The Prospect Park Bike-Ped Expansion Is Complete

Late last week the Prospect Park Alliance sent out an email blast announcing that NYC DOT has finished altering the park loop to give more space to pedestrians and cyclists during the hours when cars are allowed in the park. The new configuration — which slims the motor vehicle right-of-way from two lanes to one — also makes a lot more sense for park users on the weekends and the 20 hours each weekday when there are no cars in the park.

Photo: Ben Fried

I went for a run in the park yesterday afternoon and the new configuration seems to work great during car-free hours. There is much less ambiguity about where you’re supposed to be. Additionally, one of the underappreciated benefits of the roomier, more sensible striping for pedestrians and cyclists is that you can jog against the flow of traffic and not feel like you’re breaking the rules or getting in other people’s way.

The e-blast also included this unexpected piece of news: DOT will be enabling push-button walk signals at all the traffic lights in the park. The push-button signals were recommended by the Prospect Park Road Sharing Taskforce and are already in effect at four crossings on the West Drive. The Prospect Park Alliance explained that the signals will work like so…

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pedestrian-activated traffic signals will only work when that portion of the Park Drive is closed to motor vehicles.
  • When the Drive is closed to motor vehicles, the traffic signals will remain green and pedestrian signals will display the steady hand symbol (Don’t Walk) until a pedestrian activates the button.
  • When the Drive is open to motor vehicles (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the East Drive and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the West Drive, Monday through Friday), the traffic signals will operate using the regular green/yellow/red phases to facilitate traffic flow.

An upshot of this change is that, at these crossings during car-free hours, the loop drive will function less like a “shared space” where pedestrians and cyclists negotiate interactions without traffic controls. Stop will mean stop.

Last year, when police went on a ticket blitz in Central Park targeting cyclists who rode through reds, electeds proposed activating blinking yellow lights during car-free hours to indicate that passing cyclists have to exercise caution near crossing pedestrians (DOT said it could not make the change). These pedestrian-activated signals in Prospect Park will be a bit more heavy-handed.

In addition, the Alliance announced that the loop entrance at Ocean and Parkside will be closed to cars starting June 25. That intersection is slated for a major safety overhaul that involves replacing the motor vehicle entrance with pedestrian space.

  • Anonymous

     It’s simple British road rules – slow on left, faster on right.  Amazing
    how it it works almost as well as getting commuter cars out altogether. 
    There are still enough Parks Dept and police vehicles that the drive is
    not totally car free.  Still have to look over your shoulder before
    moving into the right lane.

    The walking/running lane is wider than it used to be most of the way, around and no narrower
    anywhere.  Yet there are still runners who insist on running the in the bike
    lane, both with traffic flow and wrong way head-on.  Salmon is not the
    right word, it’s really Zombies.  They are totally spaced out and
    violent if you even try to ask them why they can’t be using the wide
    empty running lane 2 feet to their left.  Really sad, or a plot for a
    Zombie attack movie.

    Next step should be new instruction signs explaining in a little more detail the difference between slow and fast bikes, and between bikes and shoes.

    Next step after that may be cutting out cars altogether?

    Park Speed Limit is 25 MPH. 
    I finally found the 5 speed limit signs by
    looking in March, before the trees bloomed.  The signs are posted over 20
    feet high, in the branches.  Most are located just after a merge, where drive users should be
    looking around for peds, runners, bikes and cars, and not looking up in
    the trees for signs.  The only useful thing to note is that the street
    light poles with the speed limit signs each have 2 nine inch yellow
    diamonds screwed on at about eye level.  See those diamonds and look up, and see the
    speed limit sign.

    If Parks wants drive users to know the speed limit, the signs have to be lower where
    they fall into a normal scan range of drive users.

  • Hutchinsjeremy

    I don’t think that cars should be in the park at all.  I also think that bicyclists should be severely penalized for going through the red light when pedestrians are crossing.  I’ve seen pedestrians run off the roads and kids screamed at by racing bicyclists, and it’s pretty outrageous.  Doesn’t do a lot for sympathy for bicyclists.  (And I bike).

