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Posts from the "Prospect Park" Category

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Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. ”I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

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Traffic Lights Don’t Belong on a Park Loop

It's full of cyclists and joggers, but Amsterdam's Vondelpark loop is designed differently than the one in Central Park. Photo: Jannes Glas/Flickr

Cyclists, joggers, and walkers coexist on the loop in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. Photo: Jannes Glas/Flickr

Two separate crashes in which cyclists struck and killed pedestrians on the Central Park loop have garnered more media attention than any other traffic safety issue in the past two months. In addition to the inevitable reemergence of a few bikelash trolls, the collisions have led to a round of less spiteful stories that still miss the mark, framing the whole issue in terms of adherence to traffic lights. Collisions on the loop roads in both Central Park and Prospect Park are preventable, but trying to compel pedestrians and cyclists to obey signals won’t get the job done.

It’s easy to gather a ton of B-roll of cyclists in the parks proceeding through red lights and pedestrians crossing against the signal or outside crosswalks. This type of coverage, however, misses the point: The problem in the park isn’t that people are disobeying the stop lights. The problem is the traffic lights themselves, which cause more conflict than they prevent.

Traffic signals came to New York in 1920, to impose order on what the New York Times recently called “the growing onslaught of automobiles” navigating the city’s right-angled intersections. On the park loops, conditions are quite different: People crossing on foot, no longer on the lookout for high-speed motorized traffic, expect greater freedom of movement, while the stream of joggers and cyclists on the road, unencumbered by bulky metal cages and generally moving at speeds that enable eye contact with other people, can engage with their surroundings in a way that drivers cannot. It’s nothing like the intersection of two city streets, yet it has similar traffic control devices.

Expecting pedestrians and cyclists in Central Park to obey traffic lights is like expecting drivers on the Belt Parkway to use hand signals before they change lanes. It’s the wrong technique, applied to a situation where it just won’t work.

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What’s the Status of Car-Free Central Park and Prospect Park in 2014?

Last year, the city announced that much of Central Park’s loop drives would go car-free all summer long. With temperatures warming, the park is again filling with people walking, jogging, and biking — all sharing space with car commuters looking for a rush-hour shortcut. Will it happen again — or expand — this year? Negotiations are underway to bring a car-free summer back to Central Park, and meanwhile it’s still an open question whether Prospect Park users will get similar summer traffic relief for the first time.

A pleasant, car-free Central Park. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr

Central Park could be pleasant and car-free all the time. Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr

The movement for car-free parks has gained momentum and major political support after years of advocacy, yielding design changes to park roads and steady expansions of car-free hours in two of the city’s busiest parks.

The push for a car-free Central Park has been complicated of late by a de Blasio administration pledge to ban horse carriages and replace them with old-timey electric cars in the park. Last week, the Central Park Conservancy came out against the electric cars, saying they would “increase congestion” and “make the park less safe.” Cars in the park are tied with crowds as the top complaint of Central Park visitors, according to a 2011 survey by the conservancy [PDF].

Horse carriage operators have seized upon the car-free park message to argue against a ban on their industry. ”As carriage drivers, our priority is safety,” said carriage industry spokesperson Christina Hansen in a statement released by the Teamsters union. “With tens of thousands of injuries caused by car crashes every year in New York City, why bring cars into Central Park at all times of day?”

The landscape has also shifted across the East River, where Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams took over from car-free Prospect Park opponent Marty Markowitz. It remains to be seen, however, if Adams will become a champion of getting cars out of the park. His old state Senate district included the park, and he has a record of equivocating on the issue. “I would love, ideally, to close all our parks to vehicular traffic, but I don’ t want to do it in a manner that would put the surrounding communities into an environmental or traffic shock,” he told Patch in 2011.

Adams’s Manhattan counterpart, Gale Brewer, has a much more direct take on Central Park. “I remain committed to a permanent ban on cars in the park,” Brewer said in a statement. ”In the meantime, an almost car-free park in the summer months is a great initiative and should continue.”

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Trolley Terror! Meet the Original Prospect Park West NIMBYs

The electric trolley was said to be "dangerous to property, man, and beast."

Norm Steisel, Louise Hainline, Iris Weinshall, and their anti-bike “Better Bike Lane” comrades aren’t the first well-to-do, politically connected bunch to wage war against a new configuration for Prospect Park West. According to a fascinating Curbed piece from the Weekly Nabe’s Keith Williams, another powerful NIMBY cadre once sought to undermine a nascent progressive transportation movement. In the late 19th century, the object of fear and loathing was the electric trolley.

