Pedestrian and Bike Improvements Coming to Grand Army Plaza

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Current configuration

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Proposed changes

Here’s a look at the proposal the DOT gave to Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 on March 29th regarding safety improvements at Grand Army Plaza. The plan’s highlights include:

  • Three new concrete islands (5,900 square feet)
  • 2,300 square feet of new landscaping
  • Removing a travel lane on Eastern Parkway
  • Providing a Class 1 bike facility through Grand Army Plaza
  • Five new crosswalks providing access to Prospect Park and the Arch
  • Eliminating auto lane east of the arch.

According to Michael Cairl, chair of the Gowanus Community Stakeholder Group, the Class 1 bike lane would be one-way eastbound, with westbound (park-bound) cyclists from Eastern Parkway either using the Plaza Street bike lane or dismounting and using the new crosswalks to cross. DOT also announced at the meeting that reconstruction of the Eastern Parkway median from Plaza Street to Washington Avenue would start later this year and would include a bike lane.

Cairl’s organization is a member of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, which recently organized a community workshop to re-envision the plaza. StreetFilms was there. He called the proposed improvements "an interesting first step." 

  • AD

    Let’s make if four islands added. There should be a small Green Streets island added to the southeast corner of Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue. De facto, there’s only one turning lane there now anyway.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    The new landscaping, calming Eastern Parkway, and the crosswalks all sound great. I’ve got two other suggestions to improve safety at Grand Army Plaza:

    – Cars out of Prospect Park.
    – Make Prospect Park West two-way.

    Also, couldn’t the Class 1 bike lane be extended through the Plaza just north of the arch? It might be a roundabout way to get to the park, but it would make it easier to get to Union Street and points west.

  • crzwdjk

    Getting cars out of Prospect Park would definitely make the traffic patterns at Grand Army Plaza that much simpler. Among other things, they could get rid of that extra roadway on the east side of the arch. The area would still be full of cars, its position as a major road junction guarantees this, but at least it will be a mostly pedestrian space cut up by streams of cars, rather than a sea of cars with tiny unprotected islands for pedestrians.

  • Clarence

    Wow, April Fool’s is over too! Although I agree with Angus’ suggestions, I like. Quite a bit.

  • CF

    So DOT is essentially greening the existing configuration and striping a few crosswalks? Seems like a typical quick-fix. It’s a shame they don’t put a little creativity into solving the traffic circus! The proposed changes may appear better in plan, but the bicycle and pedestrian experience is still disappointing for such a “grand plaza”.

  • Chandra

    I am absolutely thrilled that this area is actually getting some attention. I walk across Flatbush to the monument (jaywalking) almost every day and it pains me – not the breaking the law part but the fact that pedestrians are not even part of current equation.

  • brent

    I agree with CF- to me, the core of this is that it seems designed to be painless to motorists. Removing a short segment of travel lane from a 6 lane expanse is a nifty little change, but I am quite certain that these alterations have been well studied to have minimal impact on auto traffic. The impression of the proposed configuration is still a concrete mess with a couple of green blotches where now there are striped voids. I don’t see anything in the plan that I project would reduce traffic on any significant level.

  • Ultimately, we need to figure out a way to attach the Plaza to the Park.

  • boon doggle

    CF and Brent, two things:
    1) There is a difference between short-term and long-term; and
    2) Small steps work: setting precedents clears the way for more innovative things in the future. NYC has a long way to go – how about a little support for positive progress?

    It’s a lot easier to critique than to propose.

  • boon doggle

    Aaron: The Arc Du Triomphe is not connected to the surrounding blocks. (although I think there are pedestrian tunnels? ick) So why does the center of the plaza have to be connected? Might it not deaden the whole thing for everyone? I’m just not sure why it’s self-evident that a central island doesn’t have value in that configuration.

  • JK

    This seems like a good incremental step that should be cheered.

    Though, I completely agree that if DOT was willing to reduce capacity, or even road space, just a little more, they could get a more rationale design that might improve traffic patterns: fewer little islands and choppy merges.

    In the past DOT traffic engineers have supported pedestrianizing B’way between Times and Herald Squares because it actually improves vehicle throughput at 34th and 42nd. So, seconding the above comments, I bet GAP would work much better for everyone if Prospect was car-free.

  • MD

    From what I can see, Eastern Parkway will have two car lanes and a bike lane, while Prospect Park’s exit road will have three car lanes and no bike lane. Strange.

    Also, does anyone know if they will extend the curb cuts on the triangular island between the park and the library? It’s hard for stroller pushers and kids on bikes to cross.

  • JK and others,

    At the meeting the Transportation Committee’s overwhelming concern was with the potental traffic impacts. There was little concern for pedestrians or the pedestrian experience.

    In fact, DOT was pressed to commit to restoring the old (current) GAP if the new (proposed) plan ended up not working and delaying too many motorists.

    Getting DOT to be more radical at a minimum requires the local/parochial interest to be clearly in favor of peds/place over traffic. I don’t think the CB even plans on officially reacting to the plan before its built.

