Grand Army Plaza Redesign Moves Forward Without Plaza Street Bike Lane

New and expanded pedestrian islands and sidewalks on the north side of GAP will create safer and more direct connections to walk to the central plaza area. (This image comes from DOT's ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/04/30/first-look-grand-army-plaza-as-a-walkable-destination-and-bicycling-hub/##2010 presentation on GAP## and may not include minor changes to this part of the plan.)

Construction on a slate of pedestrian and bike improvements for Grand Army Plaza is scheduled to move forward this summer, NYC DOT announced this Saturday. The redesign includes a major expansion of the pedestrian islands at the north side of GAP and the addition of a two-way, protected bicycle connection linking Union Street to Eastern Parkway on the southern side. It does not include the two-way, protected bike lane on Plaza Street shown in DOT’s 2010 presentation on this same project, which Community Boards 6 and 8 both approved last year.

DOT made its revised presentation Saturday at the Grand Army Plaza Coalition‘s annual meeting. It was an anniversary of sorts for GAPCO, a partnership between the area’s major cultural institutions and neighborhood residents, which formed in 2006 to make Grand Army Plaza a welcoming public space instead of a traffic vortex. Since then GAPCO has put together several public workshops and site visits, producing a conceptual blueprint for city agencies to work from [PDF].

Image: ##http://www.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=Grand+Army+Plaza,+Brooklyn,+New+York,+NY&sll=40.674064,-73.970003&sspn=0.00428,0.009012&g=8th+Ave+%26+President+St,+Brooklyn,+Kings,+New+York+11215&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Grand+Army+Plaza,+Brooklyn,+Kings,+New+York&ll=40.673925,-73.969896&spn=0.00428,0.009012&t=h&z=17##Google Maps##

The big difference between last year’s DOT plan and this year’s is that the two-way, protected bike lane on Plaza Street has been set aside until an unspecified date in the future. Plaza Street encircles most of GAP, and a two-way path would create a safe hub for cyclists to take the most convenient routes to and through the space. But after last year’s CB votes, some Plaza Street residents contacted the city saying the parking-protected bikeway would cause traffic back-ups, even though Plaza Street receives little traffic and is already just one lane wide.

So call it the NBBL effect: Despite the multi-year community-based planning process that informed last year’s presentation, and despite the community board votes in favor of it, DOT seems unwilling, for now, to stir the pot so close to the litigious and well-connected NIMBYs of Prospect Park West, who happen to have  U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer on their side.

The improvements scheduled for this summer are still significant, and they represent a major milestone in the campaign to make GAP more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. Starting in June and wrapping up in August, the city plans to build out these improvements, which Streetsblog reported on last April:

  • 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 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 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.

The bike improvements to be built out this summer should greatly improve east-west connections on the south side of the plaza and create better transitions at the northern end of the Prospect Park West bike lane. A new two-way, separated bike path will run from Union Street to Eastern Parkway, making bicycle access to Prospect Park, the GAP greenmarket, and Prospect Park West much improved.

The south end of the GAP plan (looking south toward the Brooklyn Public Library) expands pedestrian space and clearly sets it off from the asphalt expanse of the roadway. It also includes a two-way connection for bikes between Eastern Parkway and Union Street. Photo: ##http://parkslope.patch.com/articles/city-hopes-bike-lane-traffic-light-will-ease-chaos-in-grand-army-plaza?ncid=M255#photo-5676026##Amy Sara Clark/Patch##

Without the two-way Plaza Street lane, however, GAP won’t be as useful and convenient a hub for bicycling as it could be, and it’s hard to say when that missing piece will get filled in. NYC DOT downtown Brooklyn coordinator Chris Hrones said outreach to Plaza Street residents would continue, and that the city intends to pursue the unfinished part of the project at a later, unspecified date.

No one from the PPW opposition attended the meeting, but their presence was felt nonetheless. “DOT is excellent about coming to the community, presenting to the community, working with the community, and getting the proper sign-offs from the community,” GAPCO coordinator Rob Witherwax said in his introduction, praising DOT for being engaged on the project from the beginning. “For people who after the fact don’t like the result to say the process was bad is patently false.”

DOT will be taking the revised proposal before CB 6 and CB 8 (again) in the next few weeks. The full presentation will be online then. In the meantime, Amy Sara Clark at the Park Slope Patch has some photos of the plan shown Saturday.

  • Anonymous

    No two way bike lane on Plaza St. WTF? This is why I’d like to take Lois Weinshall, Chuck Schumer and Norman Steisel and tie them to the front of a Fresh Direct truck and let them play chicken with NYC traffic.

    Couldn’t we at least make it a one way parking protected path? People are already using it as a two way and I don’t see that stopping, but parking protected is always better than unprotected.

