First Look: Grand Army Plaza as a Walkable Destination and Bicycling Hub

GAP_north.jpgAt the north end of Grand Army Plaza, new pedestrian spaces will make it easier to walk to the central public space. Click for a larger version. Image: NYCDOT

The walking, biking, and public space enhancements for Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza that DOT presented last night are now available online [PDF]. The top graphic shows the expanded pedestrian space and simplified intersection at the north end of the plaza, which will make walking to the center of GAP much more direct, pleasant, and safe. Here’s what that space looks like now:

gap_north_google.jpgImage: Google Maps

Local activists have been organizing and advocating for years to make Grand Army Plaza a public space that lives up to its setting in the heart of Brooklyn. One of the coordinators of that campaign, Robert Witherwax of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, sent us this reaction:

Of our six tenets — improved commercial opportunities, close the gap [between the park and the central plaza], buy back asphalt, rethink traffic flow, aesthetic improvements, and improved ped and bike access to and through — this hits the last four squarely on the head.

We have called for a wholesale rethinking of the interplay between peds, bikes, and cars and the space devoted to each: DOT brought that…

And the fact that DOT can do this in their operational toolbox is extremely interesting. This is Brooklyn’s version of Times Square.

With Prospect Park West slimming down to two lanes, there won’t be so much asphalt to cross walking from Union Street or Plaza Street to Grand Army Plaza:

gap_south.jpgNote what appears to be a bicycle roundabout in the lower left. Click here to enlarge. Image: NYCDOT

The tan areas will be getting the epoxy-and-gravel surface that’s been deployed at other DOT pedestrian projects. There will still be a lot of asphalt between the park and the plaza, but in general the pedestrian areas should look and feel more distinct and separate from the traffic areas. Here’s what this part of GAP looks like now:

gap_south_dot.jpgImage: NYCDOT

All those two-way bike segments planned for the south end will feed into a two-way, parking protected loop around Plaza Street. Together with the Prospect Park West two-way path and a potential two-way path on Eastern Parkway (part of a capital project that’s taking the city forever to build), these changes will make Grand Army Plaza a safe, convenient, and very useful hub in Brooklyn’s bike network, linking up with bike lanes on Vanderbilt Avenue and side streets heading into Park Slope. Implementation is slated to begin in August and would run through the end of 2010, according to DOT assistant commissioner Ryan Russo.

gap_bike_ring.jpgImage: NYCDOT
  • Zmapper

    Looking at the PDF, do the Plaza streets really need a 22′ parking and travel lane! Count the lane be reduced down to 20′ and the 2′ given to bikes for more breathing room. 22′ looks like it would encourage speeding.

  • Zmapper

    Looking at the PDF, do the Plaza streets really need a 22′ parking and travel lane! Count the lane be reduced down to 20′ and the 2′ given to bikes for more breathing room. 22′ looks like it would encourage speeding.

  • Andrew

    It still looks pretty complex. Is that all they could do?

  • Mook

    I can’t believe cars still get 3 lanes coming out of the park.

  • Why does anything need to be done about that?

  • Michael1

    Yeah, yeah just don’t shave it. Department of Parks will be furious.

    Otherwise, looks like a great safety plan and definitely looking attractive, both from a cyclist and motorist perspective.

  • Sam L

    Looks pretty good.

    While all of these changes seem positive, it still looks like if I want to get from the park to Flatbush Avenue, or Flatbush Avenue to the Park, I will probably end up needing to cross 3-4 cross walks and 8-10 lanes of traffic. I really don’t see a vibrant pedestrian connection between the park, the inner ring, the library and the community developing as longs as that is true.

    Maybe one possibility is signaling changes? Often it feels like you have to wait forever for your chance to cross any street in that area. More frequent walk signals is really important. And at the north intersection of Flatbush ave, above the arch, they could have both directions stop and allow 4-way pedestrian crossing, allowing a more direct route to the memorial arch and cutting down waiting time.

  • JK

    Congratulations to GAPCO! Great work folks (Witherwax, Dowd, M. Cairl, and many others.) To me the big lesson here is that good things happen when there is persistent, skillful, community organizing. Yes, it takes time and energy. But that energy spent upfront produces better results than the same energy spent later fighting with opponents. This would not have happened without GAPCO. People like to focus on the specifics of the design, but those years of effort in creating the political space for DOT’s action is the real story. And, it’s why efforts like TA’s East Side Coalition are so important.

  • Not to downplay the role of advocacy groups in this victory, but seriously: God bless JSK’s DOT. It’s getting increasingly difficult to distinguish between material published by the DOT, and material published by advocacy groups!

  • JK

    Yes, having a progressive DOT is great. The design is the easy part. The hard part is creating the political space for DOT to move into — credit GAPCO. I’m confident DOT can come up with a good street scape, not so confident there are opportunities for them to fully exploit that policy and design talent. Look no further than Flushing Avenue or Bedford Avenue or the failure of curbside parking reform — or even car-free Central Park. The issue is that politically opportunistic changes do not necessarily add up to overall transportation reform, and they haven’t. This is not DOT’s failure, it is a city agency bound by many constraints. But advocates of all stripes need to be pushing harder into more neighborhood, and more diverse neighborhoods, and coming up with appealing organizing projects based around iconic spaces like GAP or local concerns like kids and seniors.

  • One thing that I haven’t seen noted from the meeting was that Russo said that GAP will end up being “completely redesigned” some day. He sounded quite certain of that. Of course he didn’t say when this some day would be.

  • I’m very impressed with this one. Seems like a pretty rock solid, faultless design. I can’t really find any potential issues that makes the LCI in me at all uncomfortable like John Forester on a cycletrack.

  • It’s too bad this plan doesn’t address the dangerous stretch of Eastern Parkway between the museum and the library. A two-way parking-protected bike lane on the Eastern Parkway ‘access road’ would be a real improvement for cyclists. That access road has virtually zero traffic and is like 30-40 feet wide. It’s a no-brainer to me.

    Maybe it’s just outside the scope of this plan?

  • Trolls

    Chris – that project has been in the works for years. It’s the capital project referred to in the article.

  • Looking at the PDF, do the Plaza streets really need a 22′ parking and travel lane! Count the lane be reduced down to 20′ and the 2′ given to bikes for more breathing room. 22′ looks like it would encourage speeding.

    I was thinking about this comment last night as I crossed Plaza street. Right now cars routinely use the bike lane and buffer to travel faster, effectively giving them a 32′ travel/parking lane (using the numbers from the PDF).

    These changes are really going to make a positive difference on Plaza Street by reducing average motorist speeds.

  • The very best thing about the GAP redesign will be never again having to see some impatient jerk in an SUV use the Plaza Street bike lane and buffer as a personal passing lane.

  • wagstaff

    Can’t wait for JSK and Bloomberg to go.

  • Do you have a particular problem with this plan that we can discuss, or are you just a grumpy bastard?


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