New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that all of Central Park’s drives will be permanently off limits to public vehicular traffic, beginning June 27, 2018. Previously cars had limited access below 72nd Street during specified times.
“Our parks are for people, not cars. For more than a century, cars have turned parts of the world’s most iconic park into a highway. Today we take it back. We are prioritizing the safety and the health of the millions of parents, children and visitors who flock to Central Park,” said Mayor de Blasio.
“Central Park is not just one of New York’s favorite parks — it’s one of the most beloved, most recognized parks in the entire world. Now, we’re making history by demonstrating just how clean, accessible, and safe an urban park can be,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.
“The Central Park Conservancy applauds Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver for working to ensure a car-free Central Park,” said Elizabeth W. Smith, President and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy. “It is our mission to restore, manage, and enhance Central Park. For over 35 years, the Conservancy has worked tirelessly with many New York City agencies to make Central Park safe and accessible. This historic initiative will ensure that the Park’s essential purpose as an urban oasis will be preserved.”
Since its founding in 1980, the Conservancy has worked with NYC Parks and the NYC Department of Transportation to reduce vehicular traffic in Central Park. In 1981, the Conservancy worked with NYC Parks to transform the Cherry Hill Concourse (mid-Park at 72nd Street) from a parking lot into a peaceful destination for Park visitors, with views of the Lake and the Ramble.
The Conservancy’s other early efforts to reduce traffic in the Park include working with the NYC Department of Transportation to close eight vehicular entrances to the Park’s drives, and redesigning several of them to remove traces of vehicular use. This includes such transformative restorations as the conversion of the Columbus Circle entrance into Merchants’ Gate Plaza, today the most heavily used pedestrian entrance to the Park.
The Conservancy’s transformation of Central Park has led to a dramatic increase in Park use, from an estimated 13 million annual visits in 1980 to more than 42 million today. Nowhere is the increase and variety of recreational use more evident than on the drives — where cyclists, tourists, joggers, walkers, and carriages enjoy the open space and beautiful views together.
This historic initiative honors Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s vision of the Park as a respite from urban life. As they wrote: “The popular idea of the park is a beautiful open green space, in which quiet drives, rides, and strolls may be had. This cannot be preserved if a race course, or a road that can readily be used as a race course, is made of one of its leading attractions.”