  • Zulu

    At Central Park it gets really bad when there are a lot of people trying to cross the street and bicyclist are not stopping for anybody. I make a point to stop (on my bike) when people are waiting to cross and I get the red light, but it does no good when everybody else blows by almost hitting me. Two weekends ago a number of Parks officers and a couple of NYPDs where slowing bikes down by the Boat House an ordering bikes to stop at the red light. I didn’t see them give out tickets but it was good to see them enforce the light at the cross walk.

  • Giving people the impression that they can safely cross the road in Prospect Park just because the sign says “walk” is going to get people hurt.
    The vast majority of cyclists in New York City do not stop at red lights. I don’t think the Prospect Park Road Sharing Task Force is going to change that on the park roads.
    When the drives are closed to traffic the lights should blink yellow for the bikers and blink red for the people who intend to cross the street. Pedestrians should be told to stop and look.
    If the traffic light turns red some bikes will stop and the rest will go around them.

  • Anonymous

    I used one of the crosswalk traffic signals on the west drive.  It was set to cycle yellow and red without the startup delay you usually get at car intersections.  Pedestrians won’t need to start crossing before the walk signal comes on.  And no, it’s not turning red too fast for cyclists to slow and stop if needed.

    Will this guarantee cyclists will stop or even look up when pedestrians are crossing with a walk signal?  Of course it can’t guarantee anything.  No red light is a guarantee.
    But it should help a lot.  These push button lights mean that if there is a red signal, then someone damn well wants to cross the drive.  Cyclists will know the signal is real, and pay attention to the crosswalk.  They may not stop, but they will go well around the crossing pedestrian.  That park drive is 30 to 40 feet wide, and it’s easy to go behind one or two people crossing.  Any more people and you know you have to stop.  A red signals to cyclists behind you that there really are people in the road, and the cyclist in front of you stops, it’s not just to scratch his butt in the middle of the road.  (and this does happen!)

    The current old system is the “Light That Cries Wolf.”  It was cycling red whether it was needed or not, and usually it was not needed.  Both pedestrians and cyclists ignored the old system.  One hopes that with this new fast on demand walk signal, everyone will take a red light and the don’t-walk signal seriously.  At least we have a chance here.

    And, when cars are out of the park, the drive is not ruled by a rigid 25 MPH traffic signal speed – cyclists may travel for miles without seeing a red traffic signal.

    Brooklyn sets the example for the city. 
    ?Is there anywhere other than Central Park these signals and the new drive lane markings would apply?

  • Anonymous

    “Clearance Auto” says that in states where it is permitted, will raise your rates based on your credit score. So if your credit situation has changed for the better by an appreciable amount, it is to your advantage to go shop around.

  • Joe R.

    @Brownstone2:disqus Your “The Light That Cries Wolf” comment really hits the nail on the head not just for Prospect Park, but for the entire city. I for one never understood why we don’t employ technology to have lights go red only when something is crossing. I’m not saying this just from the perspective of a cyclist, either. I don’t drive, but I would imagine getting infuriated as a motorist being forced to waste time and gas waiting for absolutely nothing. Dumb, timed signals like NYC uses are just, well, dumb, whether in parks or elsewhere. About the only time they might make sense is for the times when there’s a fairly continual stream of traffic on both roads and time sharing is the only feasible solution. The rest of the time, lights should only be red when something is crossing. And red lights should only last long enough for a pedestrian to cross when a pedestrian is actually crossing. Too many intersections have 30+ second red light cycles even at 3 AM for imaginary pedestrians.

    I for one hope the concept of the system in Prospect Park is eventually adopted citywide.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I think the new loop configuration is a winner. I was crossing the drive while walking my bike, heading to an afternoon frisbee game on the ball fields. I was able to get halfway across with no cars coming, and the cyclists were using the bike lane as expected. Then I could cross, no problema. That’s the idea of the re-design.
    As far as the “no one follows lights” meme, stop repeating it! Be the change you want to see in the world. If YOU stop for a red light, YOU are helping the city be a safer, more civil place for everyone – cyclist, pedestrian and motorist.