  • Andrew

    it would be nice to be able to go (legally) in either direction around plaza street, but i don’t think this is the end of the world. plaza street isn’t so dangerous that it needs a protected path; it’s just the major intersections where some interventions are needed most.

  • Andrew

    it would be nice to be able to go (legally) in either direction around plaza street, but i don’t think this is the end of the world. plaza street isn’t so dangerous that it needs a protected path; it’s just the major intersections where some interventions are needed most.

  • Eliot

    Not perfect but I’ll take it. The fact that no one from the opposition bothered to come to this meeting — or last week’s Community Board 6 meeting — speaks volumes about their lack of commitment to democratic community process.

  • But Eliot, don’t you know that we’re getting tired (at least according to Lois Hainline.) I do wonder what they’re going to do as oil prices keep rising. Probably find some way to blame teh ebil cyclists.

  • Ty

    Honestly, I don’t see the lack of a two-way bike lane as a big deal… no, it’s not perfect and the bike lane would have been easy enough to implement, but really not a big deal.

    Actually, now I’m thinking about it… wouldn’t moving the cars away from the curb potentially add more parking? (slightly larger circumfrence — ok ok, grasping at straws there!)

  • Ty

    Honestly, I don’t see the lack of a two-way bike lane as a big deal… no, it’s not perfect and the bike lane would have been easy enough to implement, but really not a big deal.

    Actually, now I’m thinking about it… wouldn’t moving the cars away from the curb potentially add more parking? (slightly larger circumfrence — ok ok, grasping at straws there!)

  • Dandada

    No maybe they just had to work.

  • Anonymous

    This is why the stakes are so high, though: if the nimbys get their way on PPW, bike infrastructure projects in NYC and everywhere else are going to become much more difficult to propose and execute. The question over time will be how many actual lives and tons of carbon will be sacrificed nationally because of their petty greed for a 1 mile lane of car traffic and a handful of parking spaces.

  • Sadbiker

    One day Chuck Schumer might be known as “NY’s Cycling Senator Who Made It Harder For Everyone Else to Bike”

  • The two-way lane between Eastern Parkway and Union will be a big help, at least.

    Still not much we can do, I guess, but keep our fingers crossed for a clear and unambiguous vindication of the DOT’s actions by the NBBL suit judge.

  • Slope Cyclist

    You’d think an organization calling itself Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes would be up in arms that the bike lanes aren’t being improved on Plaza Street.

    Oh, wait, they don’t really care about better bike lanes. They care about getting rid of the bike lane on their street.

  • Hee hee! I think you should go to their meetings and offer to coordinate the effort. Maybe they can get Jim Walden to sue the DOT for you.

  • For the record, GAPCo does not object to DOT’s putting off the Plaza Street Bike lane portion because we weren’t convinced it was the best solution anyway.

    I am not sure I agree that the “most convenient routes to and through” Grand Army plaza, for cyclists, is Plaza Street East and West…There is a strong argument to be made that the most convenient route is one that directly connects the PPW bike lane and the Vanderbilt bike lanes – straight through the heart of GAP, not around Plaza Streets. There is a lot more space inside the circle that could be given to bike lanes, than there is on Plaza Street, and the pairing of bike lanes and ‘through traffic’ makes sense if this city wants to encourage commuter-style cycling. The anticipated Eastern Parkway lane could tie in well with this too.

    The detriment to Plaza Street – a curving street, with limited sightline distance, and far narrower already than PPW – might outweigh the larger community benefit. Installing a protected bike lane would not eliminate an existing lane of traffic (just some surplus width) and would of course shorten the pedestrian street crossings. But doing this, without addressing the traffic clog created by Union Street, and the overflow that goes up Berkeley and onto Plaza West, would exacerbate the problems caused by that back up, reducing quality of life on Plaza and endangering pedestrians. Unlike PPW, which has regular stop lights and crosswalks and long sightlines, the only pedestrian crossings of Plaza are at Vanderbilt, Flatbush, and Union: a serious level of signalization might have to be installed at St. John’s, Butler, Lincoln, and Berkeley to protect the pedestrian/car/bike interplay sufficiently, more than might be worthwhile. And continuing the “cyclist as commuter” metaphor, Plaza Street should be treated as a side street, not a through street, for cars and for commuting bikes.

    In my opinion, this is not a capitulation to political pressures; this is an agency smartly recognizing that this is a very complicated part of this city, listening to the voices of the community, and realizing that further consideration needs to be given to find the optimal solution.

  • Bob Minsky

    Plaza Street currently serves a a de facto two-way bike lane. It is only a matter of time before on one of the dollar vans using the bike lane as an express lane, collides with a biker going the wrong way.

  • Yes, but are they going to do this? If so, I’d totally support it.

    I also vote for slowing traffic down as it approaches the park. Some of those cars look like they’re going 60 mph! It’s crazy!!

