Community Boards Step Up Opposition to Car-Free Prospect Park

ppya_city_hall.jpg
Car-free park advocates deliver 10,000+ letters of support to City Hall.

Two weeks ago, the Prospect Park Youth Advocates delivered 10,000 signatures to City Hall asking for a three-month car-free trial. Now Community Boards 7 and 14, as well as a group called the Windsor Terrace Alliance, are demanding that the park remain open to traffic during the morning and evening rush.

Here’s their core argument, advanced in a press release yesterday:

…if the bicyclists get their way, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) will shift hundreds more cars per hour onto Prospect Park Southwest and Parkside Avenue, where traffic back-ups could create dangerous air quality problems for local families.

Putting aside the crude cyclist-baiting (as a pedestrian, I would also like to "get my way"), the predictions of carmaggedon are overblown. CB14 bases its projections on loop drive traffic counts from the 1990s, says Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. In the meantime, car-free hours have increased dramatically, meaning there is much less traffic to displace than opponents acknowledge.

Then there’s the question of whether the remaining traffic would shift to local streets at all. The basic assumptions behind the 11-year-old traffic study that CB14 cites have been thoroughly debunked. "We know from 40 years of experience that traffic is not like water," says Norvell. "A
lot of those trips shift to transit, to different periods of the day,
and some disappear altogether."

A car-free trial next summer could settle the debate. "We find it hard to understand why a
trial isn’t worth doing at this point," adds Norvell. "This is about trying it, and seeing what happens. The fact that we’ve
gone from 24 hours a day, seven days a week to a few hours each workday without the sky falling shows that driving behavior
is a lot more flexible than people realize."

The Youth Advocates worked with numerous local partners in Districts 7 and 14 this summer, Norvell notes, including the Flatbush Development Corporation, Project Reach Youth, the Prospect Park Youth Council, Brooklyn College Academy, and Edward R. Murrow High School. Opponents claim that their communities have not been included in the discussion.

Photo: youthforcarfreeparks / Flickr

  • Ann

    Can someone please abolish the community boards already?

  • Charlie D.

    “We find it hard to understand why a trial isn’t worth doing at this point,” adds Norvell.

    Exactly. The nice thing about a closure to cars is that’s it cheap and easy. Try it and see what happens. If the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones, then you simply don’t do it anymore.

  • Streetsman

    Wait, they want to keep traffic driving through Prospect Park because they are worried about air quality?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Can someone please abolish the community boards already?)

    They’ll abolish elections first, or make it even more impossible to challenge incumbents. Community boards are appointed, and their votes have no real effect.

    They are the model for the politics of the future in the United States, and the present in New York State, and the near present in New York City.

    So is a more reckless version of critical mass, the only real form of dissent that has the potential to be meaningful going forward.

  • How horrible it will be to let people exercise, walk, run, bike, roller blade, walk your dog, bring your kids to the park all without autos present.

    I think all the CB members should walk in the park during peak times and see how pleasant it is to have cars speed by at 50 MPH.

  • Hundreds per hour? How many hundreds? 300 per hour comes out to 5 extra cars per minute throughout the entire affected area. That sounds reasonably close to zero in my layperson’s opinion.

    Does any one have a more recent estimate of how many cars per hour are using the park?

    Also, if these hundreds of cars are zooming through the park, what happens to them when they exit the park? Doesn’t this also cause some traffic congestion for some other neighborhood?

    Anyway, yeah, Mayor Bloomberg, let’s do the trial already so we can have some actual numbers on the effets.

  • (feature request: editable posts for logged in users)

  • Shishi: “I think all the CB members should walk in the park during peak times and see how pleasant it is to have cars speed by at 50 MPH.”

    I think all community board meetings should take place on the sidewalks of the community supposedly being served.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    One of the heroes of the anti-incumbent tendency, Dan Squadron, actually favors expanding the powers of the community boards. The community boards intention to have a real voice in development signals the end of NYC as we know it.