  • danaeo

    MD

    I asked a question about the poorly designed pedestrian island between the park and the library. It will be modified, but it is part of a separate plan being worked out between DOT and the library. It won’t be coming to the community board, but we should be hearing about it soon.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Boon, are you talking about the Arc de Triomphe in Paris? Bad model; that’s a horrible pedestrian space.

    I’m not sure Paris has any good models for this kind of thing; I’m racking my brains and coming up with nothing appropriate. Maybe the Porte Dauphine? But it has a four-lane through roadway under the square – and of course the eight-lane Periph. Don’t give the DOT any bad ideas.

  • Steve Faust

    At the CB presentation, the DOT said the bike path between the park exit and Plaza St / eastbound beginning of Eastern Parkway Bike Path was to be one way, northbound up to Plaza St. The path is the solid green line on the new islands, plus crossing lanes in the roadways designated by bikes that look like X in the above plan.

    I noticed that the westbound end of the two way Eastern Parkway path ends right at Plaza St and this new “one way” path to Prospect Park. DOT assumed that Eastern Parkway cyclists would dismount and use the cross walks to the Library and then across Flatbush Ave to reach the park.

    I suggested that many cyclists would use this new path directly in front of them, regardless of is supposedly being one way.

    It was strongly suggested that DOT revise the plan to the account for two way bike flow on this path – with appropriate signage and widening it if necessary.

    As Angus noted cyclists may also desire to continue in front of the Arch across to Union St and this should be looked at to include a designated bike crossing alongside the crosswalk. Cyclists heading for PPW should have no trouble using the path to the park and ride across to PPW.

  • Larry Littlefield

    In the diagram, it almost looks like northbound traffic is entering the plaza from Prospect Park West. Could that be true?

    A two-way PPW wouldn’t make that much difference for pedestrians or autos, but it would be great if the B68 were extended to Grand Army Plaza in place of the less frequent B69.

    Moreover, cyclists now have two southbound options, PPW and the park, but have a theoretical choice between circling the park and climbing the hill or riding on 8th Avenue northbound.

  • cm

    I am troubled by the suggestion to eliminate auto lanes east of the arch. Would this move have an adverse affect on the residents of Flatbush who use this byway to gain assess to and from areas north of the Plaza and Manhattan? During our tour of the arch, on March 10th, this was a concern voiced by our group.

  • JK

    Amber (#13)thank you for the reality check about the community board’s traffic flow first perspective. It’s not a surprise but it’s important. Why hasn’t the GAPCO consensus building, and concern about pedestrians, had an effect on the community board?

    Across the city we see sharply different perspectives between civic groups, parents and activists on one side and the community boards on the other. As is the case at GAP, more often, the boards, which are referred to as the “community” by city agencies, seem to put a premium on the convenience of motorists.

  • Gary

    I concur with CM. As a resident of PLG, I use the lanes east of the arch daily on my trips to NJ (through Manhattan) and also as a way of getting into and through Park Slope. If they eliminate the lane that allows us to go around the arch and exit on Union Street and/or PPW it would just aggravate an already large problem of people needing to take a left into Park Slope from Flatbush.

  • ly

    I agree with PP who states that ending car traffic in Prospect Park should be an integral part of redesigning GAP. Not to highjack the thread, but cars in the Park really make my blood boil! Especially now that it’s light in the early evening and more and more people are taking their exercise exactly when cars are allowed to drive through. I simply cannot fathom why a shortcut for a relatively small number of automobile commuters takes precedence over cyclists, runners, walkers, skaters, etc etc etc.

  • l

    What can be done to get cars out of Prospect Park at all hours?

  • It is a mistake to have the landscaped island that divides Eastern Parkway into two where it meets Flatbush Ave.

    The westbound lane should be right next to the eastbound lane, so it meets Flatbush Ave. at a right angle. They should widen and landscape the sidewalk north of the street, instead of putting this landscaped island in the middle of the street (where the striped area is currently in the middle of the street).

    If Eastern Parkway contines to meet Flatbush at the same wide angle that it does today, traffic will continue to go as fast as it does today. Making them meet at a right angle forces cars to slow down to make the turn. And pedestrians will benefit more from a widened sidewalk than from an island in the center of the street.

    The same is true of the southbound traffic on Flatbush Ave. The traffic island gives them a wider turning radius and encourages them to speed. Instead, move the southbound lane so it is next to the northbound lane, and give them a sharper turn that slows them down.

    This would also give more land to the plaza with the arch in the center of the street, so more people could use it.

    The model is Columbus Circle. It used to have wide turning radiuses to speed up traffic. Now it has tighter turning radiuses that slow traffic, and it has a larger, more usable plaza in the center of the street.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    When I lived in Park Slope in the 1990s, TA gathered tons of signatures in support of closing Prospect Park to cars. The DOT even suggested a trial closure, which was promptly attacked by the community boards and politicians from south and east of the park, and DOT backed down.

    I don’t know what the current situation is, can someone give us an update?

  • We could simplify traffic patterns at Grand Army Plaza and make more room for pedestrians, if we simply close this one Prospect Park entrance to cars.