  • Anonymous

    So if I understand properly, when the park is car free ( yeah!!!) cyclists can bike freely and pedestrians cannot walk freely . They have to push the button , ask for permission and wait for the signal to cross. Why give more freedom and priority to one transportation mode versus the other ? Why not just turn off lights and let pedestrians have the priority in the crossings? I was not aware that the idea behind closing the park to cars was to convert it to a bike speed loop .
    We continue to treat people with a machine better than the people without….why?

    I suppose the solution will have to be that some parks are reserved for pedestrians and some to bicycles. That smacks of ghettos but it appears that human nature can’t hep it….

  • I agree with chekpeds and I’ll never press a button to go into the park on foot.

  • Anonymous

    chicken underwear says” Pedestrians should be told to stop and look.”  OUCH!!!! 
    chicken underwear speaks like a car driver.. 

  • Eric McClure

    @chekpeds:disqus , Chicken Underwear is actually primarily a runner, though C.U. is very pro-cycling and would like to see a car-free park.  I don’t really want to get sucked into the whole bikes vs. peds thing, but there are very few places where someone can train on a bicycle in New York City.  So I don’t see it as a great hardship to ask someone to press a button to change the signal to red.  That said, there’s also NO excuse for cyclists not stopping when the light is red and someone is crossing.  We’ve all seen what trying to set one’s “personal best” caused in San Francisco.  And whether the park is car-free or not, those of us on two feet or two wheels have to safely share the loop.

  • BkBiker

    As of 6/18, the pedestrian activation buttons were not installed at Parkside, Lincoln or anywhere else on the east side of the park.  There does seem to be an installed bracket for the buttons, but all of the lights on that side of the park are still on timer.

  • I am mostly on foot, but I do ride my bike and drive a car. But the point I am making is that one should never cross the Park Drive in Prospect park without looking. I would not trust a walk signal.

  • Joe R.

    @chekpeds:disqus The answer to your question is twofold. First of all, pedestrians can roam just about the entire park, while bicycles are more or less restricted to the perimeter road. On the one place where bicycles are permitted, they should have priority over those crossing, not the other way around.  The second, better answer is the laws of physics. It’s far more difficult for a cyclist to slow down or stop then get back up to speed. And nothing is gained  for either party by doing so. Assuming a cyclist is a given distance from the crosswalk, a crossing pedestrian will actually have to wait longer for a cyclist to stop than they would if they simply let the cyclist go by at speed before crossing. It’s sort of similar to the idea of turning cars yielding to pedestrians. Unless the pedestrian is already in the crosswalk and physically in front of the car, it makes more sense for the pedestrian to just let the car go by. I actually wave turning cars by when I’m crossing (unless of course I’m directly in front of them) because I’ll be delayed longer standing there waiting for them to stop.
    A good rule of etiquette for cyclists versus crossing pedestrians should be to yield to any pedestrians already in the crosswalk directly in front of them, either by going around them if there is room, or slowing or stopping (if many people are crossing). If the pedestrian(s) aren’t in the part of the crosswalk directly in front of the cyclists, then they should just wait for the cyclist(s) to pass. I’m not familiar with Prospect Park, but I highly doubt there’s any time of day when there are so many bicycles that a person crossing would have to wait more maybe 30 seconds.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Pedestrians have to cross the perimeter road to reach most of the park. Not every pedestrian is capable of accurately judging the speed of multiple approaching bicycles and dashing across the street quickly enough to avoid them.

    Perhaps you, as a pedestrian, choose to yield to turning motorists, but the law is that the motorists are required to yield to the pedestrians, and many pedestrians, myself included, avail themselves of that law. (I certainly hope you don’t wave motorists in front of you while other pedestrians are around.)

