From its inception, Central Park has been a continually evolving public space. Some of the park’s most treasured locations including Belvedere Castle, The Great Lawn, and The Central Park Zoo were not in park designers Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan. Similarly, arches were added to the park after the initial design was submitted. In 1873, after technically disassociated with Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux, were hired to build additional arches in areas with problematic traffic within Central Park. Again, in 1890, the city commissioned additional arches in the Northern part of the park as it became more visited.
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As groundbreaking as their original plans were, Olmsted and Vaux couldn’t predict all the ways in which Central Park might eventually be used. As such, there are places in the park which would benefit from slightly revised paths to account for changes in park useage.
Located just inside Merchant’s Gate at Columbus Circle, Greyshot Arch is adorned with a fleur-de-lis pattern on its balustrades, constructed with gneiss from Westchester County and insulated with red brick from Philadelphia. The arch was a priority for Olmsted and Vaux as they felt the Southwest corner of the park would be full of traffic as the city’s population quickly rose toward 59th Street. However, part in an effort to highlight Central Park’s naturalistic and peaceful setting, the Arch was tucked behind a corner. While the road above is one of the most frequented areas in Central Park, the pedestrian path below is rarely used. Instead visitors follow a ruler drawn path straight into a dangerous feet from the arch crosswalk. Changes to the pedestrian pathway leading to the arch, signage, crosswalk, or road access would immediately improve safety in this area.
Winterdale Arch was named because it was part of what was originally known as Winter Drive. The park was landscaped with evergreens and the arch was fashioned from granite and sandstone to evoke a snowy mountain setting. In 1993, the Central Park Conservancy restored the Winterdale Arch’s railing which had been replaced by pipe after repeated traffic accidents on the drive above destroyed the original cast iron railing.
The road above once filled with carriages and cars now carries bicyclists, rollerbladers and runners who head down a steep hill. Trees and plantings along the drive make it feel as if there’s no pedestrians around and the downward slope encourages riders to enjoy their gravity assisted speed. Just past the arch however, tucked around a corner is the crosswalk which leads to The Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, and The Delacorte Theater (home of Shakespeare in the Park). Heavily frequented, it is, according to a Department of Transportation study, the most dangerous crosswalk in Central Park.
The Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, and the Delacorte Theater were not in the original park design. Originally this part of the park held a giant receiving reservoir for New York City’s water supply. When these attractions were added to the park, a ruler drawn line connected people entering the park to these attractions via a crosswalk. Meanwhile, just slightly up the road, Winterdale Arch (on a section of the former bridle trail) was mostly forgotten. The arch is ideally placed to allow passage to the aforementioned attractions but a ruler drawn pedestrian path discourages its use. Eliminating this path and crosswalk would make the park measurably safer.