    I am in favor of closing all of Prospect Park to cars, but I don’t know if it is practical to do that as part of the planning to redesign Grand Army Plaza, since they are two different issues. It would be easier just to close one entrance to cars as part of the Grand Army Plaza planning

  • wheels

    I always approach “The Vortex” with caution. So many main arteries converging into the Grand Army traffic circle. It’s not a Plaza. It’s a traffic circle. While we in the design phase let’s eliminate Flatbush Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Union Street and Vanderbilt Avenue.

  • Clarence

    I like Charles idea alot, can we start a campaign to just close the Grand Army Plaza exit into the Park for the time being? We all know the Park is going to be closed some day, why not do something now that continues the progress towards a car-free park and will allow the money and investment being spent on all these improvements be spent the right way and not have to be re-done when the Park does get closed?

  • Clarence

    Note: I meant to say the PP exit into Grand Army Plaza. That is what could be closed, could even still leave the entrance into the Park open from GAP (although would love to have that closed too of course.)

  • Aaron Naparstek

    Boon,

    I don’t think the fountain/arch area could be all that much more deadened than it already is.

    If the park were closed to cars and the space between arch and park were one contiguous plaza, immediately the weekend greenmarket would expand into the new public space. They are bursting and want more space.

    Likewise I imagine all kinds of new uses and activities would spring up around the arch and fountain if it were “attached” to the park and more accessible to the public.

    I know gapco has referred to the arc de triomphe in the past but the arc is actually kind of a horrible traffic maelstrom as well. Probably not the best example.

  • JK

    Aaron

    Maybe you can tell us a little more about how close or far apart GAPCO and the community board are on GAP improvements.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    CM (#18) and Gary (#20), I don’t think anyone’s suggesting eliminating the ability to drive from Flatbush Avenue to Union Street or Prospect Park South. The DOT plan proposes to eliminate a single lane east of the arch, but not the entire roadway.

    I could see that potentially making it take a little bit longer to get from Flatbush to destinations north and west, but I don’t think it’s significant.

    If it is significant, however, I can understand your frustration, but I feel that the benefits of increased safety and a more accessible, usable public space are more than worth it. Any plaza with six lanes of traffic in each direction is going to be highly unpleasant for pedestrians, and it’s just too much for that part of Brooklyn.

    There are two good train lines that can take people from Flatbush to Park Slope, and that far out they’re not particularly crowded.

    BTW, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris does have pedestrian underpasses, and they’re just as unpleasant as they sound.

  • I like the proposed renovations. I am a bicyclist and motorcyclist and a driver and a pedestrian, and these changes work for all of my incarnations. Forget about getting cars out of the park, and removing more lanes than absolutely necessary … this is one of the best circles in the country for all modes of transport, easy to get through with almost no history of fatal accidents. Far better than Columbus Circle, Dupont Circle in DC, etc etc.

  • d

    Why should we forget about getting cars out of the park?

  • Geert

    It seems more of an aesthetic intervention than a rethink based on an analysis of mobility needs to me.

    A real plan for bicycling, guaranteeing safe passage from Prospect park to Central Park is what is needed. Remodeling Grand Army Plaza should be part of this. If this passage should exist, cycling becomes an alternative commute.

    In general, Brooklynites rely on public transport and less on cars for their mobility. They could rely on cycling. However Alternatives for cars are not feasible because cars kill all alternatives(bikes and so). In most places, the streets are more than wide enough to get safe bicycle lanes in both directions, even with a concrete border, if only the wrongly parked cars and bad irregular borders would be addressed.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    There’s a clear disconnect between the priorities of the community board and those of GAPCo, TA, Park Slope Neighbors and other organizations. Which is closer to being representative of the “true” feelings of area residents?

    Is the relative conservatism of the community board a worthwhile check on populist excesses, or an attempt to better reflect the power structure in the neighborhood and avoid situations where powerful groups are not given a proportionate say and extract revenge on politicians?

    Is Markowitz adequately fulfilling his duty to represent the people of Brooklyn by appointing a community board that reflects the community? If not, is there anything that can be done about this?

  • Geert

    For cars, it will solve nothing.

    You will still have 4 lanes of cars coming from the South East (through the Park and along. Flatbush). Those four lanes will be squished into 2 lanes in Flatbush.

    If both routes are really used at capacity, this can only mean traffic jam. The bottleneck is not the park, it is Flatbush.

    To eliminate this jam there are a few options: reducing Flatbush East and the Park both to one lane, or closing one of both streets.
    Alternatively, you could ban parking along Flatbush.

    As the lane coming through the Park and the Flatbush East serve the same neighbourhoods, they do not really speed up the average traffic during rush hours, nor they make a difference during slow hours. To make GAP safe for cars and eliminate traffic jam. Closing the Park would be the best option for cars. Individual drivers might have the illusion they are faster, but the average car does not benefit fro the creation of bottlenecks and jams.
    Imagine the eastetic advantages on the map, and the simplification of the design (leading to more safety) when the traffic from the Park would stop.

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