Prospect Park goes car-free for the rest of summer

Prospect Park’s roads are taking a much-needed summer vacation — from car traffic.

City officials said Monday the park will go car-free starting next Monday and remain that way until Sept. 11. Transit and park advocates hailed the move as a step in the right direction for greenspace access and safety and predicted the policy could spark a change to all parks.

“New Yorkers have so few places where we can walk freely or behave freely like people in the suburbs,” said Sarah Kaufman, assistant director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy. “In the parks, we should be able to play … without the fear of vehicles.”

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the agency wanted to build upon its decision to ban vehicular traffic from the park’s West Drive in 2015. She said travel time increased by less than a minute on nearby streets after the ban.

“People have adjusted well,” she said.

Emergency and park vehicles will still be able to use the roads during the two-month period, according to DOT.

Geoffrey Croft, president of the nonprofit NYC Park Advocates, said the city has been working hard to change the longtime policies that allowed cars to travel through the parks. Public input has been key in outweighing the “negligible negative impacts” on traffic, he said.

“Once the public is exposed to it they feel more safe, and embrace it. It will be harder to go back,” he said.

Kaufman agreed and said the park lane closures were logical since the DOT found an average of 300 cars drive through the park during the summer peak hours compared with the average of 1,000 parkgoers who use the park roads during the same period.

“At this point there aren’t many cars that go through the park,” Kaufman said.

Trottenberg said future car-free park periods are possible, as the agency will collect and analyze data from the Prospect Park initiative to determine future plans in greenspaces.

Kaufman predicted car-free parks could be the standard in the future. Central Park has had a partial vehicle ban for two years.

“There are a lot of people who use Prospect Park year-round and many would prefer to feel safer,” she said.