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!!!