Youth Advocates Bringing Car-Free Prospect Park Message to Bloomberg

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Prospect Park Youth Advocates (l-r) Oswald, Michael, Kelena and Farah

Having spent their summer working for a car-free Prospect Park, four young Brooklynites are taking their message to the mayor on Monday. And they’ll have plenty of backup.

Prospect Park Youth Advocates Michael, Farah, Kelena and Oswald have collected 10,000 postcards signed by New Yorkers who support a car-free park. On Monday afternoon, the four will walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by the Brooklyn Steppers Marching Band and City Council members Letitia James and David Yassky, to hand-deliver the cards to Mayor Bloomberg. The event will culminate in a 5 p.m. rally at City Hall.

In preparation for the "Brooklyn Brings it to Bloomberg" rally, the youth sent a letter to the mayor asking that he meet them at City Hall to receive his mail. Might Bloomberg, himself having expressed interest in making Prospect Park car-free, reward the efforts of these volunteers by listening to them in person?

Here are the details on Monday’s activities: 

Walk to City Hall
4 p.m.
Meet at Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street, Brooklyn

Rally at City Hall
5 p.m.
City Hall, Manhattan
Please bring photo ID and arrive 15 minutes early to go through security.

Photo: youthforcarfreeparks/Flickr

  • Alvin Berk

    This initiative would be unfair to the residents of Flatbush, who would have to deal with the exhaust emissions, noise, and traffic hazard of automobiles diverted onto their local streets, especially during the morning commuter rush.

    TA’s portrayals of DOT’s Prospect Park Drives Study do not present the facts fully or accurately. DOT has estimated that 50% of the Coney Island Avenue morning commuter traffic normally entering Prospect Park at Park Circle — about 900 cars per hour — would be diverted onto Parkside Avenue. DOT’s most optimistic estimate of overall traffic “shrinkage” is only 6%. Virtually all of the extra 425 cars per hour would add to existing traffic approaching the intersection of Parkside and Ocean Avenues, where they would be forced to compete with at-capacity northbound traffic on Ocean Avenue, or with pedestrians trying to cross at the intersection.

    Any traffic signal timing changes at this intersection would penalize pedestrians or would exacerbate back-ups on Ocean Avenue. Given this lack of acceptable mitigation options, it is inevitable that Parkside Avenue traffic would back up tremendously, creating a serious air quality problem for local residents.

    For most of the year, the sole benefit of closing the Prospect Park drives during the morning rush hours would be to increase the number of bike lanes available to those few bicyclists who are physically and logistically able to commute from southern Brooklyn to Downtown areas.

    We urge you to modify your position, in fairness to the residents of Flatbush, whose health you place at risk.

    Sincerely yours,

    Alvin M. Berk
    Chairman
    Brooklyn Community Board 14 (Flatbush-Midwood)

  • Mike

    Alvin,

    In order to make an informed decision about this issue, we need to have accurate information. In the interest of democracy, I hope you will support a trial closure so that we can find out if your concerns are legitimate.

  • Lindsey

    Alvin,

    As a former resident of Flatbush (Caton and Ocean), I’d like to point out that our neighborhood traffic is already bad–and it has nothing to do with Prospect Park. There are so few cars that go through the park (just sit and look at the loop drive in the morning) that the effect on local streets will be negligible. The intersection of Parkside and Ocean would actually be made much safer for pedestrians trying to cross into the park.

    Let’s not sacrifice Flatbush residents’ most important recreational resource for New York City’s traffic problems. Local traffic in Flatbush is the result of very poorly managed streets and complete lack of enforcement. The real problems are double parking on Flatbush, unpredictable dollar vans (stopping and starting and causing traffic delays) and 16-wheelers illegally rumbling through neighborhood streets. That’s to say nothing about speeding, illegal red-light running and other dangerous driving patterns that are rampant throughout the neighborhood.

    Cars in Prospect Park discourage people from recreating there and puts users at risk. That’s not fair for the vast majority of residents that don’t even own cars and isn’t safe for the thousands of runners, walkers, rollerbladers and cyclists that use the loop drive every day.

    -Lindsey

  • When I read this article my first thought was, “they’re going the wrong way!” Thanks for proving my point, Alvin. I think that rather than waste time on the Mayor, who seems willing to continue deferring to the community board leaders from the south and east, focus on those leaders.

    Over the years, thousands of people have signed petitions calling for either a trial or permanent closure. Many, like Lindsey, are from the neighborhoods to the south and east. Despite this, Mr. Berk and his associates have continued to insist, based on outdated traffic models, that the sky will fall if cars are not allowed to use the park.