  • My spouse and I rode the PPW bike lane last night on our way to a Passover Seder. Take that, NBBL!

    What I noticed is that at present, the PPW lane is ridiculously hard to get to from the Plaza Street bike lane. The approach involves crossing Union Street and then the exit from GAP onto PPW. But there’s no bike box or spot for bikes to wait at the latter, so we ended up waiting anxiously at the end of Union Street, right by the newspaper boxes, feeling like a car coming up Union St would turn right and run us own.

    I kind of agree with Rob here; it’s easier and more direct to ride straight through the plaza, because then you can end up on the left side of the PPW exit, straight onto the bike lane.

  • The bike lane really needs to be protected to keep those crazy van drivers from using it like their own personal thruway. It is so dangerous as is!

  • gofish

    Interesting idea to run a bike path through the center of GAP, BUT IT IS NOT PART OF THE PLAN and it seems unlikely that DOT would want to add bikes to the mix in what is already a very complicated interchange. I think the original approach of keeping bikes on the quieter and less complex perimeter is a much better approach. It would also provides a link for bicyclist heading West from Eastern Parkway or from PPW and Prospect Park to the Lincoln Place bike lane that a path through the center of GAP would not provide. (Without it bicyclists will inevitably go the wrong way in the existing class II path or use the sidewalk to get to Lincoln Place). The gentle curve does not significantly limit visibility of cyclists (who do not move at the speed cars do) and there is little or no reason for pedestrians to cross Plaza Street at points other than the major intersections. The two-way protected path on Plaza Street is a much more elegant solution.

  • littlebadwolf

    now that i life over a thousand miles away, i suppose i should not care, but improving pedestrian areas in the center of the plaza is a waste of money as long as air quality remains poor and all the bike lanes lead to emphysema.

  • J

    I’m with gofish on this one. Plaza Street has much less traffic, and thus far fewer conflicts for cyclists to deal with at intersections. Any time savings from putting the bike lane in the middle would be far overshadowed by increased risk of injury. Plus, there is no parking in the center, meaning that putting a bike lane there would require building a concrete curb, which is far costlier and therefore less likely to occur. In my opinion we should keep pushing for the Plaza Street lane, as it makes a ton of sense, it is safe, it is already planned for, and it is highly likely to actually happen. The center route is none of those things.

  • Plaza Street Cyclist

    I am a cyclist who lives on Plaza Street. My kids and I ride regularly, including on the PPW bike lane, which we love. As far as the two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, I was against it because, despite what some here are writing, there would have been some serious problems.

    First, I agree the current, unprotected Plaza Street bike lane can be hazardous. The dollar-van drivers are insane and their disregard for the bike lane shocking.

    But, had the two-way bike lane plane been implemented, this would have left 22 feet of roadway beyond the floating parking lane, including the lane of parked cars on the outside perimeter of Plaza Street. When you consider that the parking lane takes up 7 feet of the 22 feet, this would have left 15 feet of roadway for vehicular traffic.

    Now that’s plenty wide for one lane of traffic, but you have to consider that, while Plaza Street only has buildings on one side of the street, it is actually the street with the greatest density in all of the area. On Plaza Street’s seven blocks, there are only 4 rowhouses, all on the block between Flatbush and Lincoln Place. The rest of the housing stock consists of mid- to high-rise buildings, other than the Montauk Club (which has a condo in it) and the vacant lot adjacent to the Club.

    Many of these buildings have their service entrance on Plaza Street, and trucks, be they fuel trucks, UPS, FedEx, USPS trucks, need to double park on Plaza to make deliveries. These trucks are all at least 8 feet wide.

    All it would take, therefore, is one double-parked truck and the remaining roadway would be narrowed to a maximum 7 feet. This would be just barely wide enough for a passenger car to pass, but should another truck, or fire engine, or ambulance, need to pass, they would be blocked, since they are also 8 feet wide.

    Just imagine if a fire engine or ambulance were stuck and unable to come to the aid of people in the midst of an emergency.

    Now, sure, there are plenty of side streets in the area with the same problem, but the differences are two-fold. First, these side streets all have less population density (nowhere in Park Slope or Prospect Heights will you find the concentration of apartment buildings that you have on Plaza Street) and also these side streets were built like this over a hundred years ago. To actively create such a potential hazard on Plaza Street by creating a floating parking lane would have been reckless.

    Finally, a number of you have written that traffic on Plaza Street is light. While this may be true on some blocks of Plaza Street, I would suggest that traffic is actually quite heavy on the blocks of Plaza Street with traffic lights, especially at Union Street, where the green cycle is only 15 seconds, and a very heavy volume of traffic comes to Plaza Street, attempting to avoid the jam on Union Street in the direction of Grand Army Plaza.

  • Plaza Street Cyclist

    I am a cyclist who lives on Plaza Street. My kids and I ride regularly, including on the PPW bike lane, which we love. As far as the two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, I was against it because, despite what some here are writing, there would have been some serious problems.

