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Grand Army Plaza Redesign Moves Forward Without Plaza Street Bike Lane

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].

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.

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.

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