New Yorkers don’t use Central Park to exercise. Although runners and bicyclists seem ubiquitous, most people – 85 percent -- go to the park for passive activities like “thinking” and “wandering,” according to an exhaustive survey by the Central Park Conservancy.
"People have historically used the park for passive recreation,” said Park Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky. “I was a little surprised to see that amount increase even more.”
The survey, which investigated everything from park visitors’ boating habits to the most popular park entrances, involved 350 park volunteers and conservancy staff working a total of 2,800 hours to collect over 3,300 exit interviews and 5,800 observation surveys from July 2008 to May 2009.
Blonsky was pleased to learn from the survey that annual park visits have tripled in the 30 years since the conservancy’s founding. “The survey shows us that people love the park and how it’s used,” said Blonsky. The survey was inspired by the 16-day visitor count taken during the 2005 installation of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates.
The survey revealed an interesting picture of the typical park visitor. The vast majority visits the park alone, and most prefer “nature study and appreciation” (5.5 million) to “team sports” (1 million). The percentage of people who prefer solitary wandering in the park has increased since 1982.
Seventy percent of the people using the park are New Yorkers, and 65% are regular visitors. Children 18 and under make up the largest age group of park visitors. Although New York City’s census counts reveal slightly more women than men, the male to female ratio in the park is exactly equal.
Most people visit the park between 2 and 4 p.m. with the majority of visits occurring on weekend days. Visits range from 40,000 on a weekday in winter to 220,000 on a Sunday in summer. Central Park is most crowded in July and August.
The survey revealed another surprising observation about park usage: very few people visit the northern side of the park.
“Most people get off the subway at 59th street and never think about walking to the other side,” said Blonsky. Less than 3% of visitors to the park go to The Mount, The Ravine, the North Woods, or the Northwest corner. The most popular attraction, the 59th Street pond and the Wollman Rink, are on the southern end.
However, even park visitors can’t completely avoid New York’s most common nuisances. The park received the most complaints about crowds and traffic.