his years of thankless activism and advocacy.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    There are many folks to thank. But Ken Coughlin has to be at the top of everyone's list for keeping car-free parks alive and in the news for years. And let's not forget all his work and all those volunteers gathering 100,000 petitions!

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Damn, I was just reminded of some video I shot back in 2005 in Prospect Park of some great protests. Now I gotta go see if I can find that! Plenty of love to go around.....

  • https://greenwaycommuter.wordpress.com/ Tal F.

    I went for a ride around the CP loop this morning to see what it's like for myself before the cars are banned. I've been on that loop plenty of times on weekends and evenings but it's not on my way to work so I don't usually go during AM rush hour.

    WOW, it is about time we got rid of private cars inside the park.

    In just 10 minutes of riding alongside cars I saw dozens of cars travel well in excess of the 20 MPH speed limit (several going at least 30 MPH), multiple drivers pull out of their lane and into the bike lane directly in front of me to overtake service vehicles following the speed limit, and cars honking at cyclists making turns in or out of the park.

    It was far more nerve-wracking than riding on weekends (despite the hordes of tourists swerving around as they take selfies or ambling obliviously into the bike lane).

    I also finally understood why there are traffic lights, as it is virtually impossible to cross until the cars are forced to stop with a red light. Hopefully those lights will be taken out soon now that cars are banned. The Hudson River Greenway does just fine without any lights at ped-bike only intersections, and I'm sure CP can do fine as well.

    Thank you so much to Transportation Alternatives and all the wonderful activists who have worked tirelessly to bring this moment, and keep it up until ALL of the park drives are car-free all the time.