Eyes on the Street: Heavy Blocks and Barricades on Prospect Park Loop

The blocks and fencing look like standard materials for controlling cars that have been transposed to a car-free setting.

The newly-installed barricade by the Prospect Park bandshell. Photo: 2AvSagas
The newly-installed barricade by the Prospect Park bandshell. Photo: 2AvSagas

Just ahead of Memorial Day weekend, blocks and metal fencing have gone up at two points along the Prospect Park loop. The obstacles are intended to slow cyclists at major pedestrian crossings, but they form narrow chokepoints that may create more problems than they solve.

The cubes are located by the bandshell on the west side of the park and at the bottom of the hill on the southwest leg of the loop, according to reports on Reddit and Twitter.

The Prospect Park Alliance said DOT decided to install the pinch points. DOT said the agency installed the barriers “at the request of the Alliance for safety purposes.”

The bottom of the hill, where cyclists accumulate speed as they approach the crossing, has been the site of collisions that resulted in serious injuries.

Reducing the speed of downhill cyclists could prevent those types of crashes, but this design also introduces new risks. The big anchors are obstacles that appear suddenly, and may cause cyclist collisions or abrupt merging movements that jeopardize people on the loop.

The steep downhill on the park loop at this location poses a tough design problem. It would be reassuring if the city could point to a precedent for calming fast bike traffic on car-free streets shared with pedestrians, and duplicate it here. But the blocks and fencing look like standard materials for controlling cars that have been transposed to a car-free setting.

Correction: We originally reported that the blocks are concrete. DOT says they are plastic, not concrete. The post has been amended.

  • JarekFA

    While the implementation is clumsy and dangerous the idea behind it isn’t completely unsound. However, it’s fucking ridiculous they do this only for pedestrian bike spaces and not, say, race track like 8th ave in Brooklyn, which is 100% primed for lane narrowing neckdowns. It’d slow down the speeding if the lanes went from 2 to 1.5 as a choke point every 5 blocks.

  • Adrian Horczak

    Have these actually been used on roads to slow cars? We definitely could use them on pedestrian crossings where motorists never yield (which would be every intersection without a traffic light or stop sign).

  • These are very bad for runners and walkers especially at the bandshell crosswalk.

  • Looks like similar anchors+signs treatment DOT used to get drivers to slow down for neighborhood 20 mph zones. https://i2.wp.com/www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/slow_zone.jpg

  • Jeff

    Well, they were _planning_ on using them for this purpose, until motorists threw a hissy fit about losing “their” parking.

  • Jeff

    My biggest beef is that similar traffic calming for motor vehicles on actual streets outside of the park is a big f***ing deal, and requires the DOT to come to the community board and give a bunch of pointless powerpoint presentations, followed by a bunch of angry motorists complaining about that time their uncle saw a pedestrian using a smartphone. But if the target of the traffic calming is cyclists, then whatever, just throw it in, no need for a discussion with stakeholders.

  • These are insane. Service vehicles are good and need to take up the entire bike lane to go through these crosswalks and cyclists of the wind up swerving into the pedestrian lane.

    Tuesday evening I was at the community committee meeting of the Prospect Park alliance. No mention was made of this and I find it hard to believe the alliance would’ve approved it without input from the road safety test force.

    Also, they’re made of painted metal and are on wheels. The 17-year-old me would’ve put them all in the lake by now.

    Six years ago I wrote this blog post about how things should look on the roadway in Prospect Park. http://whatyourdonotknowbecauseyouarenotme.blogspot.com/2012/04/beginning-of-better.html

  • Geoffrey Vincent

    I’m wondering why DoT has to be involved any more since the Park is now traffic-free?

  • Jeff

    When the alternative is Parks, yes. You absolutely want DOT to maintain control of the loop drives. While DOT is unfortunately beholden to a largely cars-first political climate, Parks sees us as nothing more than children who want to play with our toys.

  • MatthewEH

    This is a superficially similar treatment to what’s on the west Central Park loop drive at 63th Street during car-free hours (the spot where Jason Marshall crashed into Jill Tarlov, who later died from injuries there sustained). That treatment works fine. Key differences, though:

    * The downhill leading to 63rd Street is quite gentle, more a downslope than a sharp downhill.

    * The loop drive is 4 lanes in width here (left-to-right: ped lane, bike lane, inner service lane, outer service lane). The barriers just reduce the number of service lanes from 2 to 1, not from 1 to 0.

    Ironically, this setup in Prospect Park might work out if they first *widened* the road to double the number of service lanes.