    By the way, swerving past a pedestrian with inches to spare isn’t yielding.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I couldn’t care less what the law says. I do what I feel is safer and/or more efficient both when walking and cycling. It wastes more time for me to stand there and wait for a turning car to stop than to just let them continue turning. In theory I suppose I could just continue walking without waiting until the car stops completely on the assumption they will always stop as the law says. The problem with this line of thought is I’m not gambling my life that a turning motorist will stop whether it’s the law or not. Therefore, the only alternative is for me to wait until they completely stop before I even think of crossing in front of them. That wastes more time for both of us than just letting them continue turning. Bottom line-I never, ever put myself in the path of a moving car when crossing, even if I have the light. I either wait until there is a clear path to cross, or until all the vehicles approaching the intersection have stopped completely. Even if a motorist has no intent of breaking the law, their brakes might not hold. 
    By the way, I only wave motorists by if no other people are directly in their path. I take no chances with my life or anyone else’s when crossing.

    Yes, I’m aware people need to cross the perimeter road to reach most of the park. I’m not saying cyclists shouldn’t yield to people directly in their path. That’s courteous and reasonable behavior. And it’s courteous and reasonable to give pedestrians at least 5 feet when going around them. If you only have inches, then you slow to a crawl or stop. There’s no need for pedestrians to judge the speed of multiple bicycles, either, by following my guidelines. All I’m saying is it’s common courtesy when crossing to let bicycles which are nearly on top of you (say less than 75-100 feet away) go by instead of walking in front of them as if they don’t exist. That’s not a hard judgement call for anyone except maybe a small child. Courtesy is a two-way street. Consider that for some people (not me) cycling in the park for exercise is a recreational activity same as playing basketball, tennis, baseball, etc. I find it amazing that the same people who wouldn’t even think of walking into the middle of a ball game will think nothing of just casually walking right in front of a cyclist who is heavily engaged in their activity of choice. Parks are the one place in this city where cyclists should be able to let their hair down a bit without constant worries that something will wander into their path as on regular streets. If that means pedestrians need to be a little more courteous or alert for the lousy few seconds it takes them to cross the perimeter road to get to the rest of the park, so be it. That’s all it really is-a few seconds to be courteous to another park user who really has no place else to go.

  • Anonymous

    JoeR – the Prospect Park Drive is not a perimeter road; and Checkpeds –  the Prospect Park Drive is not just another a sidewalk. 

    The Prospect Park Drive was designed for “pleasure carriage driving”, that is horse and carriage, and when bicycles were invented in the 1870’s, they became part of the Drive users.  All this operated without traffic lights.  Crossing the Drive required pedestrians to look before they walked across.  Walking on the drive was not encouraged, particularly as it was unpleasant, a crushed stone/dirt surface, well seasoned with horse droppings.  Park pedestrians crossed at the designated path crossings, and at Grand Army Plaza, had the two arch tunnels to freely pass under the drive.

    Not until the 20th Century did commuter auto traffic become the major user of the Park Drive – here and in Central Park – still under the “pleasure carriage” umbrella.  The cars drove (pun intended) all other users off the Drive.  Not until Mayor Lindsay pushed cars out of Central Park in 1966 so he ride his bike in some level of peace, did the Drives return to muscle powered traffic.

    So let’s go over this again;  the Park Drive was designed and built for moderate speed muscle powered (horse and cyclist) wheeled pleasure traffic, while the dozens of miles of Park Paths were designed and built for walking, strolling, running, pushing baby strollers, and maybe sharing with a slow moving cyclist.  The Drive was NOT built as a super wide sidewalk or walking path!

    The Drive is over 30 feet wide.  The latest iteration provides foot traffic – walk, run, baby carriages – with a minimum 12 foot wide lane – often wider; and splits the rest between slow bikes, fast bikes in the middle and commuter car/park vehicles/fast bikes in the right lane, plus a 3 foot buffer along the right curb.