  • In regards to how many cars per hour are using the park, Steven, the Prospect Park Youth Advocates (www.youthforcarfreeparks.org) spent one afternoon this summer clocking the speed of cars on the West Loop Drive. See: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/08/01/theres-nothing-legal-about-the-cars-in-prospect-park/.

    The Youth Advocates recorded the speed of every car driving through the park during the afternoon, from 5pm to 7pm, and their count came to 604 cars over a two hour period (90% of which were speeding). Your estimate of 300 cars per hour is spot on. So is your idea for a trial period; it is time to see what a car-free park would look like.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Mark revamps the Open Meetings Law as the Open Space Meetings Law. I favor giving community boards more power (and more resources) but then expecting more of them.

    On topic, this issue has always been a difference of perspective between southern Brooklyn, with a preference for traveling by car, and a northern Brooklyn more open to alternate modes. Since the relaxation of term limits is all over the news today, I will also mention that the current borough president has always been sympathetic to CB14 and its chair, Alvin Berk, on this issue.

  • I favor giving community boards more power (and more resources) but then expecting more of them.

    No more power to community boards without them being held more accountable for their actions. They should be elected the way they are in London and Paris. There’s no good reason why judges are “elected” but community board members are “appointed.”

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Empowering the Community Boards in any way can only lead to an increase balkanization of city planning authority, exactly what we don’t need unless we want to turn NYC into a giant suburb with each little entity deciding what is good for it and no one in city politics accountable for the whole. Electing them would not really change that equation. Why would the City Council or the Mayor voluntarily devolve actual authority to another elected entity. Please give me a list of everyone in city government who in any way intends to expand the power of the yentas who waste everyones time with their “recommendations”.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Please give me a list of everyone in city government who in any way intends to expand the power of the yentas who waste everyones time with their “recommendations”.)

    You can start with Tom Angotti and Ron Shiffman. (Inside joke, very few people know who they are, but I do.)

  • Joke or not, Larry, neither Tom nor Ron is involved in city government (though there was a time when they were). And if there were more people like Tom and Ron on Community Boards, we might be putting people before automobiles.

  • ms nomer

    3 words of advice: Infiltrate and dominate.

  • i am a Windsor Terrace resident.
    i live on PPSW
    i suport a car-free prospect park

    the Windsor Terrace Alliance does not speak for me or MANY of my neighbors

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Joke or not, Larry, neither Tom nor Ron is involved in city government (though there was a time when they were).

    Tom was on the staff at City Planning and Ron was on the City Planning Commission when I was there.

    (And if there were more people like Tom and Ron on Community Boards, we might be putting people before automobiles.)

    But there wouldn’t be more people like them on the Boards. They had a romantic committment to localism, but localism generally devolves into localized self-interest, as the suburban experience shows. I doubt Tom and Ron would be in favor of exclusionary zoning, but that’s what local control of land use has provided.

    Neither do I think they would favor sticking it to new people and businesses to favor those cashing in and moving out, but that is also the culture of New York. You’ve got to see things as they are. I was once on a community board (7) myself.

  • Phil

    I probably spend more time in Prospect Park than most people. I’m there everyday (just about) on the roadway. I make my round and then I sit for a while even in the cold weather and take in the beauty of the great landscape design of the brilliant Olmstead. Sometimes I take my bike and I do four or five laps and then go for a quiet ride deep into the park where bikes can go. It’s a gorgeous place. Even when there are cars on the roadway I am not disturbed. I know to be on the lookout and I can hear them. But what is most disturbing are the bicycle races that go on all day long. These bikers are more dangerous than the cars. On more than one occasion I have been yelled at, spat at and one time even kicked at. Why because I can’t hear these people until its too late. And it is particularly galling when I’m biking. I’m 64 years old and I do OK for an old man but I’m not fast. It’s time that we stop with the same mantra of ending cars speeding around the park–in some cases they’re even slower than the bikes. It’s insane when I see children almost get run down by these lunatics who think they’re so superior. It’s time for this movement to grow up and stop the fascistic tactics!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “What is most disturbing are the bicycle races that go on all day long. These bikers are more dangerous than the cars.”

