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Posts from the "Grand Army Plaza" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Safer Passage Between GAP and Eastern Parkway

Cyclists were already using the median on Eastern Parkway near Grand Army Plaza earlier this week. Photo: Ben Fried

The reconstruction of Eastern Parkway between Washington Avenue and Grand Army Plaza is wrapping up. A big benefit of the project is the completion of a widened median, including a path for bicyclists, between the main traffic lanes and the service road.

What used to be a bumpy median that wasn’t useful or walking or cycling is now a link from the Eastern Parkway greenway to Grand Army Plaza and all the bike routes that converge there. While this is the last piece of the GAP bike network puzzle to materialize, it’s a project that’s been in the pipeline for many years, so in a way it predates other recent improvements.

The final product. Image: Department of Design and Construction

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Eyes on the Street: Plaza Street Bike Lane Goes Both Ways

Well, the paint and striping aren’t all the way there yet, but there’s now room to bike in both directions on Plaza Street in Brooklyn. Doug Gordon posted a few pictures on BrooklynSpoke this morning, and reader Steve O’Neill sent in a few more. This DOT project will make it much more convenient to bike between the neighborhoods surrounding Grand Army Plaza while following the letter of the law, but lacks the physical protection of an earlier plan. Word is the implementation will wrap up pretty quickly.

Here’s how things were looking earlier today.

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Brooklyn CB Committees OK Un-protected 2-Way Bike Lane on Plaza Street

Image: NYC DOT (PDF)

NYC DOT presented plans last night for an un-protected two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, which would enhance a critical hub in the Brooklyn bike network by defining space for contraflow riding, but fall short of providing safe cycling infrastructure for all ages. The transportation committee of Community Board 6 voted in favor of the project as a first step toward implementing a fully protected bikeway, along the lines of what DOT first presented for Plaza Street in 2010. Update: The Community Board 8 transportation committee endorsed the plan unanimously, “requesting that DOT continue to look into further pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures,” said vice-chair Rob Witherwax.

The upgrade to the Plaza Street bike lane will help connect several important spokes in the Brooklyn bike network but won't provide physical protection.

Plaza Street currently has a one-way buffered lane; with other bike routes extending from Grand Army Plaza in every direction, the new contraflow lane will be a significant upgrade in terms of connecting gaps in the bike network.

Without physical protection, though, the project won’t pack the same punch as the nearby Prospect Park West bike lane, the gold standard for safe, all-ages cycling infrastructure in NYC. As more than one parent pointed out at the meeting, biking is an increasingly popular transportation option for kids and families getting to Prospect Park, and incursion by vehicle traffic and double parkers will limit the safety of the Plaza Street lane for young riders. The project, which doesn’t touch the number of parking spaces on Plaza Street, also won’t provide new walking connections to the Grand Army Plaza berms, which are currently sealed off to pedestrians by parked cars at several cross streets.

“I commend the Department of Transportation for putting forth this new design, which will greatly improve cycling connections around Grand Army Plaza, shaving several minutes off travel times by creating more direct access to adjacent bike lanes,” said Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, who’s also a member of the CB 6 transportation committee. “Given the frequency with which impatient and, frankly, law-breaking drivers encroach on the existing Plaza Street bike lanes, however, I hope that DOT will continue to look at ways to better protect cyclists, including some sort of physical separation.”

The DOT presentation isn’t online as of this writing (update: now it’s online — check out the PDF), but here’s how the street would be laid out, starting from the berm-side:

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Plaza Street Bike Lane on the Agenda at Brooklyn CB 6 Tonight

A quick reminder: Tonight’s meeting of the Brooklyn Community Board 6 transportation committee is an important one, with DOT presenting its proposal for a two-way bike lane on Plaza Street. The public is invited to participate in the meeting, so if you want to weigh in on this upgrade to the Brooklyn bike network and whether it should be protected from traffic with a row of parked cars, tonight’s your chance.

Also on the agenda tonight is a proposal to fill in a one-block gap in the Third Street bike lane between Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue, and — in what seems to be an increasingly common item in the DOT toolkit — on-street bike parking for the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue by Park Place.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at 1 Prospect Park West, in the Turner Room.

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The Case for a Two-Way Protected Bike Lane on Plaza Street

Cross-posted from Brooklyn Spoke.

DOT's original April 2010 plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Plaza Street.

