Thursday, June 26, 2008

Battle for Central Park

I am both a runner and a cyclist (I don't own a dog) and this NY Magazine article gets right to the matter: who owns the park space?
The struggle for Central Park is, in its essence, like any other New York neighborhood conflict, with the same kinds of seething antagonisms and the same immutable stereotypes. There are the old-timers (I was here first!), the colonizers (The park is ours!), and the new-money arrivistes (Who do you think you are?). Cyclists see runners as a domineering mass that has controlled the park since the jogging boom of the late seventies. “You’re not going to do a ride without having someone beam at you some feeling of resentment,” says Ken Harris, the president of the Century Road Club, the largest bike-racing club in the country. Runners, in cyclists’ view, shuffle along the road and are prone to swerve erratically in an iPod-induced trance. “Most of the runners have the headphones on so loud that they don’t have a clue where they’re going,” adds Thomas Kempner Jr., chairman of the Central Park Conservancy and a frequent cyclist. “There is a lot of hate,” nationally ranked cyclist Sarah Chubb, the president of Condé Nast’s CondéNet, tells me. “The Road Runners club can take over the entire park, and they get pissed at us if our races go past 8 a.m. The runners don’t stay where they’re supposed to stay, they’re wearing headphones, and they’ll scream at you if you ask them to get out of the way!”

There’s one issue about which runners, cyclists, and dog owners are in full agreement: cars. For years, Transportation Alternatives, the bicycle-advocacy organization, has been waging a campaign to banish cars from the park. “We’re incredulous that we don’t have a car-free Central Park already,” Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul White tells me. “The anger you see in the park is similar to the ire you see in Park Slope with the double-wide strollers. Our view is, Don’t get mad at the stroller moms. Get mad at the city for providing such limited car-free space.”

Although I live closer to Prospect Park, the little brother of Central Park, many of these experiences ring true. I have seen a dog attack a cyclist, I have been yelled at on my bike for not stopping at the red lights, a runner ran into me on my bike (when I had the right of way), and I have almost been hit by cars in the park (both running and cycling) about a half a dozen times.

While this article demonstrates that NYC is lacking in green and park space that can be used for active recreation, overall the cars need to get out. With all the issues park users face, the automobile should be the one thing they shouldn't have to worry about. Check out the TA carfree parks campaign and sign the petition.

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