Car Park

Is Heavy Traffic Carving Up Central Park?

Beauty and fashion hardly describe the current figure cut by cars in Central Park. When the Times charged in a 1906 editorial that the typical automobile driver "is taking the park, not as a lovely work of art, to be slowly tasted and enjoyed, but only as a shortcut to his possibly lawful but certainly loud and odiferous occasions," it could not have foreseen a level of legal traffic that has led to taxi homicides and pedestrian maimings, and off-roadway traffic that threatens to turn parts of the park into motocross tracks or machinery depots.

"The park was designed as a refuge from the city," says Coughlin, an editor and cyclist who helped spearhead a campaign to bombard Rudy Giuliani, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields with nearly 6000 postcards advocating banning cars from Central Park. "The Conservancy and the Parks Department don't have a real clear sense of what the park is about. Henry Stern has been quoted as saying we're zealots and we have a messianic view of Central Park."

But are only zealots offended by the idea of Central Park turning into a raceway or parking lot? After all, it was a former parks commissioner, August Heckscher, who said that in cities men will know nature in the parks or be in danger of not knowing nature at all.

No horses in sight, but six vehicles came barreling up Central Park's bridle path in just one 30-minute period.
Hiroyuki Ito
No horses in sight, but six vehicles came barreling up Central Park's bridle path in just one 30-minute period.

"No matter who you are, you have to stay on the paved roads and paths. Lawn damage by any vehicle we will definitely address," said the Conservancy's Blonsky one afternoon last week by telephone. "Absolutely, we want to try to limit vehicles 100 percent,"

Yet the scores of vehicles parked at the North Meadow Fitness Center (50 cars and trucks), alongside the Ramble Shed (51 vehicles, five trailers, eight Dumpsters, and an old car seat), and at the Parks Department maintanence yard didn't appear to be just a temporary eyesore. "The motorization of the Parks Department was problematic to begin with," says cyclist Convissor. "We're not talking about golf carts. We're talking about an urbanized and vehicularized park, with more cars off roads at all hours. The whole point of the park, I thought, was serenity, getting away from the city and from cars."

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