  • Hilda

    Yes, and these don’t last long when around cars. This was originally used as the Slowzone gateway, then subsequently moved to the sidewalk, then taken away altogether. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3f7cf02a9ee6b7ec2287e58096915217216cad2ecc9c55109d1887c1f879571d.jpg

    The bases in the park have wheels. These get rolled out of the way for bike races and running races, and work

  • There used to be quite a few in Elmhurst, Queens. But they all ended up looking like this and they were removed and have never returned.

  • IF they are planning to remove or turn off the traffic lights in Prospect Park, this would be an acceptable compromise and okay with me.

  • tugboatcpt

    If you can’t handle your bike well enough at 10 mph to avoid a service vehicle without swerving into the pedestrian lane, then maybe you shouldn’t be riding a bike. Though I suspect that you, like the rest of the Cat 5 Strava heroes, take this hill at 40+ MPH. Cyclists are subject to the same laws as all other vehicular traffic. That means they must obey speed limits (25 MPH in the park) as well as traffic lights. I have yet to see a cyclist obey a traffic light in Prospect Park. You also must yield to pedestrians at all times, never have more than one earbud in, have a front and rear light if riding within one hour of sundown, and have a bell on your bike.

  • nyc372

    I saw these today for the first time commuting to work.

    I also wonder how emergency or service vehicles are going to navigate from the right lane to the middle chute. Are they even wide-enough for a fire truck, which is often the first responder in the park? They seem to create a significant hazard for all, especially cyclists and runners who are now competing for even less space.

    Similar plastic thingies were installed at the head of my block to designate a 20 mph slow zone. As soon as they were damaged (they were “affixed” to the street with a small metal “L” clamp) they were removed.

    Finally, like almost everything Prospect Park does these days, there was no notice and no consultation. Is anyone in charge there?

  • Not that this is a great design, but it’s amazing how fast DOT can act – without consultation with or approval from a community board – when the question of slightly inconveniencing drivers isn’t a factor. Can they follow this practice on dangerous streets *outside* the park, please?

  • Took a huge amount of work at the neighborhood and community board level to get these installed in the street, but when DOT decided to get rid of them and just mount signs on the sidewalk they didn’t ask for CB approval. Tells you how things work…

  • Zack Rules

    This is not a MUTCD approved use. The first person to be seriously injured as a result would have a good case to sue the city and win.

  • Joe R.

    I was about to say the same thing, particularly about the barrier on the downhill part. The fact is cyclists pick up speed on downgrades and any design should allow them to carry that speed until the road levels out. A crossing at the bottom of a hill is a bad enough idea. One with barriers is a lawsuit in the making.

    Why not just make the road go over or under the pedestrian crossing? Yes, it costs money but it’s an inherently safe solution for both parties. Pedestrians still get a level crossing but cyclists can continue at speed with no worries.

  • Joe R.

    If I rode in the park the 55-year old me would have put them in the lake. I have no tolerance for stupidity like this. The answer for the few busy pedestrian crossings is overpasses or underpasses. Keep the pedestrian crossing at the same level but make the road go over or under it. Everyone wins.

  • Larry Littlefield

    True.

    But I’m not going to go crazy over this. Crossing past bicyclists riding for exercise or training can be a little scary with a toddler or a dog. This is the circumstance most likely to cause that rare event — a pedestrian killed or crippled in a collision with a cyclist. So I don’t mind a little “traffic calming” there.

  • Joe R.

    Only acceptable if they wheel them out of the way during off-peak periods. I can understand the need to calm bike traffic when the park is busy. And frankly people who try to break their Strava records during peak times are idiots. But off-peak calming isn’t necessary. I’m really concerned especially about the barriers on the downhill. It’s not a given cyclists will either know they’re there, or be able to slow down in time. I really think grade separation in that area is the best long-term solution.

  • But this won’t work. A cyclist is gonna wind up swerving into pedestrian line to avoid this traffic calming

  • Hilda

    DOT painted the crosswalks at 9th St. and 5th Ave in time for the rally on Tuesday morning; about 12 hours after the Monday afternoon crash the day before. DOT can get it done.

  • I do think the racing/sport cyclists need to cool it and some traffic calming measures are appropriate. I’d also love to see fast cycling limited to early morning hours. However, the question I really want an answer to is why this kind of urgency can’t be applied anywhere else in the city.

  • JarekFA

    It’s an illusion of democracy.

  • Adrian Horczak

    Let’s not waste perfectly good signs. They should be put on dangerous streets next to Prospect Park rather than in the lake

  • kevd

    Saw these for the first time the other night.
    In the dark, after a few drinks.
    Saw them a long way away. They are pretty easy to see them a long way off and slow down accordingly.
    Due to the number of freds in pace-lines on saturday afternoons who completely ignore those trying to cross the path, I can’t say that this design looks inappropriate to me.