    Even though the Drive was not originally designed for foot traffic, it has been modified into a quite serviceable foot pathway, a foot lane that is more than wide enough so that foot traffic should have no need to run or walk in the bike/car lanes.

    Checkpeds, your problem seems to be knowing how to cross the Drive.  May one suggest that you cross the Drive the same way you would cross any street with cross traffic, or even how you would cross a busy sidewalk.  You look first. 

    Cross Traffic – that is all people, on foot and on bike, traveling along the Drive.  The median speed of cyclists on the drive is about 12 MPH.  Some are riding at 6-7 MPH and some at the 25 MPH speed limit.  This 12 MPH is about the same speed as a good runner – a Marathon is run at 12.5 MPH.  Runners usually do 7 MPH and many manage to maintain this up the hill to GAP.  Pedestrians go slow, runners go fast, cyclists generally go faster.  And cars, when they are in the park, go much faster than all of us.

    The point of mentioning these speeds is to note 1. how slow most cyclists are going versus cars, and 2. how close cyclists speeds are to runners speeds.
    Checkpeds, you seem perfectly ready to step out in front of a full speed runner without looking, just as you seem to feel it is your right to step out in front of any cyclists on the drive without looking.  You seem ready to cause a colision with all runners, pedestrians and cyclists on the drive – is everyone supposed to bow and yield to your Royal Self as you cross the drive without looking?

    I mentioned crowded sidewalks.  Try walking across a Midtown Manhattan sidewalk without looking.  Guaranteed you will collide with someone within just a few steps.  There is a sophisticated choreography to moving through traffic in NYC that requires skill, alertness, care and a great deal of cooperation between travelers.  Most people manage it, while a few very selfish or uncoordinated people screw it up for everyone.

    The Park Drive is a special narrow space within Prospect Park.  It is not a city street, but it is also not a park walking path.  It is still essentially a loop roadway for human powered traffic, moving fairly steadily at slow to medium speeds, limited to whatever muscle power can produce.  Unlike paths, its primary feature is the fairly continuous flow available to Drive users.  Unlike streets, the Drive is not there to move motor vehicles and heavy commercial traffic, nor does it have frequent street intersections with conflicting heavy crossing traffic.

    The design and operation of the Drive means that everyone entering or crossing the drive has a responsibility to look first and be prepared to yield to traffic already moving along the drive.  This applies equally to cars, bikes, runners and pedestrians entering the drive.  Most days, most hours, as several people have commented, there are large gaps in the Drive traffic that come in less than a minute.  Under the current design, people crossing have about 2 feet to cross as far as bikes are concerned – the bike and the car lane, but they should still be looking for runners in the walk/run lane.  Most park users seem capable of crossing in these gaps even where there are no cross walks or traffic signals. 

    The point of the user activated – push button walk signals, is to serve those users who are uncomfortable judging the traffic gaps.  These signals should provide safe crossing for baby strollers – particularly when toddlers are walking along side – and any others with limited walking speed and/or distractions, and in those instances when the Park Drive is so filled there are no gaps.  This rarely happens in Prospect Park, but is not unusual in Central Park.

    As I discussed below, since the signals will change ONLY when there is a user ready to cross, cyclists and fast runners will be alerted, slow, and be ready to stop at the crossing.  Safer for all park users.  No more signals Crying Wolf.

    Side note about “near misses”; the Drive is at least 30 feet wide.  It is quite easy to pass behind a person crossing by more than 10 feet, and not just by “inches.”  Drive users are passing each other on the drive by sometimes inches, because runners are running on the white line, while slow cyclists need to keep all the way left to allow faster cyclists to pass safely.  We all manage this pretty well (could be better.)  People crossing can be passed by wide margins on the drive.  It’s all in the choreography.

    Be selfish, and always be annoyed.
    We all cooperate, we all have a good time. 

