Comparing New York’s Central Park to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

Large public city parks are one of the few inventions of the last century that have remained generally unchanged and which serve the same purpose as when created; providing unrestricted space to the general public for recreation and leisure. Though Central Park is full of people running, walking, rolling, playing, or just relaxing;

Use of Golden Gate Park is much reduced from 100 years ago when 45,000 of the city's 250,000 residents would crowd the Park on an typical Sunday.


Central Park is shaped like Golden Gate Park, long and but a few blocks wide, about 800 acres to GGP’s 1,000 acres. Central Park is bounded on all sides by dense city, primarily residential,

as is GGP. Central Park has a major art museum within it boundaries, the MET, and two other major institutions directly on it edges, the Guggenheim and the Natural History Museum.

Central Park has two major surface roadways that run it length as with JFK and MLK Drives in GGP.


Certainly vegitation, weather, population density, and topography are major contrasts, but access for the automobile is the most obvious difference. Central Park has four distinct roadway and path systems made possible by over 150 bridges, all intentionally different in design.

To handle non-park traffic access across Central Park, there are four sunken two-lane, two-way roadways with pedestrian sidewalks as much as 30’ below grade in places. These are all bounded by dense foliage and subtle fencing and traversed by broad bridges such that one has to look aggressively to even know they are there.

A second one-way roadway system rings the park and is 3 to 4 lanes wide with one lane reserved for human power, be it running, skating, or bicycling. Generally the roadway is closed entirely to traffic, opened only during rush hours weekdays. Posted rules claim this to be the only space bicycles and skates are allowed, but reality is somewhat different.

Then there is a very complete system of paved pathways, many using steps carved into the natural stone outcroppings. These paths meander through the Central Park, few running straight for any length, and none providing direct routes through the Park.

And fourth, there is a system of equestrian trails again separated from the other systems by bridges.

Vehicle parking in Central Park is restricted to staff in generally out-of-the-way locations. With a few small exceptions, no private autos are parked in Central Park.

The initial plans for roadways in Golden Gate Park mimicked Central Park, but sadly, money constraints and political infighting prevented the initial implementation and the right of ways for grade separation were claimed for the Concourse, the Arboretum, and dozens of other now sacred spaces. Central Park’s path and roadway system represents what could and should have been Golden Gate Park's system.