Williams writes that, at the time, Brooklyn was a smattering of separate towns, and railroad owner Henry W. Slocum saw an opportunity to provide residents with intra-city travel and access to the shore.

Slocum had already electrified the five miles of track between Park Circle (the southwest corner of Prospect Park) and Coney Island. In 1891, he was looking to convert the Brooklyn portion of that line: straight up what is now Prospect Park Southwest, across the future Prospect Park West to Ninth Street, and down to Smith.

But those living along Prospect Park weren’t having it. Their main argument was that electric trolleys would crush pedestrians without warning. Go figure: pulling a lever to operate an electric brake was more reliable than trying to get a horse to stop. There was also the fear of fire caused by falling wires, which had happened on a few occasions in other cities. The 500-volt supply was “enough to kill a regiment of men,” according to one electrician. Since then, however, safeguards had been developed to keep dislodged wires in place.

The drama even had its own Marty Markowitz, says Williams: Congressman David A. Boody, a trolley foe who became mayor of Brooklyn.

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The Prospect Park Bike-Ped Expansion Is Complete

Late last week the Prospect Park Alliance sent out an email blast announcing that NYC DOT has finished altering the park loop to give more space to pedestrians and cyclists during the hours when cars are allowed in the park. The new configuration — which slims the motor vehicle right-of-way from two lanes to one — also makes a lot more sense for park users on the weekends and the 20 hours each weekday when there are no cars in the park.

Photo: Ben Fried

I went for a run in the park yesterday afternoon and the new configuration seems to work great during car-free hours. There is much less ambiguity about where you’re supposed to be. Additionally, one of the underappreciated benefits of the roomier, more sensible striping for pedestrians and cyclists is that you can jog against the flow of traffic and not feel like you’re breaking the rules or getting in other people’s way.

The e-blast also included this unexpected piece of news: DOT will be enabling push-button walk signals at all the traffic lights in the park. The push-button signals were recommended by the Prospect Park Road Sharing Taskforce and are already in effect at four crossings on the West Drive. The Prospect Park Alliance explained that the signals will work like so…

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pedestrian-activated traffic signals will only work when that portion of the Park Drive is closed to motor vehicles.
  • When the Drive is closed to motor vehicles, the traffic signals will remain green and pedestrian signals will display the steady hand symbol (Don’t Walk) until a pedestrian activates the button.
  • When the Drive is open to motor vehicles (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the East Drive and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the West Drive, Monday through Friday), the traffic signals will operate using the regular green/yellow/red phases to facilitate traffic flow.

An upshot of this change is that, at these crossings during car-free hours, the loop drive will function less like a “shared space” where pedestrians and cyclists negotiate interactions without traffic controls. Stop will mean stop.

Last year, when police went on a ticket blitz in Central Park targeting cyclists who rode through reds, electeds proposed activating blinking yellow lights during car-free hours to indicate that passing cyclists have to exercise caution near crossing pedestrians (DOT said it could not make the change). These pedestrian-activated signals in Prospect Park will be a bit more heavy-handed.

In addition, the Alliance announced that the loop entrance at Ocean and Parkside will be closed to cars starting June 25. That intersection is slated for a major safety overhaul that involves replacing the motor vehicle entrance with pedestrian space.

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Eyes on the Street: Prospect Park Road Diet in Action

Photo: Ben Fried

As first documented by @noahbudnick, the section of the Prospect Park loop south of the lake has had new markings (and a smooth, fresh surface) for a few weeks. On this section you can experience the more spacious 24/7 accommodations for walkers, joggers, and cyclists that will soon expand to the rest of the loop. I was over there about two weeks ago and it was kind of remarkable to see everyone using the lane designated specifically for them.

According to electronic message boards stationed in the park, the rest of the loop will get new markings starting on May 11 (word is new pavement is not in the works). Now about that rush-hour car lane…

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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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Prospect Park Users: Thanks for the Road Diet, Now Let’s Make It Car-Free

During car-free hours, Parks Department and NYPD vehicles would use the right lane, which is also supposed to serve as a passing lane for cyclists. Image: Prospect Park Alliance

Brooklynites like the idea of reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes cutting through Prospect Park from two to one. They’d like zero even better.

A crowd of roughly 150 gathered in the Prospect Park Picnic House last night to hear a proposal from the Prospect Park Alliance’s road sharing task force. As reported yesterday, the plan puts the vehicle lanes on a road diet, expanding pedestrian and bicycle space while reducing the confusion caused by road markings that only apply during the small amount of time when cars are allowed in the park.