In April 2010, DOT proposed an overhaul of the chaotic and dangerous Grand Army Plaza to include two-way protected bike lanes on Plaza Street East and West. (Plaza Street is not the high-speed roadway around the arch and fountain, but rather the less trafficked outer roadways, which already have one-way buffered bike lanes. Plaza Street is fronted on one side by residential buildings and on the other side by planted berms.)  DOT’s proposal [PDF] used the existing footprint of the bike lane and parking lane, as well as two more feet from the very wide moving lane, to flip the parking lane and bike lane, putting a two-way bike lane against the berm side of Plaza Street, protected by parked cars — a design nearly identical to that of the redesigned Prospect Park West.

DOT’s Grand Army Plaza overhaul was eventually constructed in 2011 minus the protected bike lanes, some say as a result of the political blowback from the Prospect Park West bike lane lawsuit.  With the suit now dismissed and the safety and congestion fears of bike lane opponents completely discredited, DOT will re-introduce a proposal for two-way bike lanes around Plaza Street. However, the Brooklyn Paper and other sources indicate that the city might propose two alternatives: one protected by parked cars, as in the 2010 plan, and one unprotected (yet still two-way). This is odd, given the phenomenal success of the Prospect Park West redesign; a meeting next week may be the public’s only chance to speak out for a well-designed, safe, protected bike lane on Plaza Street.

An unprotected two-way lane would essentially take over the existing bike lane’s footprint, with a painted buffer between the bike lane and moving vehicles and bright green paint on the bike lane itself, but would not alter the position of parked cars on the street. This presents a bit of a conundrum: how can DOT protect contra-flow cyclists from moving vehicles, and where does DOT expect cyclists to ride while the bike lane is blocked by double-parked vehicles, motorists awaiting parking spaces, and drivers (quite legally) entering and leaving parking spaces?

It appears that the unprotected proposal is, at least in part, a response to a few local residents’ concerns that relocating parked cars would narrow the roadway on Plaza Street and cause traffic backups every time someone double parks.  But this concern fails on two levels. First, even with a protected bike lane, much of Plaza Street would still remain wide enough to accommodate a double parked vehicle and room for motorists to pass — and emergency vehicles could legally drive in a protected bike lane at any time if they needed to. Second, and perhaps more importantly, since when do we design our streets primarily to facilitate illegal and anti-social acts of double parking, as opposed to protecting our most vulnerable street users?

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Two-Way Bike Lane Back on Table For Plaza Street, But Will It Be Protected?

Upgrading the Plaza Street bike lane would provide safer connections between the many bike lanes feeding into Grand Army Plaza.

Is the NBBL era finally behind us? First, Senator Chuck Schumer himself was spotted riding in the Prospect Park West bike lane. Now, the Department of Transportation is reviving a plan, shelved at the height of the NBBL-aided media circus about cycling, to build a two-way bike lane on Plaza Street.

DOT first proposed the two-way Plaza Street lane in 2010, as part of a larger set of improvements to Grand Army Plaza. The package got an enthusiastic reception from a joint meeting of Community Boards 6, 8 and 9, and most of the pedestrian and bike improvements in the plan went forward in 2011, but the Plaza Street lane didn’t make it.

The plan for a protected Plaza Street lane happened to be under discussion at the height of the political assault on the nearby Prospect Park West lane. DOT moved ahead with the Grand Army Plaza proposal last April, without the Plaza Street bike lane, promising to revisit the discussion at an unspecified later date. At the time, Streetsblog called it the “NBBL Effect.”

As first reported by Brownstoner, that later date is now. DOT will present local community boards with multiple options for providing two-way bike access on Plaza Street later this month, said a department spokesperson. “We have continued to work with the community on ways to improve bike access and look forward to presenting options at next month’s meeting,” DOT said in a statement.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that both protected and unprotected options will be on the table. Craig Hammerman, district manager for Community Board 6, hasn’t seen the plans yet, but guessed that any proposal from DOT will differ at least slightly from what was put forward two years ago.

The two-way bike lane would be an important hub in the area’s bike network, allowing cyclists to travel safely and easily between the various bike lanes that extend from Grand Army Plaza in every direction.

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You Can Finally Walk to Grand Army Plaza Without Fear

A few months ago, motorists could drive across the asphalt here. Today it's a pedestrian zone linking the public space at the center of Grand Army Plaza to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch. Photos: Ben Fried

Gathering at the new public space beneath the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza this morning, city officials and community leaders celebrated the reclamation of asphalt for people at the crossroads of Brooklyn. One of the borough’s iconic places is finally a destination that people can get to comfortably, thanks to a slate of pedestrian and bike improvements NYC DOT completed this summer.

“For too long, Grand Army Plaza has been an 11-acre vicious circle of traffic,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The improvements include enormous new pedestrian islands at the north side of GAP, swaths of asphalt re-purposed as public space and resurfaced with sand-colored gravel, and new crosswalks and bike connections. Sadik-Khan said it added up to more than a football field of new public space, which will “unlock the gateway to Prospect Park.”

