In the 1920s, with the middle class now adopting the automobile, general street traffic overflowed into the park; four out of five cars on its drives were simply "passing through" by the shortest possible route. Cars threatened the safety of parkgoers and even of the park itself: in 1922 cars crashed into two hundred park lampposts. In 1929 urban planners counted eight thousand cars on the drive north of the Sheep Meadow in a six-hour period and warned of the danger to pedestrians who tried to cross the forty-to sixty-foot-wide park drives "with no 'isles of safety' for the pedestrians at the crossings."I found my copy of The Park and the People on sale for 10 bucks at Computer Book Works (they're not just computer books) on Warren Street near City Hall. It looks like an interesting book for those interested in Central Park and its history.
By the mid-1920s planners and letter writers to the newspapers were continually calling for a ban on automobiles in the park. Short of such drastic intervention, some thought that the solution to the "car menace" lay in slowing down motorists by making the park's drives more winding. Others proposed instead to straighten and widen the old carriage roads to speed up the traffic. Planners urged widening the transverse roads, and also Fifth and Eight avenues, to absorb park traffic and called for reducing the park's speed limit, now twenty miles an hour (and mostly ignored). "Central Park was laid out as a restful recreation area," state senator Nathan Straus, Jr., said in 1924 when urging that cars be banned. "not as a thoroughfare for mechanical transportation." But by 1932 the automobile was firmly entrenched in city life, and park administrators installed in the park those most prosaic and mechanical of city features, traffic lights.
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Last updated: 4 April 1999