    It seems like more should be done to persuade these leaders, or to replace them if they continue to ignore common sense.

  • t

    I find the reasoning suspect: because there is traffic in one neighborhood, we should keep the park open to traffic. There is a parking problem in the city; should we open Prospect Park to parking? There’s a housing shortage in the city; should we build temporary housing in the park?

    Prospect Park was never intended to be used in this way.

    Alvin is also wrong when he states:

    “For most of the year, the sole benefit of closing the Prospect Park drives during the morning rush hours would be to increase the number of bike lanes available to those few bicyclists who are physically and logistically able to commute from southern Brooklyn to Downtown areas.”

    Oh, to be so simple! It shows the narrow-minded focus of community board members. A closed park benefits kids going to or from soccer practice or Little League games, who wouldn’t have to dodge traffic on their way to a ballfield. Dog owners want the park closed. Stroller moms, too. And, people who can’t afford a gym membership, like me. (I live in Flatbush and like to run in the morning, but sometimes my health is at risk if I go when cars are there.) It’s amazing to me that in one of the most unfriendly cities for bike commuting, a community board member would think that bike commuting is the only reason people want to park closed to traffic.

    Leave it to kids: they have more sense than adult policy makers.

  • Alvin, I believe that you are referring to DOT’s “Park Drives Alternate Use Study” conducted in the mid-’90s. The flaws in this study are glaring and well documented:

    http://www.transalt.org/campaigns/prospark/studies
    http://www.transalt.org/campaigns/prospark/study_comments

    The study’s traffic model assumed a completely unrealistic worst-case scenario in which EVERY single car using the Park Drives at the rush hour peak would be diverted to a street immediately adjacent to the park. The study assumed zero “shrinkage” — that not a single commuter would choose to use a different mode of transport, travel at a different time of day or along a different route.

    With more than a decade passed, we now have plenty of real-world data to show that this study and its models were inaccurate. The study, along with your Community Board, predicted that removing cars from Prospect Park during the weekday would create traffic disasters (Level of Service D’s and F’s) at a number of intersections around the park. In the intervening years, car-free hours in Prospect Park have expanded substantially yet the predicted traffic cataclysms at these intersections have not materialized.

    That being said, there is no question that the morning rush hour traffic around that Flatbush/Parkside/Ocean/Caton section is horrendous and something needs to be done to fix it. It must be noted, however, that a good part of that Manhattan-bound AM rush hour traffic from south Brooklyn could just as well be using the Prospect Expressway and the tolled Battery Tunnel. Many commuters choose instead to short-cut through Prospect Park and inch their way up Flatbush Avenue to take advantage of the free pass over the Manhattan Bridge.

    We really do need to do something to alleviate the crippling traffic congestion in the neighborhoods south of Prospect Park. Using the park as a traffic relief valve isn’t the answer.

  • I took my kids into the park at 4pm yesterday. They almost got killed by the speedway called Loop Drive when we left at 5:30.

    It is a park not a highway. I don’t get it.

  • Alvin Berk

    A trial closing cannot yield valid information about what would happen during other seasons, when work patterns, school schedules, and weather differ. And an extended trial would risk creating the very health problems we fear. Most illnesses would not become evident for decades.

    Early-morning recreational use of the drives from November to April is too light to justify increasing the environmental problems on nearby streets, all packed with apartment buildings. And dog walkers and others who want to cross the drives can wait for the traffic lights to change.

    As to the DOT study, the numbers cited do not assume zero shrinkage.

    Of the 168 hours in each week, the park drive parallel to Parkside Avenue already is closed to vehicles 158. The 10 remaining hours are when Parkside Avenue traffic is heaviest and the environmental hazard is greatest.

  • Mike

    Alvin,

    I see you’ve developed a hypothesis you’re not willing to test.

    I suspected you were more concerned with the people who drive on Parkside than those who live there. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

  • Felix

    Alvin, your concern for your neighbors’ health is admirable. I suppose that’s the reason you don’t own a car, right?

  • Craig Hammerman

    I’ve listened to these arguments for too many years to hear them rehashed over and over again. It’s time to take a fresh approach. First, I do support a trial closure of Prospect Park and would like that known up front; however, the traffic south of the park — some of which may or may not be related to the park — is a vexing problem for our Flatbush neighbors. Denying those problems won’t make them go away. I do not believe we should be insensitive to our neighbor’s concerns. What purpose does that serve?