    What will be annoying is that the car lane is completely blocked so the parks vehicles and cops will be using the bike land to go though. A traffic island would have been better than completely blocking that lane.

  • kevd

    Off peak (like 11:30pm when I went through the other night) there is plenty of room and nobody trying to cross so you just don’t slow down.
    They’re a full car lane wide. Plenty of room.
    Big huge yellow signs are easy for cyclists to see.

  • kevd

    PP is too busy for training rides except for early mornings, late nights and the winter.
    but tons of people on dentist bikes treat like a training route.
    Take that shit to 9W like real cyclists.

  • From what I hear these barricades were pushed aside on Saturday. I don’t know if it was done by Prospect Park officials or concerned citizens.

  • Joe R.

    I’m wondering now if this is just a temporary thing they’ll do only on busy holiday weekends. If so, then it’s not that big of a deal.

  • Joe R.

    The width doesn’t concern me. I could shoot through a space that wide at 55 mph so long as I see it coming far enough in advance to adjust my position.

    I was under the impression the pedestrian crossing is at the bottom of a hill and hidden because of a curve. You can’t avoid obstacles if you can’t see them in time. Then again, I’m not at all familiar with Prospect Park.

  • kevd

    Bottom of a hill – you can first see it about 150 yards out if you’re looking for it – and its blatantly obvious from 100 yards.
    Plenty of time to react and adjust, at 25mph.
    Neck downs In PP to slow down the freds is a good idea in general – even if this could have been done a bit better.
    Maybe signs prohibiting pace lines from after 7am would be good idea too.

  • Joe R.

    How steep is the hill? What kinds of speeds might a fast cyclist be going? Just curious, although the distances you mention give plenty of time to react even if you’re going 45 mph.

    As for pace lines and the like, why can’t people just use common sense and not try to break their Strava records when the park is crowded? That’s really the heart of the problem. That’s why I ride at times like midnight, 2AM, etc. I have the road to myself. If I feel like bombing down a hill at 50 mph I’m the only one who can potentially get hurt.

  • kevd

    “As for pace lines and the like, why can’t people just use common sense and not try to break their Strava records when the park is crowded?”
    Because people are idiots. It isn’t the real training cyclists. It is mostly fat, old guys. (says this fat, old guy).
    I would regularly hit high 20s on a fixed gear on that hill (back when I rode on 23s and had a speedometer, I’m on 28’s now since I don’t like to get flats).
    I think low 30’s wouldn’t be crazy on a road bike. Above that would require SERIOUS effort though. The rockies this is not.
    It isn’t the best solution, but getting everyone to tap their brakes a bit on that hill is probably a good thing.

  • tugboatcpt

    Or why not just pull on your brake levers for a few seconds till you slow to the posted 10MPH. The overall speed limit in the park is 25MPH. You might not be able to get that Strava KOM you’ve been gunning for, but in the end everyone will be safer.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Do you know of any examples of pedestrians being killed or crippled by bicycles?

  • tugboatcpt

    If you need to swerve into the pedestrian lane at 10MPH then maybe you shouldn’t be on a bike.

  • tugboatcpt
  • AMH

    Yeah, it’s hard enough to get these treatments against motor traffic, and careless drivers destroy every kind of traffic calming device that isn’t concrete. But no one cares about inconveniencing non-motorized traffic.

  • Joe R.

    There’s no posted “10 MPH”. I don’t know where the hell you’re getting that from. As for hitting the brakes, for a whole bunch of reasons it’s not a great idea for cyclists to hit the brakes on downgrades. The weight distribution is forwards due to the grade, making an endover more likely for inexperienced cyclists. And in lots of cases (perhaps not in this instance) you WANT to gain as much speed going downhill as you can if the downgrade is following by an upgrade. Your momentum can help carry you uphill.

    I totally agree fast cyclists don’t mix with busy pedestrian crossings. The answer is grade separation. Make the road go over or under the pedestrian crossing. This allows both users to proceed unimpeded. It’s an inherently safe solution in that it doesn’t require behavioral changes for safety. Yes, it costs money, but so does people getting hurt. In the long run grade separation at the busier crossings saves money by ending injuries and saving people time.

    BTW, I don’t live near Prospect Park, will never ride there, so this doesn’t affect me at all. I’m just voicing my opinion that it’s a bad way to deal with the problem. And I’m not on Strava. I personally think it’s stupid.

  • tugboatcpt

    I’m getting that from actually seeing it in real life. You’re proposing that the parks dept. divert funds to build a pedestrian tunnel under the roadway so that a few MAMILs won’t have to actually pedal their $10k bikes. A much simpler solve is for cyclists to police themselves and not ride in a dangerous manner, but that doesn’t happen. I don’t think these signs solve anything without enforcement, but it’s a start.

