DOT’s Grand Army Plaza Plan: Bold, Exciting, Crowd-Pleasing

At last night’s presentation to a joint meeting of three Brooklyn community boards, DOT assistant commissioner Ryan Russo unveiled what he called "a pretty dramatic and bold, exciting plan" for Grand Army Plaza. The proposal lived up to the billing. Lots of asphalt will be reclaimed for walking and biking. Getting to the central plaza will be a much-improved experience, as will biking to the greenmarket, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the park, thanks to an entirely two-way system of bike lanes. Russo said DOT hopes to begin implementation in August.

It’s a complex project that really needs graphics to help you visualize it, but I don’t have the plans just yet. Here’s my bullet point description and a Google satellite view until DOT posts the full presentation online, which should happen later today.

  • On the north end of the plaza, northbound traffic on Flatbush and southbound traffic on Vanderbilt will cross at a greatly simplified X-shaped intersection. The pedestrian spaces that define the boundaries of the "X" will be much more generous and well-defined than the mish-mash of poorly-connected islands and striping that people navigate now. Walking to the central public space will be safer and simpler, especially if you’re approaching from Park Slope.

  • The Plaza Street bike lane will be converted from a buffered, one-way counterclockwise path to a two-way, parking protected path, giving cyclists a safe and legal way to take the shortest routes around the plaza.
  • The area between the arch and the central plaza will be set off with DOT’s epoxy-and-gravel surface treatment, seen on Broadway and other pedestrian reclamation projects. Physical barriers will be added to keep cars from illegally cutting across.
  • On the south side of the plaza, pedestrian islands will be expanded and five crosswalks will be added, making it easier to walk between Union Street, Plaza Street, and the greenmarket area. The greenmarket area will also be set off with epoxy-and-gravel and have physical barriers from traffic.
  • There are several two-way bike connections planned for the south side, the general effect of which will be this: Anyone coming or going from Prospect Park West, the Prospect Park loop, or either end of Plaza Street will be able to bike safely and legally to any of those streets. Eventually a two-way path on Eastern Parkway, part of a separate capital project, will feed into this system. The plan also appears to include a small "bike roundabout" where PPW meets a two-way connection leading into the park loop (h/t @mikepstein for pointing that out).

Russo got a sustained round of applause after the presentation. Most comments afterward were of the helpful suggestion variety, although there were a few people who had qualms with narrowing traffic lanes or introducing new bike infrastructure. A few cranky individuals had come for the next agenda item — the Prospect Park West bike lane — and couldn’t wait to air grievances. (For more on how that went, check out @mikepstein’s twitter feed again.)

The advocates and public servants who are closest to the campaign for a better Grand Army Plaza seemed thrilled by the plan. Prospect Park Administrator Tupper Thomas said she loves the changes in store for the north side and reassured the crowd that she had worked with DOT and the Parks Department to make sure the project works well.

Robert Witherwax of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition — the alliance of several community groups and local institutions formed in 2006 to advocate for public space enhancements — called the plan "a huge step forward" in an email to Streetsblog.

We’ll have more on this important development for Brooklyn’s most iconic public space later today.

  • Very exciting!

    A direct implementation of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition’s vision, with some creative flourishes from DOT.

    Congrats to all who have been involved for succeeding and modeling a very constructive and creative process.

  • Larry Littlefield

    With the Plaza Street and PPW bike lanes, I will almost certainly use that route northbound and on to Midtown via the Manhattan Bridge almost all days. I currently use that route on the way home when I can ride in the park, but not inbound.

  • pher

    GAP has always been pretty good at helping drivers get where they want to go, but has been a huge hole in the biking and pedestrian networks.

    This plan not only fills that hole, and makes GAP a convenient, efficient, logical node in those networks, but it actually fixes some of the car traffic deficiencies as well.

    Drivers coming from Eastern Parkway or FLatbush north bound, who are heading for Union St or PPW, had that terrible merge across 4 lanes of southbound Flatbush or Vanderbilt traffic: now they will have their own signal phase.

    This is a win-win-win!

  • Westchesterite

    Great plan! Makes me regret not moving to Brooklyn instead of “butt-expanding” car required Westchester.

  • Geck

    Larry, I have heard whispers of Vanderbilt Ave lane being extended to Flushing Ave. bike track, opening up a really nice Manhattan Bridge connection, as well as connection to Kent Ave. bike track.

  • Larry, please don’t run over any kids being unloaded in the buffer zone by their moms from their SUVs, since fear of just that kind of bicycle-induced mayhem seemed to be the #1 (alleged) reason for opposition to the PPW project from the pitchfork-wielders in the crowd.

    That, and absence of community notification, which I found odd, since we’ve all known about this project for more than a year.

  • momos

    Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard on this.

    This fantastic plan will make GAP the premier public space in the heart of Brooklyn. It will have a hugely positive effect on the entire area, not just Prospect Park and GAP but the surrounding streets and neighborhoods as well. This is the most exciting and important sustainable streets project outside of Manhattan.