    I agree they are much more dangerous than the cars in the park, because among other things the stoplights do not stop them (or me) or even slow them down. Really, really dangerous for toddlers.

    But I haven’t seen races going on all day long in Prospect Park(perhaps because I’m not there on a weekday?) The ones I see are early in the morning on weekends, with lookouts to warn pedestrians. That seems reasonable to me.

    During Summer Streets, on the other hand, my wife and I took our first ride around the Central Park loop, and that was really scary. We saw two people really badly injured — a female jogger who was crossing the road and a speed biker who plowed right into her.

    The real issue is speed. At my pace I can hit the breaks and stop in a few feet. And there is a another issue — where are fast bikers who ride for exercise supposed to go?

    (It’s time for this movement to grow up and stop the fascistic tactics!)

    We’re on the road to eliminating real elections, and picking up speed. Fascistic tactics make more sense to me every day.

  • Regarding Oscar’s comment and whether the Windsor Terrace Alliance (WTA) speaks for all residents of Windsor Terrace, I don’t know if it’s possible for any neighborhood association to speak for all local residents. We are comprised of a growing number of residents (bikers and non-bikers), community groups, and local businesses who care about our neighborhood. The issues we get involved in are raised by people who live in Windsor Terrace and community-minded residents have been volunteering on these issues to work towards a better quality of life in our neighborhood.

    If you disagree with our position on an issue, you are welcome to contact us or come to a meeting (the next meeting will be Thurs. Nov. 13 at 6:30pm at Holy Name in the Rectory basement). Windsor Terrace had not had a neighborhood association in the recent past and we are very proud of the work we’ve done which includes advocating for enforcement of truck parking rules on McDonald Ave. which has drastically reduced the number of trucks parked there overnight, monitoring the possible trucking of contaminated soil on Caton Ave., and lobbying for traffic calming measures on several dangerous intersections. Our view on the cars in the park issue is that the DOT should include neighborhoods affected by any traffic changes in the discussion before implementing these changes.

    Best, Lauren Collins
    Co-Founder
    Windsor Terrace Alliance
    (718) 393-8119
    http://www.windsorterracealliance.org
    lauren@windsorterracealliance.org

  • “I agree they are much more dangerous than the cars in the park…”

    If there were numbers to back that up (within the park, we know it isn’t true outside) it would be damning for the racing contingent. I think it’s probably not the case fatality wise, but could be for minor injuries. Something to look at, in terms of organizing training rides and races, and also how the roadway is laid out (definitely should be two way, as you’ve mentioned elsewhere). I’m very tempted to say “to heck with their high-speed recreation”, but ideally it could be accommodated safely within the city (unlike, you know, NYC’s put-upon skeet shooting enthusiasts). If the park is ever completely closed to cars, it’s incombent on everyone to face the problem and be willing to compromise. A “fast” cyclist co-op (membership required to participate), where extensive manpower is used to put marshals at every intersection, perhaps? I don’t think that blind traffic lights are either necessary or helpful in fixing the problem.

    “I don’t know if it’s possible for any neighborhood association to speak for all local residents…”

    I don’t know if it’s possible for any such organization to speak for even a plurality of residents, as they tend to attract rather a segment of the population—and not the most forward looking one. I shutter to think what my neighborhood organizations are advocating (or rather scuttling) on my behalf, and I will do my best to infiltrate them as soon as I’m finished trying to secure a future for my family (working). I do make time to vote, though, and I do feel fairly well represented by city government. The last thing I need or want is an outside organization pretending to represent me by opposing projects that people I’ve voted for are trying to carry out. When community organizations bring new locally grown ideas to elected officials, they can be helpful. But when they oppose progress to preserve particular privileges that the status quo may provide to members and their friends, they’re beyond useless.

    That’s just my opinion as neither a “biker” nor a “non-biker”, but a New Yorker.

  • James

    Doc, do you have a vendetta against bike racers? I say this as someone who rides as for both transportation and sport. Did a racer cut you off or forget to say “On your left” one day while passing one day? I mean, as a rule, bike racers don’t train in the city. Route 9W and River Road in Jersey/Rockland County are vastly more appealing places to ride than NYC streets or the two crowded parks.

