Prospect Park Users: Thanks for the Road Diet, Now Let’s Make It Car-Free

During car-free hours, Parks Department and NYPD vehicles would use the right lane, which is also supposed to serve as a passing lane for cyclists. Image: ## Park Alliance##

Brooklynites like the idea of reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes cutting through Prospect Park from two to one. They’d like zero even better.

A crowd of roughly 150 gathered in the Prospect Park Picnic House last night to hear a proposal from the Prospect Park Alliance’s road sharing task force. As reported yesterday, the plan puts the vehicle lanes on a road diet, expanding pedestrian and bicycle space while reducing the confusion caused by road markings that only apply during the small amount of time when cars are allowed in the park.

Under the plan, the loop would be divided into three roughly equal sections. Motor vehicles would have a single 10-foot lane along with a three-foot shoulder. Cyclists will have 10 feet in the middle of the road, divided into lanes for slower and faster riders. The remaining space, 14 feet or more, would be for runners and walkers. “There was a sense that the space was just not wide enough for both bikes and pedestrians,” said park administrator Emily Lloyd.

During the majority of the week, when most cars are not allowed in the park, the uses would remain the same, hopefully reducing confusion about which park users were supposed to be where when. “All of the things we paint on the roadway can be consistent,” said Lloyd. During car-free hours, the motor vehicle lane would be designated for park or police vehicles. The intent is to encourage cyclists to use it as a passing lane but not a primary space for biking.

Overall, the proposal won near-unanimous support. “The best compromise I’ve seen anybody come up with in years,” said transportation planner Steve Faust. “A marked difference right away,” said Harry Edmund Bolick, a member of the Kissena Cycling Club.

One of the few opponents of the proposal, Mark Russo, argued that having only one lane in the park would mean more congestion. “If you have one slow vehicle,” he said, “you’re going to have massive traffic jams.” DOT projections showed that the average delay due to traffic would only rise from 5.9 seconds to 13.3 seconds on the east side of the loop in the morning, and from 4.6 to 5.6 seconds on the west side in the evening. That’s “a level of service you will never see on a city street during rush hour,” said Lloyd. Only 700 vehicles an hour use the loop during the morning rush, and a scant 250 per hour during the evening.

Most speakers at last night’s meeting thought the plan didn’t go far enough.

As reported by the Daily News and the Post, a large majority called for making Prospect Park car-free all day, every day. “Families like mine avoid the park entirely during car hours,” said Joanna Oltman Smith. “Think about how many roads we have in New York City. Think about how many places we have like Prospect Park.”

Lloyd, however, said that taking cars out of the park had been taken “absolutely off the table” at the start of the task force’s work. Making the park totally car-free, she argued, would have displaced traffic onto surrounding streets and therefore required a much broader and lengthier public outreach process. She also said that motor vehicles weren’t directly causing a safety problem. “None of the accidents that have occurred have been between cars and pedestrians,” she said. “They stop at red lights.”

A likely incomplete count of crashes on the 3.3 mile drive found 17 reported collisions involving cyclists or pedestrians since 2009, said Lloyd. Four of those crashes involved only cyclists.

But drivers are putting park users at risk by traveling at excessive speeds, reported Eric McClure, the co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors. Last Thursday evening, he went out with a radar gun to measure speeding in the park. He found that 193 out of 195 vehicles were exceeding the 25 mph speed limit. Half of all drivers went 39 miles per hour or faster, and one hit a shocking 53 mph. While the road diet should help curb speeding, said McClure, the utter pervasiveness of speeding shows that a one-lane road will likely still have speeders.

City Council Member Brad Lander, who praised the road diet plan, offered a political explanation for why cars weren’t coming out of the park at this point. “This is a really good plan that takes significant steps to safety,” he said. “Cars out of the park is a culture war.”

Much of the conflict in Prospect Park comes where pedestrian paths cross the loop drive. Some pedestrians feel it’s too difficult to make it across the road while many cyclists do not want to stop at red lights. At crossings, the park plans to paint high-visibility crosswalks in an attempt to encourage pedestrians to use them and cyclists to respect them. Signage will also urge walkers not to cross at dangerous locations.

Periodic enforcement blitzes are also planned for the park, including for cyclists running reds. “Everybody wanted the other guy to be enforced,” said Lloyd. “But everybody agreed that somebody needed enforcement.”

  • Pete

    Here’s where it’s going to get ugly:

    “Periodic enforcement blitzes are also planned for the park, including for cyclists running reds.”
    Is this going to happen when cars aren’t in the park?  Because if that’s the case, there’s going to be a lot more fighting and teeth-gnashing.  

  • Anonymous

    This was a public meeting that was advertised several weeks in advance. Everyone knew that the topic of cars in the park was a hot one. One would think that if there was any great constituency out there for KEEPING cars in the park then they would have been there in greater numbers. If the apparent overwhelming majority are in favor of banning them, it makes it all the more bewildering that it’s not even on the table.

  • Ex-driver

    In my years of cycling, I have found the best way to avoid hitting or startling pedestrians is to slow down, yield, and stop when necessary.  If cyclists would just do this, there would be less call for heavy-handed enforcement of red-light rules and the like.  I understand people want to get places quickly but honestly, in a dense city we just can’t always move as fast as we want to.  Just like with auto drivers’ “windshield mentality,” there’s a certain mindset that takes over when we’re on two wheels and we stop empathizing with the pedestrians.  It’s a two-way street, by the way, as too many pedestrians don’t pay attention to cyclists, but as the faster and more potentially damage-inflicting the cyclists have the first responsibility.

