In Progress: The Reclamation of Grand Army Plaza for Walking

Large new pedestrian areas have added safe space for walking and imposed order on traffic at the intersection of Vanderbilt (with the cars queued up) and Flatbush. Photo: Ben Fried

Construction work is nearing completion at one of the summer’s biggest livable streets projects: DOT’s improvements for pedestrians and cyclists at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Spurred by the advocacy groundwork laid by the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, the city has added huge new pedestrian islands on the north side of the plaza and created safer biking and walking connections on the south side, near the entrance to Prospect Park. All together, the changes make it much easier to walk to GAP’s central public space and navigate the whole area on foot or by bike. Here’s a peek at the pedestrian improvements on the north side.

Above is the intersection of Flatbush and Vanderbilt, looking north from one of the new pedestrian islands. Below is a similar angle, pre-makeover, grabbed from Google Street View.

Image: Google Street View

The view of GAP's northern end, looking east from the point where Flatbush Avenue enters the traffic circle, before the changes. Safe passage for pedestrians was non-existent. Image: Google Street View
The same view today, with a clear, direct path for walking. Photo: Ben Fried
The plan. Image: NYC DOT
Together with the walking and biking improvements to the south side of GAP (more on those later), the remake of the north side is making the central plaza a much more accessible public space. Photo: Ben Fried
  • Ian Dutton

    It’s gonna take a while to adjust to the new flows for walking and cycling… I’m used to being restricted to the outer margins, not invited to enjoy the space!

  • All I know is that the new light-timing is excruciating. It now takes like 3 minutes to get from the exit of Prospect Park to the entrance of Plaza St. East. You have to wait through the entirety of 3 long lights 100% of the time. It’s painful.

  • Mike

    Yeah, the light timing on the south end, going from the park to Plaza East, really needs work.  You used to be able to make it in one light cycle if you were speedy.  Now it is, as Daniel says, excruciating.

  • Eric McClure

    Ben, I think that should read “improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, as the rationalization of the GAP-to-PPW merge, thanks to the installation of a median and dedicated traffic signal, is in some ways the biggest improvement of all.  No longer does that merge feel like the start of the Daytona 500.

  • Anonymous

    Besides the pedestrian improvements, like the many options to get to and from the PPW bike lane from Plaza and Union Streets. And the dedicated signal for cars merging in from the left after Vanderbilt is excellent. It is a bit confusing though where the protected Eastbound bike lane through the South end of the plaza disappears into a giant crosswalk (while the westbound bike lane goes on the sidewalk) only to re-emerge again on the other side of the cross-walk as a two-way protected lane. Something to mark the continuation of the Eastbound lane through the cross-walk and a dedicated bike signal in conjunction with the pedestrian walk signs there would be helpful. Light timing from the bikes lanes seems inconsistent (as it was before). I am still deeply disappointed that they dropped the two-way parking protected lane all around Plaza Street, but otherwise it is much improved.

  • Streets T Expectspam2

    Daniel, pedestrians crossing from The park over to the library have to wait through two light cycles. They do now and they always have. First they get the Walk signal from the park to a pedestrian island, then they have to wait for the Walk again to cross from the island to the library. It’s maddening. Cars have always had too high a priority at this circle. 

  • The changes are absolutely amazing.  And look at this Streetfilms/write up from 5 years ago as community members walked around and commented on what could be done:  http://www.streetfilms.org/grand-army-plaza-traffic-survey/

    Pretty long video, but for anyone associated with the movement you can tell almost every dangerous spot in the video has been (or is going to be) fixed after the latest found of action from DOT.

  • dporpentine

    As someone who bikes through this area two times a day, I have to say that from my perspective all the changes have been negative. Without having to rush at all, I used to be able to leave the park in the morning and head toward Vanderbilt without hitting a single light until I got to Vanderbilt. Now I hit two. And since road is narrow at both of those lights,it’s very tempting to just blow the light (as most people on bikes and on foot do). Meanwhile, a small stretch of that bike lane is now two-way–an annoyance given how narrow they are.
    And the  markings at Plaza Street West and Union just don’t make much sense. On a bike, am I supposed to follow the bike lane markings up to Flatbush if I want to get over to PPW? If so, it would mean  joining pedestrians in the crosswalk–not something I want to do. So I just cross Union the way I used to, but drivers now seem extra convinced I shouldn’t be doing that.
    So: maybe it’s great for some people. And I’m all for any arrangement that makes traffic in that area move more predictably. But for me, a failure. And I think the timing of those lights on the way to Plaza Street East are going to cause some accidents.

  • JWoodoff

    Regardless of any improvements to vehicular, bike, and pedestrian traffic, the aesthetics keep getting worse. The Plaza is a sea of signs, lampposts, signals, striping, steel curbs, and concrete islands. An urban space as grand and historic as this deserves a little urban design attention, not just engineering.

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