    If all the traffic enthusiasts who would like to see the park permanently closed to traffic were to redirect their energies into solving some of the problems identified by our Flatbush neighbors, we would remove any bar from a trial closure. We should have our cake and eat it too. After all, aren’t we all agreed that “traffic” is the problem?

  • Felix

    Craig,

    It sounds like you’re saying the TA crowd is not concerned about traffic congestion, only about parks. I am reading you correctly?

  • Craig Hammerman

    Nope, not at all.

    I’m saying TA should be doing more to help DOT, Community Board 14 and the communities south of Prospect Park with their traffic concerns, and commit to solving those problems fully, to clear the path for a total and permanent closure of Prospect Park to traffic which no one will object to.

    Period.

  • Flatbush resident

    Making Prospect Park car-free is part of reducing traffic in Flatbush. By making driving easier, faster and so scenic (!) we are _encouraging_ people to drive through this neighborhood.

    I’m tired of drivers from Midwood, etc. dominating this conversation and pretending they are representing the interests of the poor people south of the park. As one of those people, I can tell you that I’m tired of these drivers clogging my neighborhood streets, honking their horns, running red lights, and polluting my air–all so that these drivers can take a lovely, traffic-free drive through my park and, all the while, put me and my kids at risk on the loop drive.

    Don’t pretend that by opposing a car-free park you’re helping my neighborhood. The best thing you could do to help my neighborhood would be to stop driving through it.

  • d

    Actually, Alvin, one of your statements could be completely rewritten. It all depends on your perspective:

    Early-morning MOTOR VEHICLE use of the drives from JANUARY to DECEMBER is too light to justify increasing the environmental problems on THE PARK LOOP, all packed with PARK GOERS. And DRIVERS and others who want to USE the drives can wait for the traffic lights to change ON SURROUNDING STREETS.

    Who is really inconvenienced by allowing cars in the park or not allowing them?

  • Anon

    Besides trying to keep the park open to cars, Alvin Berk looks out for his car in other ways:

    http://hdcblog.wordpress.com/2007/05/04/rezoning-victorian-flatbush/

    “One concern about the rezoning of strips such as Coney Island Avenue is that it could raise property values to the point where local services might be priced out.

    Noted Alvin Berk, the board’s chairperson, “A lot of us would get very annoyed if we had to go to McDonald Avenue to buy gas, or something comparable to that. Those are amenities that are crucial to the balance of the residential area.”

    I guess it would be REALLY annoying if he couldn’t drive through the park.

  • Felix

    Craig,

    With all due respect, you seem confused. Alvin Berk doesn’t have “traffic concerns” that we can help him with. If so, he would have asked and we would have helped – a long time ago. What he does have is driving concerns. He’s concerned that he and his neighbors will lose a scenic shortcut.

  • Craig,

    One of the very first things I did when I took over from Ellen Cavanaugh as campaign coordinator of T.A.’s Car-Free Prospect Park campaign in 2002 was to reach out to Alvin Berk to initiate a conversation about how we might work together on traffic problems in and around Community Board 14. I met with every City Council member and most of the Community Boards surrounding the Park.

    Berk never returned my phone calls.

    I know that there are many people in the advocacy community and city government who would enjoy the opportunity to help develop comprehensive solutions for easing traffic congestion in and around Flatbush.

  • Alvin Berk

    Aaron:

    If somehow I got your message and didn’t return it, I apologize. My policy is to return all calls. In any event, please call the CB14 office and leave a number where I can reach you. I’ll call.

    Alvin

  • Alvin, I’m not working on that campaign in any official capacity anymore. I will forward your message to T.A.

  • It looks like Alvin is operating under the impression that traffic is like water. This is NOT TRUE. If you dam up traffic, after a day of misery, it is reduced in total volume. The same cannot be said for a river.

  • Unless the hypothesis is that a particular cause of slow traffic can make cars be more polluting, you don’t need an extended study to evaluate car-free parks: you just need to count the cars. And if you accept that heavy auto traffic is already leading to childhood asthma, twisting that issue to fight for greater automobile access (and ultimately more driving) is a betrayal of those children who do and will suffer from it. (When there is a murderer on the loose in a neighborhood, do you put more cops on the street to catch him, or do you clear a path in the hopes that he will more quickly, but temporarily, flee the area?) Collaboration may or may not buy some short short term respite, but it in the long term it only increases harm.

  • Tammy, You have a lovely site with so many wonderful accolades.,

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