  • Good Idea

    I’d love to see this added: “any vehicle at any time operating in the park must have hazard lights flashing”.  

    Psychologically that makes drivers go slower.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In my years of cycling, I have found the best way to avoid hitting or startling pedestrians is to slow down, yield, and stop when necessary…I understand people want to get places quickly but honestly, in a dense city we just can’t always move as fast as we want to.” 

    Those who want to ride faster are those riding for exercise/training.  Accomodating them is the issue.  Not those riding for transportation.

  • Anonymous

    “Cars out of the park is a culture war.”Yes it is. the culture of a park and that of a highway
    as a lover of parks and Olmstead I can say I am more for getting cars out of the park than I am for expanding the bike lane. the only cars that should be in the park are maintenance vehicles going under 10 MPH.

  • zach berman

    As a cyclist and also a parent who pushes my baby stroller across the road, I get the conflict from both sides. You aren’t going to get cyclists to stop at red lights UNLESS they know that a pedestrian pushed a button to make the light change. Then it’s not a traffic engineer who is thinking about cars, but a live present human who set the light to change. These blitzes better give out equal tickets for speeding cars and jaywalking pedestrians crossing the road.

  • zach berman

    Was nothing said at the meeting about lowering the speed limit for cars in the park, or adding sings that make the speed limit clear? Drivers speed not just because they are lazy selfish bastards, but because they don’t know better.

  • Ian Turner

    @wkgreen:disqus : Those people don’t attend public meetings, that is for the little people to do. Instead they will sue the city, arrange media hatchet jobs, call in favors, and otherwise obstruct the decision after the fact.

  • Joe R.

    @google-05b70897dcc2ca98e584750523496619:disqus Yes, exactly. The elephant in the room whenever the topic of bicycles and red lights comes up is the fact that we’re using an antiquated system of timed lights which more often than not legally requires bicycles (and cars) to stop when nothing is crossing. This really needs to be fixed, not just in parks, but in the entire city. It’s incumbent upon the state to engineer safety in the least intrusive way possible. We’ve had the technology for some time (vehicle and pedestrian detectors) to enable lights to only go red when something is crossing. It’s time we used it. At each and every signaled intersection. When a red light means something is crossing, I can guarantee near 100% compliance with it among cyclists.

  • KeNYC2030

    I am so tired of hearing people like Emily Lloyd, who ought to know better, still talking about traffic being “displaced” if the park is closed to cars.  The same argument was made more than 50 years ago during the successful campaign to get cars out of Washington Square Park, as recorded in Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities.  And the argument is trotted out each time a road closing is proposed, despite overwhelming evidence that it’s pure fiction.  Are we going to be hearing this malarkey from officials for our entire lives?   

  • Anonymous

    Cutting the Loop Drive down to one lane of traffic would be great in Central Park as well. I hope the new plan is adopted for Prospect Park to show the way. 

    Narrowing the permitted driving space to one lane would by itself reduce speeding in the Park. 

    If that turned out to be not enough, perhaps some of us could have great fun driving along at the posted speed limit, seeing if the speedsters stacking up behind us enjoyed the experience as much as we would. Yeah, I’d have to rent a car to go slow, but it would be so worth it.

  • Anonymous

    Sorting and categorizing different road users into little chutes won’t solve a goddamn thing.  It just gives greater license to kill the unfortunate who stray into the wrong chute.  I do not want to see ambiguous bridge plaza style roadway markings in the bucolic setting of a landmark park either.  I don’t live anywhere near that park, but if I did, I would gladly participate in a civil disobedience to kick the smokers (ICE powered vehicles) out of the park.  Motor transportation is a privilege, not a right, and there are purpose built places for that activity called streets.  We need to OCCUPY that space that is rightfully ours.  This pussyfooting around with lane markings to satisfy a few hundred selfish motorists is not good enough.  

  • Anonymous

    “If you have one slow vehicle,” he said, “you’re going to have massive traffic jams.” 

    Talk about hyperbole!  Massive traffic jams?  Come on dude.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously, how about a 15mph speed limit during car hours because it’s a park full of kids, pedestrians, and bikes, just like a school zone.  That would probably eliminate most of the cars right there.

  • bikeriderguy

    I ride regularly in Prospect Park for exercise, and when I have the red light and someone is in the crosswalk I yield. But if there is no one there, I don’t want to stop, and it’s ridiculous that I should get a ticket for endangering no one. Button-activated traffic lights sound like a great idea to address this issue.

    The whole park is a mess, and every kind of user contributes to it. I’ve seen parents with strollers standing on the sidewalk with the green light while several cyclists go flying past, and then the parent misses their green light and has to keep waiting. I’ve seen parents with strollers cross where there is no crosswalk. I’ve seen pedestrians walk in the far right lane. I’ve seen cyclists ride the wrong way in both the left and far right lanes. I’ve seen cyclists barrel through a red light while the crosswalk is filled with pedestrians.

    No one is paying attention to the rules now, so why would one think that new rules or more rules are going to make any difference? There are signs posted that indicate that pedestrian traffic should stay to the left, slow bicycle traffic should take the middle (i.e., just right of the double-yellow), and fast bicycle traffic should stay to the far right. However, these signs are few and far between and not all that visible. I’m not sure a new road sharing plan is needed so much as increased education and better signage for the current rules.



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