Automobile traffic will be banned from much of Manhattan and Brooklyn's biggest parks, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.
The exile of cars, SUVs and motorcycles from Central Park and Prospect Park will begin in the coming weeks. On June 29, Central Park's loop drive north of 72nd Street will be closed to traffic, as will Prospect Park's West Drive beginning July 6, de Blasio's office said.
"Today we're taking a big step to returning our parks to the people, and that's the whole idea to begin with," de Blasio told reporters at the Brooklyn park's southern tip. "We're creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone to know that they will be safer and they can enjoy the park in peace."
De Blasio's news conference, held in the middle of a road to be shuttered, elicited cheers and applause from parkgoers who stopped to watch the event.
Advocates had long sought to expel motor vehicles from the greenery-lined roadways. De Blasio said he's been working on the issue for more than a decade, beginning when he was a city councilman.
To accommodate the traffic that now relies on the roadways through Central Park, the city's Department of Transportation plans to adjust signal timing and extend an express bus lane on Fifth Avenue, said Polly Trottenberg, the department's commissioner. She said that she expects the streets around Prospect Park to be able to absorb the diverted traffic "very easily."
The city is not closing all park roadways to cars because too many vehicles rely on those byways that are to remain open, she said.
"There's still a very high car volume that goes through," she said.
Central Park's four transverse roads will remain open, and Prospect Park's east drive, where the number of vehicles that use the road are double that on the west, will be open between 7 and 9 a.m. on weekdays.
De Blasio said that once the bans take effect, Prospect and Central parks will be more car-free than they've been since 1899.