  • I was there last night and the presentation was great. congrats to the coalition, DOT, and everyone who have invested so much time in this. It will always be too bad that the plaza is separated by the loop of traffic, but these are major improvements that should make the plaza accessible. The bike connections will also be great. I’m always biking over to/from the park and usually just head down Union St to get back to my place in north Slope, having these bike connections are critical to such a heavily used bike asset like PP.

    On a side note, the bike-fear comments there last night were really hilarious. It ranged from concerns to the lack of aesthetic appeal of the bike lane being on the outside of the parking lane. To fears about unloading a car into a 3′ buffer area (we’re no sure exactly what the woman is unloading…). Or the woman who has abnormally large car doors that apparently require 4′-5′ buffer zones. And the fear of crossing a crazy lane velodrome-like double lane of bike traffic. I continuously amazed at how fearful people seem to be about bikes.

    Fortunately, I couldn’t stay for the PPW discussion. But re: Grand Army …major improvements, especially on the north end, there will finally be a safe path for walkers coming over from Park Slope.

  • Twix

    Geck, don’t count on the Flushing Ave bike track. It doesn’t have this kind of local activist support and city-wide groups have little organizing skill/motivation and are generally intimidated/bought-off on that one.

  • Shemp

    Velodromes are only one-way.

  • AlexB

    I’m looking forward to the actual drawing and what is in store for Eastern Parkway. I’m wondering how seemless the bike connections will actually be.

  • Looking forward for Eastern Parkway improvements, too – the street is wide enough it should be a no-brainer.

  • From what I saw last night, Eastern Parkway is not part of the plans to be released today [looks at watch].

    Also, Russo said something that made it seem like the plans there were still tentative and/or not on the hard schedule yet.

  • Eastern Parkway is a funded capital project. It has been a funded capital project for several years, though, so it’s hard to say when it will actually get started. Once it does, it will put a bike path on the median (on the north side) between Plaza Street East and Washington Ave, where the bike path on the south median starts.

  • The GAP project is an in-house DOT job that can be built out in a matter of months. The Eastern Parkway segment is a separate capital project that’s been in the works for years but seems to have gotten tied up in city construction red tape. I believe it’s supposed to include a wider median and two-way bikeway between Eastern Parkway and the service road next to it. It would link the Eastern Parkway greenway to this whole two-way bike hub system planned for GAP.

  • pher

    Ben and Mike are exactly right re Eastern Parkway. Two lane two way bike path on an expanded median, terminating at (and presumably connecting with) the existing Plaza St East bike path. Perfect for another bike roundabout? The project is slated for July start and18 month buildout.

    So which would you rather have: a capital project, or operational funding and discretion? After 10 years of waiting for Eastern Parkway, I know which one I choose….

  • Thanks for the update on Eastern Parkway…

    It’s probably too late, but my pet peeve here is the crowded sidewalk between the library and the gardens which has no protection from the highway-speed eastbound traffic. I’m sure the median and other treatments will slow it to some extent, but a buffer would be even better.

  • pher

    Jmork, it is imperfect. Ideally, the new median will draw more foot and bike traffic from the southern sidewalk. We have looked at ways to expand that sidewalk, but it would either require taking a lane from eastbound cars, leaving only one (not totally unrealistic) or moving the fence on Mount Prospect Park to the south (less realistic, given the slope). Who knows what DOT might come up with…

  • MtotheI

    Actually, eastern parkway in the eastbound direction between GAP and Washington Av is 3 lanes. The westbound direction is currently 2 lanes. One eastbound lane could easily be removed for an extended sidewalk, maybe then fewer cars will drive 50 miles an hour down that stretch.

  • Maybe do away with the median and make a buffered bike lane against the south sidewalk?

    Anyway, here’s the BRAND DEW GAP PDF:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/20100430_grand_army_plaza_improvements.pdf

  • Proposal is up at DOT :

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/20100430_grand_army_plaza_improvements.pdf

    As an aside, whoever “designs” these presentations needs to take some kind of graphic or visual communication course. Really, who thinks that cyan dimensions on a white background are going to be legible? They’ve definitely gotten better over the past few years, but facing a hostile audience it would be better to really think through the best way to visually communicate the concepts involved.

  • J

    If you want to see sketches of the Eastern Parkway plan, check them out at the City Planning website:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/transportation/td_eastern_pkwy_extention.shtml

    The last page of the following pdf has proposed drawings for the section near GAP:
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/transportation/epx_part1.pdf

    This is another project started under Iris Weinshall, so don’t expect too much. It seems that it’s really really difficult to rethink these capital projects once they get past a certain point. There are quite a few capital projects, started under the Weinshall regime that are coming online now. On the other hand, one of those capital projects was Sands Street, so maybe there’s hope.

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