DOT Minds the GAP

With city workers pouring concrete in the background (and StreetFilms’ cameras rolling), New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced pedestrian and cyclist improvements for Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza yesterday. The plan calls for 11,000 square feet of new, landscaped pedestrian islands, a separated bike path, new crosswalks and pedestrian signals.

The redesign should do a lot to help make pedestrian and bike crossings safer and more convenient, particularly on the Prospect Heights side of the Plaza. With new crosswalks connecting Prospect Heights residents directly to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch and Bailey Fountain, two of the city’s most truly awesome historic monuments, DOT’s plan may also help activate the beautiful but under-used public space in the center of GAP’s traffic maelstrom.

DOT’s plan for the Plaza is a direct result of work done by the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, a group of community organizations that myself and others started up back in the spring of 2005 to begin to reclaim and re-envision Grand Army Plaza as the great public space that it was originally designed to be.

Yesterday’s press conference was notable not just for the physical changes taking place in the Plaza but for the changes that have taken place at New York City’s transportation agency. When we started GAPco, DOT staffers weren’t permitted to attend our meetings or even speak at our press conference with Danish urban designer Jan Gehl (Dalila Hall from the Brooklyn Borough office disobeyed the ridiculous order and said a few words anyway).

Yesterday, Grand Army Plaza Coalition organizer Rob Witherwax stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the podium with Sadik-Khan, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council member Tish James and Prospect Park Alliance president Tupper Thomas. The press conference, staged in front of the Brooklyn Public Library, was probably visible from the apartment window of former Commissioner Iris Weinshall who lives on Prospect Park West.

While the news at GAP yesterday was all positive, GAPco organizer Michael Cairl still qualifies DOT’s work as "a good first step." To get a sense of what he means by that, immediately after the press conference Sadik-Khan and DOT Alternative Modes Director Ryan Russo were peppered with questions from Park Slope Civic Council member Ezra Goldstein about why the agency still hasn’t done anything to change the seemingly malicious traffic signal timing that traps pedestrians — often dozens of them at a time — on a tiny strip of concrete in the middle of Flatbush Avenue between Prospect Park and the Library. Russo said DOT wanted to see how the new crosswalks worked before making any more changes in the Plaza.

For a "before," an "after," and one very compelling "long-term vision" plan, click through to the jump below.


    Existing Conditions at Grand Army Plaza:

Pedestrian and Cyclists Improvements Underway:

One Long-Term Concept Proposed by Community Members:

  • momos

    Things are changing at DOT. The evolution at Grand Army Plaza is fantastic. Let’s hope the change is seen through to the longterm vision. Compliments are in order for the excellent work of GAPco and the responsiveness of the new DOT leadership.

  • JK

    Congratulations Aaron, Michael and GAPco-ers! Great work all around. Like you, I hope this is the first step in the total reclamation of this important public space. Congrats also to TA and TOPPS for their work here.

  • Jen

    It is great that they are finally doing this as I cross this death trap on a daily basis. Two aspects that I see missing however are:

    1.) Still no walk/don’t walk signal light from the corner of Plaza East to Eastern Parkway – either the service side or main roadway. Either cars from Flatbush turning right onto EP can take that immediate left or cars coming across from Union onto EP can take a left at alternating times. There is never a completely safe, guaranteed pedestrian-only time.

    2.) Still no way to let drivers turning right off Flatbush onto EP that there may be a red light as soon as they turn. Drivers often speed through this light since they don’t expect a light just after turning. Perhaps a sign before the turn warning drivers.

    Yea! No more running across 6 lanes of traffic every morning!

  • Congratulations on this successful public coalition. I’m only a visitor to Brooklyn but the first time I went to Grand Army Plaza (it seemed attractive on the map) I was stumped as to how to cross it on foot.

    As a San Franciscan I really admire your ability to get this done in only a few years. Over here, that’s not enough time to let the contract on the draft environmental impact report.

  • Felix

    Who let Markowitz into that photo? Isn’t he a major obstacle to the GAPCO plan, which would require closing the park to cars?

  • Hilary Kitasei

    This is exactly what we mean by keeping the park in parkway. Piece by piece, these corridors linking the city’s parks and waterfronts can be reknit. And not just to original standards, but newer and better.

  • todd

    I applaud this effort but ingress and egress to and from Prospect Park from Grand Army Plaza are still poorly designed. To exit the park, a biker must merge into a traffic lane that also has merging cars….I don’t understand why DOT doesn’t have only 2 lanes exiting the park…this is the only place in the park where three lanes are permitted.

  • I know some people have problems thinking straight, or recognizing that living in the CITY means sharing needs and space, but this plan does NOT cut off the park from cars, and if it would, like the one “proposed” by the community, all of south Brooklyn from Mill Basin through to Bay Ridge, on to Flatbush would be cut off from North Brooklyn and Manhattan and shunted through the heart of Park Slope making south bound Flatbush Avenue completely unaccessible. So that is what Markowitz was doing there. He was assure nut cases can’t destroy the Borough.


  • ruben, there are plenty of ways to get from south brooklyn to north brooklyn and manhattan other than through prospect park. what south brooklyn needs is more and better ways to do it that don’t involve private automobiles.


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