  • Anonymous

    Brownstone2 . thank you for the education on how to cross the drive. I was really lost there.. now I feel more comfortable . 
    And indeed  I do want to cause collisions with everyone, and my royal self does not want to look… while other speed princes and lazy baronets refuse to slow down and stop. 

    Time to get down from your high horse, the point is : why not install normal signals to cross? You wait, I wait , everybody is equally annoyed, what people call a good compromise. 
    The button establishes  a hierarchy between the class who has the flow as a right and the class who has to ask for it … Subtle but profound.

    If this conversation was about cars, we would be on the same side. 

  • but it is not about cars.  It is about a bike lane in a park.  It is about a place where people go to get some exercise, not stand there and wait for the light to change. 

    I don’t think Prospect Park is a good place to try to change the culture of cycling in NYC.

    I am really afraid that I will get ticketed for going through the reds when am running.

  • Joe R.

    @chekpeds:disqus “Normal” signals, at least as implemented by NYC everywhere else, will mean a lot of times the light will be red when nothing is crossing. It’s this very thing which has fostered disrespect for traffic signals among cyclists. With the “push-to-cross” system, at least if a signal goes red, a cyclist will realize it means someone is actually crossing, and will therefore be much more inclined to heed it. I’m not seeing what’s so hard about pushing a button. Or if you can’t be bothered doing that, just look both ways and wait until nothing is coming. Yes, the button establishes a hierarchy here. Considering that pedestrians have almost the entire park, while cyclists are more or less restricted to the Park Drive, I don’t see that it’s unfair to give cyclists priority in this case.
    From some of the complaints I’ve read on other sites about bicycles when crossing the roads in Central and Prospect Park, you would think these people were spending all their time in the park crossing back and forth. Is it such a burden to push a lousy button, or perhaps be delayed 10 or 20 seconds waiting for bicycles to pass, and then you can go on your merry way without seeing another cyclist until you leave the park? Remember these cyclists are engaging in their chosen form of recreation. How would you like it if you were playing, say, basketball, and had to stop every minute or so to let people cross the court? Well, this is exactly what cyclists will experience with “normal” signals. Besides, pedestrians don’t respect red lights any more than cyclists for the same reason (i.e. much of the time you get a red light on an empty street). Push-to-cross might help there as well if there’s minimal delay from the time you push the button until you get the walk signal.

    Personally, I would love to see something similar implemented citiwide. You could use pedestrian and vehicle detectors instead of buttons. There’s no reason anyone-pedestrian, cyclist, or motor vehicle, should have to stop if nothing is crossing.

  • Anonymous

    Joe, for me basketball is out of the question, I am too small… Kidding aside, you make a good point that the space should now be considered a “play space”. In that context I think it would be preferable to turn off all signals and let the players negotiate the space between themselves. That would definitely change the mental context from road to play for everyone.

  • Anonymous

    Ticketed while running that is a very good one ! don ‘t mention this to NYPD. They would have a blast with that. Yes I agree , no signals at all works better for me.

  • Joe R.

    @chekpeds:disqus For what it’s worth, I also think turning off the signals is a better solution for all involved as it would force everyone to be alert for other users, rather than relying on an external device. Pedestrians and cyclists are both perfectly capable of figuring it out on their own.

  • Dan O.

    It’s curious, but there seems to be a major blind spot in this discussion. The emphasis is, of course, on ‘blind’.

    A properly enforced pedestrian crossing system where cyclists are required to stop is really the only way to ensure access to the park interior for children and adults with disabilities. Saying “look or proceed at your own risk” is downright anti-social when you really think about it.

    I’m glad that the DOT came up with this “heavy-handed” solution. Now it’s up for cyclists and pedestrians to obey so everyone can use the park. It’s been nearly a year before the crossing buttons have been in place, and nearly everyone has forgotten the NYPD’s targeted enforcement period. I use the buttons, stubbornly. Sometimes, I have to push it two or three times to cross. Sometimes I give up. It won’t be long before someone gets hurt, and the episode that led to the task force/expansion is regurgitated.


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