    First, I agree the current, unprotected Plaza Street bike lane can be hazardous. The dollar-van drivers are insane and their disregard for the bike lane shocking.

    But, had the two-way bike lane plane been implemented, this would have left 22 feet of roadway beyond the floating parking lane, including the lane of parked cars on the outside perimeter of Plaza Street. When you consider that the parking lane takes up 7 feet of the 22 feet, this would have left 15 feet of roadway for vehicular traffic.

    Now that’s plenty wide for one lane of traffic, but you have to consider that, while Plaza Street only has buildings on one side of the street, it is actually the street with the greatest density in all of the area. On Plaza Street’s seven blocks, there are only 4 rowhouses, all on the block between Flatbush and Lincoln Place. The rest of the housing stock consists of mid- to high-rise buildings, other than the Montauk Club (which has a condo in it) and the vacant lot adjacent to the Club.

    Many of these buildings have their service entrance on Plaza Street, and trucks, be they fuel trucks, UPS, FedEx, USPS trucks, need to double park on Plaza to make deliveries. These trucks are all at least 8 feet wide.

    All it would take, therefore, is one double-parked truck and the remaining roadway would be narrowed to a maximum 7 feet. This would be just barely wide enough for a passenger car to pass, but should another truck, or fire engine, or ambulance, need to pass, they would be blocked, since they are also 8 feet wide.

    Just imagine if a fire engine or ambulance were stuck and unable to come to the aid of people in the midst of an emergency.

    Now, sure, there are plenty of side streets in the area with the same problem, but the differences are two-fold. First, these side streets all have less population density (nowhere in Park Slope or Prospect Heights will you find the concentration of apartment buildings that you have on Plaza Street) and also these side streets were built like this over a hundred years ago. To actively create such a potential hazard on Plaza Street by creating a floating parking lane would have been reckless.

    Finally, a number of you have written that traffic on Plaza Street is light. While this may be true on some blocks of Plaza Street, I would suggest that traffic is actually quite heavy on the blocks of Plaza Street with traffic lights, especially at Union Street, where the green cycle is only 15 seconds, and a very heavy volume of traffic comes to Plaza Street, attempting to avoid the jam on Union Street in the direction of Grand Army Plaza.

  • Mike

    We should not be designing our streets with the primary goal to facilitate illegal activity (in this case, double parking).

    Fire trucks and ambulances can (and do) use the main circle. In the rare event they’re actually accessing Plaza Street, they would have the flexibility to drive the wrong way, or to drive in the bike path (with 11′ of clear area counting the buffer), as they occasionally do on PPW when necessary.

    There are many, many, many streets in NY with an effective width of 15 feet or less.

  • Janeebeale

    Anyone who thinks Plaza Street doesn’t get a lot of traffic is not paying attention; during rush hour it’s totally crazy, and busy pretty much all day. If the double bike lane had been allowed, people living on Plaza Street West would not be able to pull up to their buildings to make deliveries/pick people up. That’s a real problem for handicapped people, of which there are many.

  • Anonymous

    Plaza Street is actually wide enough to allow traffic to get through with a two-way bike lane, two parking lanes and double parked cars. Better yet, loading zones could be added to the already existing fire hydrants and no standing zones if more curb space is needed.

  • Plaza Street Cyclist

    Geck: According to DoT’s own data (which is accurate), the remaining road width beyond the two-way bike lane and the floating parking lane would be 22 feet. The other parking lane (on the exterior perimeter of Plaza Street) is 7 feet wide. This leaves a total of 15 feet for moving traffic. Any truck, such as a delivery or moving truck, a fire engine or ambulance, or a fuel truck is 8 feet wide. If one of these trucks would be double-parked (a common occurrence anywhere in New York City), this would only leave 7 feet or usable roadway, barely wide enough for a 6-foot wide passenger car, but not wide enough for any other truck to pass, including emergency vehicles such as fire engines or ambulances.

  • Mike

    In the very rare event that an emergency vehicle needed to get around a double-parked truck, it could (and should) use the bike path.

  • Alan S. – 39 Plaza Street W.

    I am a resident of plaza street and am very disappointed that the two-way bike lane will be tabled despite board approval, I now have the of 1) riding almost a full mile out of my way (around plaza), 2) riding the wrong way in the bike lane, or 3) riding on the sidewalk. The DOT is bowing to the minority. In case other commenters didnt know, double parking is illegal. Should we also take into account the fact that people sometimes run red lights and so never have walk signs at intersections? If double parking will be a problem, it can be solved quickly by enforcing the law, or, God forbid, removing a couple parking spaces in front of each building.

  • Anonymous

    Please write to DOT and your community board.

  • Anonymous

    Please write to DOT and your community board.

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