You Can Finally Walk to Grand Army Plaza Without Fear

A few months ago, motorists could drive across the asphalt here. Today it's a pedestrian zone linking the public space at the center of Grand Army Plaza to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch. Photos: Ben Fried

Gathering at the new public space beneath the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Grand Army Plaza this morning, city officials and community leaders celebrated the reclamation of asphalt for people at the crossroads of Brooklyn. One of the borough’s iconic places is finally a destination that people can get to comfortably, thanks to a slate of pedestrian and bike improvements NYC DOT completed this summer.

“For too long, Grand Army Plaza has been an 11-acre vicious circle of traffic,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The improvements include enormous new pedestrian islands at the north side of GAP, swaths of asphalt re-purposed as public space and resurfaced with sand-colored gravel, and new crosswalks and bike connections. Sadik-Khan said it added up to more than a football field of new public space, which will “unlock the gateway to Prospect Park.”

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Behind her, left to right, are Council Member Tish James, Council Member Steve Levin, Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, Prospect Park Alliance director Emily Lloyd, and State Senator Eric Adams.

Community leaders and civic groups began mobilizing for a safer, livelier, and more accessible Grand Army Plaza in 2006, with the formation of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, or GAPCo. A series of site visits and public workshops followed, defining the problems with GAP and outlining principles to fix it. GAPCo had a receptive audience at DOT, which began to phase in safety improvements in 2008 and revealed a more comprehensive plan in 2010, the fruits of which were on display today.

Grand Army Plaza is “Olmsted and Vaux’s brilliant solution for integrating Flatbush Avenue with Prospect Park,” said GAPCo’s Rob Witherwax. “Over the last 150 years, the balance tipped from park to street. We tried to tip it back.”

Council Member Tish James was an early supporter of GAPCo’s efforts and praised DOT’s implementation this morning. “I grew up in Park Slope, and Prospect Heights was my backyard,” she said. “It was always difficult to navigate these streets. You took your life in your hands. Today it was easy. Today it was calming.”

No one knows about all the organizing, ideas, and coordination that went into this project better than Witherwax, who ticked off the groups that came together to improve GAP: The Prospect Park Alliance, the cultural institutions who collaborate under the banner of the Heart of Brooklyn, three local community boards, the Park Slope Civic Council, and others. “DOT could just as easily have said, ‘Thank you, we’ll get back to you later,’ but they didn’t,” Witherwax said. “They made our vision happen.”

Before: The intersection of Flatbush and Vanderbilt.
Before: There was no way to walk across the vortex at the northwest segment of GAP.
The south side of Grand Army Plaza is seeing a lot more walking and biking since the most recent round of DOT improvements.

The substantial changes celebrated today probably won’t be the last public space improvements to GAP. Michael Cairl of the Park Slope Civic Council pointed out several underutilized areas that could serve as functional, active public spaces with a few simple design touches.

Then there’s the question of the Plaza Street bike lane, originally envisioned as a two-way, protected route functioning as a hub for safe cycling, branching out to other spokes in the bike network. Plans for the Plaza Street lane are currently in limbo after DOT’s initial unveiling in 2010.

GAPCo will also be working with the cultural institutions near GAP, the Greenmarket, and the Prospect Park Alliance on programming the newly-accessible public spaces. “We’ve made spaces where things can happen, which we didn’t have before. Now the question is, ‘What’s going to happen here?'” said Witherwax. “The table is open for suggestions.”

What would you do with this space?
  • awesome.

  • MFS

    This is fantastic, it really really is and is the product of a large number of people from the grassroots to those pushing ahead at DOT.

    But that said…

    Why does the bike lane in the 2nd picture from the bottom go right into a lamppost? I have confirmed this is not an optical illusion, this is actually what happens when you look at it on the ground.

  • Anonymous

    MFS. I believe that was a temporary light that has since been removed. But if you continue west you get dumped on Plaza Street without a proper bike lane–parking protected two-way lane needed!

  • Eric McClure

    Geck is right — that was a temporary post that is no longer there.  Great work GAPCo, DOT, and electeds like Tish James who’ve supported these efforts all along.

  • Don’t tell Louise Hainline this. She might sue to remove “sidewalks.”

  • @MFS I recycled some slightly out-of-date photos. As others have pointed out, the temporary bike-lane-blocking posts are outta there. It’s a smooth ride on the south side and hopefully Plaza Street will follow.

  • MFS

    @BenFried:disqus  Good to know- I will no longer fear being poled by a traffic light in GAP.  hooray for the new design!

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know if there are plans to improve the pedestrian islands on Flatbush between the farmers’ market and the library?  That particular spot is still way too narrow for weekend pedestrian traffic to fit comfortably while waiting for the lights to change.  (And the cars still go way too fast around the blind spots created by the farmers’ trucks.)

  • Michael Cairl

    The pedestrian island in the crossing between the Greenmarket and the Library might not change (much) but the crosswalk could, sometime next year, to make a better crossing and better utilize the island that is there.

  • Michael Cairl

    With all the changes that have been made, and with more to come next year (moving the Abraham Lincoln statue to the Plaza, possible changes to the crossing to the Library (see my previous post), and completion of the reconstruction of Eastern Parkway, GAPCo’s work is now to look at ways to pull more people and uses into Grand Army Plaza and to look at further physical improvements.  There’s a lot of work still to do but we’re in a much better place today than when we started this in 2006.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m surprised no history buffs mentioned the traffic fatality sign that used to grace Grand Army Plaza at the time that the rise of motor vehicle traffic first made it unusable.

    “Slow Up.  What’s Your Hurry?  Make Brooklyn Safe.”

  • Brooklynite

    These changes are the result of a multi-year community-driven collaboration that should really be seen as a model for neighborhood groups all across the five boroughs. Though the PPW bike lane opponents and their idiot friends in the political press spent a year trying to paint DOT’s work with community groups as something nefarious, Sadik-Khan’s agency deserves a ton of credit for answering the call and working to take on this complex challenge of Grand Army Plaza. It would have been a lot easier and less risky for DOT to ignore the Grand Army Plaza Coalition and simply leave things as they were at GAP.

  • Eric McClure

    Brooklynite is right. The not-so-secret Trustees Room workshops at the library between radical pro-logical giant-roundabout-safety lobbyists, elected officials and DOT have borne great fruit, and show what can be done when a city agency “plots” with the people to make things better.

  • 1903519931


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 […]

The 2011 NYC Streetsies, Part 1

The presentation of the 2011 New York City Streetsies kicks off with highlights from the past year. To catch up on the nominees and winners in the people’s choice categories, have a look at the voting results. Best Moment Streetsblog spent the better part of 2011 covering a half-baked lawsuit. Merit-less though it was, the […]

It’s Time for DOT to Think Big at Grand Army Plaza

The view of Grand Army Plaza from Union Street. DOT has proposed converting parking on Union to another moving lane. Union Street in Brooklyn has a problem: The queue of cars waiting to drive through the intersection at Grand Army Plaza sometimes stretches as far as the eye can see. The bottleneck, which causes a […]

DOT’s Grand Army Plaza Plan: Bold, Exciting, Crowd-Pleasing

At last night’s presentation to a joint meeting of three Brooklyn community boards, DOT assistant commissioner Ryan Russo unveiled what he called "a pretty dramatic and bold, exciting plan" for Grand Army Plaza. The proposal lived up to the billing. Lots of asphalt will be reclaimed for walking and biking. Getting to the central plaza […]