Under the plan, the loop would be divided into three roughly equal sections. Motor vehicles would have a single 10-foot lane along with a three-foot shoulder. Cyclists will have 10 feet in the middle of the road, divided into lanes for slower and faster riders. The remaining space, 14 feet or more, would be for runners and walkers. “There was a sense that the space was just not wide enough for both bikes and pedestrians,” said park administrator Emily Lloyd.

During the majority of the week, when most cars are not allowed in the park, the uses would remain the same, hopefully reducing confusion about which park users were supposed to be where when. “All of the things we paint on the roadway can be consistent,” said Lloyd. During car-free hours, the motor vehicle lane would be designated for park or police vehicles. The intent is to encourage cyclists to use it as a passing lane but not a primary space for biking.

Overall, the proposal won near-unanimous support. “The best compromise I’ve seen anybody come up with in years,” said transportation planner Steve Faust. “A marked difference right away,” said Harry Edmund Bolick, a member of the Kissena Cycling Club.

One of the few opponents of the proposal, Mark Russo, argued that having only one lane in the park would mean more congestion. “If you have one slow vehicle,” he said, “you’re going to have massive traffic jams.” DOT projections showed that the average delay due to traffic would only rise from 5.9 seconds to 13.3 seconds on the east side of the loop in the morning, and from 4.6 to 5.6 seconds on the west side in the evening. That’s “a level of service you will never see on a city street during rush hour,” said Lloyd. Only 700 vehicles an hour use the loop during the morning rush, and a scant 250 per hour during the evening.

Most speakers at last night’s meeting thought the plan didn’t go far enough.

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The Prospect Park Road Diet: A Big Improvement That Only Goes Halfway

Currently, most of the pavement in Brooklyn's flagship park is marked for use by motor traffic. A proposal from the Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force would reallocate some space to pedestrians and cyclists.

At a public meeting tonight, the Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force will present a plan to double the amount of space for pedestrians on the Prospect Park loop and reduce confusion between pedestrians and cyclists during the vast majority of time that the park is car-free.

The Prospect Park Alliance established the task force last July in the wake of a collision where a cyclist traveling on a downhill seriously injured a pedestrian. Prospect Park Administrator Emily Lloyd told the Times that the task force, which includes a broad array of park users, city agencies, elected officials, and advocates, has reached an “enthusiastic consensus” for reconfiguring the loop drive with one fewer lane for cars and more space for walking and biking.

Currently the loop drive is open to motor traffic from 7-9 a.m. on the east side of the park and from 5-7 p.m. on the west side. During those hours, when people take advantage of the park before and after the work day, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists cram into the narrow confines of the marked walking and biking lanes, while most of the loop is given over to car commuters. The motorists have more space than they know what to do with: A speed gun survey conducted by the Prospect Park Youth Advocates in 2008 found that 90 percent of drivers on the loop exceed the 25 mph speed limit.

Meanwhile, during the entire weekend and the 22 hours each weekday when any given segment of the loop is car-free, the markings make little sense. Scattered signs explain that cyclists should use the “traffic lanes” while pedestrians have the run of the “bike lane,” but the street markings are omnipresent. The confusion about who belongs where is often cited as a factor contributing to bike-ped collisions on the loop.

The task force proposal will give some breathing room to pedestrians and cyclists during the a.m. and p.m. crunch, and it should get more drivers to adhere to the speed limit. It’s a big improvement. But a comprehensive fix would go farther, making Prospect Park car-free 24 hours a day. As long as there’s a motor vehicle lane in Brooklyn’s flagship park, people on the loop will still be exposed to fast-moving cars, and street markings won’t match the actual rules most of the time.

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Safety Fix for Prospect Park Entrance on the Agenda at CB 14 Tonight

Neighborhood residents who've fought for a safer intersection at Parkside and Ocean cheered DOT's plan when the agency unveiled it in December.

We have a late breaking addition to the Streetsblog calendar. Tonight the transportation committee of Brooklyn Community Board 14 will be discussing DOT’s plan to add more pedestrian space and realign the intersection of Parkside Avenue and Ocean Avenue at the southeast entrance to Prospect Park [PDF]. The redesign will be made possible by relocating a park loop entrance for cars from this intersection to Lincoln Road. An average of 20 people are injured in traffic at this location every year, and the project is expected to cut that number in half.

Neighborhood residents campaigned long and hard for safety improvements here, but Community Board 14 has a spotty record on livable streets. If you live in the area and want to see this project move forward, tonight’s meeting gets underway at 7:00 at 810 East 16th Street, by Avenue H.