    FWIW, the races in Central Park and Prospect Park are put on by the Century Road Club with approvals from NYC Parks and all other applicable agencies. They take place at dawn, have marshals, and the season has actually been over for two weeks now. Any “racing” you see at this point is just a two-wheeled pi$$ing contest and is not sanctioned by any official body.

  • J

    This is a late post, but the city seems to not be budging at all about closing either Central or Prospect Park to cars. Since this is the case, maybe a new tactic is necessary. I bet a lot of cars utilize the park because they know they can speed right through it, and there is evidence to prove it. If we could take one more lane away from cars and make one full walking/jogging lane, one full bicycle lane, and one full vehicle lane, that would serve multiple purposes at once.

    1) It would be easy to implement. Any traffic engineer can see that the roadway is WAY over capacity, and removing a lane will have almost no impact on the precious LOS.
    2) It would reduce conflicts between bikers and joggers who currently compete for space in one tiny lane.
    3) It would slow car speeds because one car traveling at or below the speed limit would regulate the speed of all the cars behind it.
    4) #3 would likely frustrate drivers, used to racing through the park, possibly enough for them to consider an alternate route or mode.
    5) #4 may cause even lower vehicle counts in the park, showing even more reduced capacity.

    Any thoughts?

  • “Doc, do you have a vendetta against bike racers? I say this as someone who rides as for both transportation and sport. Did a racer cut you off or forget to say ‘On your left’ one day while passing one day?”

    No.

    “Any ‘racing’ you see at this point is just a two-wheeled pi$$ing contest and is not sanctioned by any official body.”

    I’m not going to argue over terms I don’t care about and didn’t even use. I mentioned training rides and races; official races may already have adequate crossing assistance, but the same needs to happen any time that people are going to ride as fast as they are able and refuse to yield. Other people are not expecting it, they don’t hear the riders coming, and minor crashes happen. What is the actual frequency? I would like to know. I don’t care about anecdotes, though I note you’ve gotten creative and projected two onto me anyway, in order to accuse me of a VENDETTA. (Tell me how your melodrama ends!)

    Maybe there’s not really a problem. I expect the claims are greatly exaggerated, as they are when New Yorkers say they are terrorized by bicycles on the streets but keep stubbornly getting killed by autos at a rate two orders of magnitude higher. Or maybe parks are different, at least for minor injuries, and I should think that all parties would like to know what the situation is. If there’s no real problem: awesome. You’ll have something based in fact to tell all the people calling for you to be banned all the time. If there is a problem, you’ll know where to start fixing it. Either way, collecting and reporting minor crash statistics in parks is the first step for athletic cyclists trying to repair their rather terrible image, if they care to.

    Speaking of that image, it’s funny that you came after my hopeful little suggestion when there are people calling for “bikers” to be killed. I hate fast riders a lot less than most New Yorkers; I’m even friends with a few. (I try to avoid talking about bicycles with them though, as it usually leads to boredom on my part and condescension on theirs.) If anything my comment went too far against the community associations and boards. I apologize for implying that people in them don’t work; I have no idea if they do or not. I don’t know how to explain their regressive (in the literal, not economic, sense) tendencies, and shouldn’t guess. All that really matters is that they regularly try to put the brakes on positive change.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Mayor de Blasio speaking at Grand Army Plaza this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Prospect Park Goes Car-Free Forever on January 2

|
Over the course of many years and several thousand volunteer hours - including massive petition campaigns in 2002 and 2008 - advocates were able to get DOT to gradually whittle down the times and places where cars were allowed in the park. The mayor's announcement today is the culmination of that steady advocacy and the incremental progress toward a car-free park.

De Blasio Gets More Cars Out of Central Park and Prospect Park

|
Starting in a few weeks, people will be able to enjoy the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street and the west side of Prospect Park year-round without having to worry about motor vehicle traffic, Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The changes will significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in both parks while stopping short of […]