More Space for
By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
PROSPECT PARK — Pedestrians and cyclists in Prospect Park are about to get more elbow room — this week the Parks Department, in conjunction with the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Prospect Park Alliance and others, unveiled a new plan for pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic in the park, in an effort to make using the park’s roads safer and simpler.
Within a few months, the alliance will repaint the park’s roads, eliminating one lane of car traffic and adding more space for pedestrians and cyclists during rush hours. These changes will also add space for pedestrians during off hours and make crosswalks more visible. The alliance aims to make the park safer and more useful for all of its 10 million yearly users.
The plan to rework the park’s traffic patterns was a collaborative effort by 14 different organizations. The Prospect Park Alliance, the DOT, the Parks Department, local elected officials, community groups and transportation advocacy groups all shared data and ideas on how to make the park’s roads safer and to help eliminate confusion about the right-of-way at crosswalks and about the opening of the park to cars during the morning and afternoon rush hours.
The task force, known as the Prospect Park Road Sharing Taskforce, was formed to look for safety solutions following a series of accidents between cyclists and pedestrians last year.
“There was a lot of confusion around who has right-of-way in a crosswalk and over cyclists not knowing they need to stop,” explained Paul Nelson of the Prospect Park Alliance. “We wanted to make sure people know who goes where.”
As of now, two lanes of the park’s East Drive are open to car traffic on weekday mornings and two lanes of the West Drive are open for the afternoon rush. During non-rush hours, these two lanes are reserved for service vehicles and cyclists. The rest of the road is reserved at all hours for pedestrians and cyclists, with both sharing the 14-foot-wide lane.
Under the new plan, each type of road user — pedestrians, cyclists, and cars together with service vehicles — will have their own designated lane at all hours. The Prospect Park Alliance hopes that this change, combined with increased signage and more visible crosswalks, will make the park much safer for all involved.
The changes will also keep drivers from speeding, said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives and a member of the task force.
“The capacity of that street is far greater than its use — if there is extra space, cars are more likely to speed,” Samponaro explained. “By painting the rules that apply all the time, it’ll be much less confusing for drivers,” she added.
According to DOT records, the roadways are used by approximately 700 cars per hour in the morning and 250 per hour at night. The department estimates that the delay caused by eliminating a lane of traffic would be very minimal.
Still, some argue that this move is not enough and have been calling for a car-free park. Eric McClure, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors, applauds the plan, but argues that the task force missed the larger issue
“The single biggest threat to safety in the park is the presence on the drives of speeding motor vehicles,” McClure said in a statement. His organization has pushed for a trial of a car-free park, an option that the DOT says is “not on the table.”
Park Slope Neighbors recently surveyed the West Drive during an afternoon rush, measuring the speeds of each car with a radar gun. They found that 99 percent of the cars that passed (193 of 195) were in excess of the posted 25 mph speed limit. The average speed was 39 mph, with some in excess of 50 mph.
The Prospect Park administration has said it will be receptive to community concerns and suggestions, particularly relating to traffic overflow.
“There is a very real possibility that car traffic will be displaced onto neighboring streets and negatively impact surrounding neighborhoods,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose office also worked on the task force.
Another member of the task force, City Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens) hailed the plan as a step forward for the park.
“The best part of the recommendation is that, under the new plan, the space available to pedestrians will double in size,” Lander said. “Those are the people who are most in need of protection when using the drive, and the new plan goes a long way towards accomplishing that.”