Statement of Teresa Toro, Tri-State Transportation Campaign
New York City Council Transportation Committee Hearing re: Int. 0276-2006
May 9, 2006

I am Teresa Toro, NYC Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The Campaign’s mission is to achieve an environmentally sound, economically efficient and socially just transportation network.  

I am here today to urge the NYC Council to pass Introduction 276, which would direct the city to close the Central Park and Prospect Park loop drives to motor vehicles from June 24 to September 25 of this year.  It’s also important to note that the bill also directs the city transportation commissioner to study the areas surrounding the parks for any traffic impacts of banning cars from the loop drives, and to submit the report to the mayor by year’s end.

For decades, city administrations have offered a litany of excuses for allowing a small handful of motorists to use the city’s two most famous parks as high-speed shortcuts.  City traffic managers made similar arguments in the 1950s that closing Washington Square Park to traffic would flood the surrounding area with cars, but public pressure was strong enough so that in October 1958, the Board of Estimate ordered a temporary closing of the park to test whether traffic would lessen or become worse.  

On October 30, 1958, Washington Square Park was closed to cars. The New York Times noted: “Observation during different periods of the day revealed no congestion. The police reported no trouble.”  A community leader at a traffic-closing ceremony noted that where the park was once a potter’s field, it had now become “a burial ground for certain individuals with antiquated notions of city planning.”

We predict that a full test of car-less Central and Prospect parks will yield similar trouble-free results and discredit the incredible persistence of antiquated traffic engineering perspectives at the NYC DOT, nearly 50 years after Fifth Avenue was removed from Washington Square Park – a victory for the citizens who championed it, including the late Jane Jacobs.

Threatening traffic chaos is the historic reason for resisting car-free parks, and it was as unfounded in 1958 as it is today — Transportation Commissioner Weinshall recently said the Central Park Loop Drive is a key commuting artery for the city even though the amount of traffic handled by the drive is negligible in relation to Manhattan’s street grid and perimeter highways. 

Her position was belied yesterday by Mayor Bloomberg, who announced that some of Central Park’s and Prospect Park’s drives will be closed in the mornings for a six-month trial, beginning on June 5th.  Even though this is a watered-down version of the Council’s proposed legislation, it grudgingly acknowledges that these park loops are not vital commuting arteries.

Mayor Bloomberg has acknowledged NYC residents’ wishes by extending car-less hours in Prospect and Central Parks.  But why not test the entirely car-free summer that the City Council proposes, instead of the version offered yesterday by the mayor?

What is the Bloomberg administration afraid of?  Int. 276 offers both a trial period and a study to measure its success – there is absolutely no reason not to do it, but there are millions of reasons to do it – one for every New Yorker who uses Prospect or Central Park to run, bike, rollerblade, walk and enjoy the scenery.  The Council can make this plan a reality, and I urge you to pass this bill.

Thank you.