Pave the Way for Car-less Parks
To the cheers of park-goers everywhere, on March 23, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer submitted a bill that would ban cars completely from Central and Prospect Parks. The next day, Mayor Bloomberg argued that if cars were banned from the park, “The rest of the city streets would be overloaded and it would create an awful lot of traffic,” according to NY1.
The argument comes down to recreation vs. convenience, the people vs. the Man — the health care debate is being played out around Central Park. The Democrats (park users) want to take action to make something better while the Republicans (drivers) worry that the burden (financial or traffic) would be too much. Both sides have their points and they’re not easily reconciled. But in the cars in parks debate, there’s room for compromise.
Everyone knows that Democrats love the environment and hate cars, so presumably they’d support kicking out cars on those grounds. Since Republicans value business over the environment, they would rather have cars in the parks than Whole Foods-loving yoga moms getting in some cardio.
It’s back to the role of the government — should it provide welfare or let capitalism prevail? Human or business interest? To answer the question, conservatives have often cited the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, regardless of how things have changed in the last 200+ years. It can get a little a fuzzy. The framers made it pretty clear what they meant about the separation of church and state, but they also included the three-fifths law. Luckily, the original intent of the framers (architects) of Central Park is less debatable, and it’s fundamentally, though not specifically, anti-car.
Frederick Law Olmsted, one of Central Park’s two designers, said in 1858, “[Central Park] should present an aspect of spaciousness and tranquility... thereby affording the most agreeable contrast to the confinement, bustle and monotonous street-division of the city.” Though cars were not yet invented, allowing cars in the park reduces the level of contrast between the relatively peaceful park and the “bustle” of the city.
The conservatives would also have to agree that one of the original rules of the park, that “the drive shall be used only by persons in pleasure carriages, on bicycles, or on horseback.” In 1899, a judge interpreted “pleasure carriages” to include the newfangled automobiles (horseless carriages) to be of the “pleasure carriage” family. And early cars were indeed impractical for anything but pleasure.
Things have changed over the last 112 years. “Convenience Carriages” may be more apt. The cars that cut through Central Park are not doing so in a leisurely manner with the windows down, enjoying the break from the sounds and smells of the city — they’re just trying to get somewhere faster.
Even Mayor Bloomberg knows what a park should be. According to NY1, just over a month ago, at an event about urban parks Bloomberg said, “Among the hustle and bustle of city life, our parks represent an oasis of sorts, places where anyone can go to relax, exercise, read the papers, have a picnic, walk the dogs — like my girlfriend does every morning in Central Park.”
The dog walkers, as well as runners, walkers, riders and shufflers are the ones who parks are intended for, and if all of that is compromised, where does it stop? Really, the argument is about more than either original intent or the environment. The park’s role in Manhattan is being debated. If it’s supposed to be an oasis within the city, then let’s get the cars out. If it’s just undeveloped land that should be used in the most efficient way possible, why not put apartments up?
Cars already have their own space: highways (there are two that go the length of Manhattan, one on the east side, one on the west). Highways are intended to allow cars travel safely at speeds in excess of 50 mph. If I were to ride my bike or take a walk on a highway, I would inhibit the intended users and then be ticketed for obstructing the roadway.
By the same logic, cars should be banned from the park, because they get in the way of recreational users. Highways are for cars, and parks should be for people. The park is supposed to be an oasis from the city streets, not an extension of them.