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Behind her, left to right, are Council Member Tish James, Council Member Steve Levin, Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, Prospect Park Alliance director Emily Lloyd, and State Senator Eric Adams.

Community leaders and civic groups began mobilizing for a safer, livelier, and more accessible Grand Army Plaza in 2006, with the formation of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, or GAPCo. A series of site visits and public workshops followed, defining the problems with GAP and outlining principles to fix it. GAPCo had a receptive audience at DOT, which began to phase in safety improvements in 2008 and revealed a more comprehensive plan in 2010, the fruits of which were on display today.

Grand Army Plaza is “Olmsted and Vaux’s brilliant solution for integrating Flatbush Avenue with Prospect Park,” said GAPCo’s Rob Witherwax. “Over the last 150 years, the balance tipped from park to street. We tried to tip it back.”

Council Member Tish James was an early supporter of GAPCo’s efforts and praised DOT’s implementation this morning. “I grew up in Park Slope, and Prospect Heights was my backyard,” she said. “It was always difficult to navigate these streets. You took your life in your hands. Today it was easy. Today it was calming.”

No one knows about all the organizing, ideas, and coordination that went into this project better than Witherwax, who ticked off the groups that came together to improve GAP: The Prospect Park Alliance, the cultural institutions who collaborate under the banner of the Heart of Brooklyn, three local community boards, the Park Slope Civic Council, and others. “DOT could just as easily have said, ‘Thank you, we’ll get back to you later,’ but they didn’t,” Witherwax said. “They made our vision happen.”

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In Progress: Better Bike-Ped Access on the South Side of Grand Army Plaza

Crosswalk on steroids: The pedestrian connection between the greenmarket area, shown during a recent food truck rally, and the central public space of Grand Army Plaza is about 100 times more visually prominent after the addition of these huge zebra stripes. Photos: Ben Fried

Earlier this week we showed some before-and-after shots of the pedestrian improvements on the north end of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Here we’ve got a batch of pictures from the south end, by the entrance to Prospect Park. These pictures are already a little out of date — DOT has put down an epoxy-and-gravel surface on the pedestrian area where the greenmarket sets up every Saturday — so keep in mind that this isn’t the finished product. I think you’ll still get a good feel for how much of a difference this DOT project will make for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thanks are due again to the folks at the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, who’ve been pushing for changes like this for five years.

Walking from Prospect Park to the Bailey Fountain in the center of GAP now looks like something you're supposed to do.

For cyclists, GAP is quickly becoming a much more functional hub, with bikeways leading into and out from the area in all directions. The addition of a greenway connection on Eastern Parkway, projected to be finished next year, will complete the spokes in the system. A two-way, circular protected bike route on Plaza Street (currently a one-way bike lane) would fill out the hub, though plans for that segment have been on hold.

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In Progress: The Reclamation of Grand Army Plaza for Walking

Large new pedestrian areas have added safe space for walking and imposed order on traffic at the intersection of Vanderbilt (with the cars queued up) and Flatbush. Photo: Ben Fried

Construction work is nearing completion at one of the summer’s biggest livable streets projects: DOT’s improvements for pedestrians and cyclists at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Spurred by the advocacy groundwork laid by the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, the city has added huge new pedestrian islands on the north side of the plaza and created safer biking and walking connections on the south side, near the entrance to Prospect Park. All together, the changes make it much easier to walk to GAP’s central public space and navigate the whole area on foot or by bike. Here’s a peek at the pedestrian improvements on the north side.

Above is the intersection of Flatbush and Vanderbilt, looking north from one of the new pedestrian islands. Below is a similar angle, pre-makeover, grabbed from Google Street View.

Image: Google Street View

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Eyes on the Street: Union Street Trolley Tracks Exposed!

Photo: Susan Kille

Construction is moving ahead on one of the summer’s blockbuster livable streets projects, the addition of new pedestrian and bicycle amenities at Grand Army Plaza. As often happens in Brooklyn, in the course of digging up the pavement the crew unearthed some remains from the previous incarnation of the street. Susan Kille posted this shot of old trolley tracks on Union Street, which were briefly exposed over the weekend.

Trolleys running on Union, Grand Army Plaza, and Prospect Park West were part of the surface rail network blanketing Brooklyn and much of Queens before streetcars exited the scene in the 1950s.

Doug at Brooklyn Spoke has a great series of shots from the era when trolleys plied PPW, there was nary a parked car in sight, and the sidewalks were more generous than they are today. It’s a fitting response to opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign who seem to think that preserving the street’s historic charm entails keeping the parking lanes exactly as they were in May, 2010.