  • tugboatcpt

    There are signs 10 yards in front of the pedestrian crossing that say “speed limit 10 MPH”. I’m getting that from actually seeing it in real life. You’re proposing that the parks dept. divert funds to build a pedestrian tunnel under the roadway so that a few MAMILs won’t have to actually pedal their $10k bikes. A much simpler solve is for cyclists to police themselves and not ride in a dangerous manner, but that doesn’t happen. I don’t think these signs solve anything without enforcement, but it’s a start.

  • Joe R.

    Apparently you don’t know the difference between inherently safe solutions versus inherently dangerous ones. An inherently safe solution is one which doesn’t depend upon people behaving a certain way to effect safety. The fact is neither pedestrians nor cyclists will reliably obey set of rules put in place for safety, even with enforcement. And the rules themselves may not cover every contingency. If fact, in some instances the rules may make things worse. Therefore, you want a solution which gives safety without requiring behavioral changes.

    This isn’t about “MAMILs”, whatever the fuck that means. Nobody who rides a bike, starting with 5 year olds all the way up to racing cyclists, likes to hit the brakes on downhills. And the current solution doesn’t solve the problem. People will just shoot through a narrower space at high speeds, making things worse. Even if the number of pedestrians hurt drops because some cyclists slow down, others might run into the barrier, or do an endover trying to slow down, so you’ll be replacing pedestrian injuries with cyclist injuries.

    As for the cost, consider that the first cyclist getting seriously hurt will cost the Parks Department a few million. In the end the Parks Department can either pay once for a bridge, or keep paying out multimillion dollar lawsuits. The former is cheaper in the long run. It also solves the problem 100%.

  • Asking people to read the f-ing signs is not too much.

    And of course no one likes to hit the brakes on a downhill. But we don’t always get what we want; and sometimes slowing down on a downhill is necessary, for the good of the other road users.

    Finally, the answer is not grade separation. The answer is never grade separation. Grade separation is a silly fantasy. Humans will walk on Mars before anyone installs grade separated bike infrastructure on any scale in New York. And rightfully so, because grade separation is a utterly ridiculous.

    The answer is for people to behave in a civilised manner and to accept their responsibility to more vulnerable road users. This means drivers with respect to bicyclists and pedestrians, and bicyclists with respect to pedestrians. And an important corollary to this answer is enforcement against those who act in an antisocial manner and refuse to accept this responsibility.

  • Joe R.

    You *can’t* reliably get people to behave a certain way 100% of the time. I don’t know why you can’t understand that. People aren’t robots. Even when they have good intentions, they’ll sometimes still make mistakes. Or have lapses of concentration. If getting people to behave properly was possible then nobody would ever die on public streets. No amount of enforcement is going to get people to observe rules all the time. And as I said, the rules themselves may not account for every contingency. Or they may make sense only when things are crowded. It’s utterly ridiculous to think rules and enforcement can make things safe. Even in Europe, which generally has a much better safety record than us, the hierarchy is infrastructure, education, and enforcement. Infrastructure should be be inherently safe. If you need to enforce people behaving a certain way to make it safe, then it’s lousy infrastructure.

    As for grade separation, they did it with the bridges in Central Park over a century ago. Bridges are very appropriate for parks. People go to parks to get away from the chaos of the city, not experience more of the same. If you’re going to have all kinds of silly rules in parks and police giving out tickets what’s the point of having parks? Engineer out the need for rules and enforcement in the first place so parks can be a pleasant place for everyone.

    Seriously, the way this city runs parks I’m all for tearing them out and building housing which would be more useful anyway.

  • Joe R.

    One other thing worth mentioning about you is you seem to stress enforcement over infrastructure both for cyclists and drivers, and you feel rules can solve every problem. You’re against solutions like grade separation, probably because they would solve all problems 100%. You wouldn’t take up parking spots for bike lanes. There would no longer be any potential for negative interactions between cyclists and drivers/pedestrians precisely because they would never encounter one another. My take on this is that you want to perpetuate the tension that exists between drivers and cyclists, cyclists and pedestrians, and drivers and pedestrians to validate your incessant posts scolding everyone’s behavior. In this way you’re no different than people like de Blasio. I don’t think de Blasio is so stupid that he can’t imagine real solutions which would work. However, perpetuating problems (and creating new ones) is what gives people like him purpose. He can then come in with some half-assed solution, like confiscating delivery people’s e-bikes, which makes him look like a hero to some, but doesn’t really do anything productive.

    You do the same thing. You invent or exaggerate problems, act as if rules/enforcement are the sole answer, then chide those who suggest more effective solutions. A handful of people have been hurt by bicycles in parks over the last decade. And it’s not even clear the cyclist was at fault in most of those cases. Yet you’re ready to make things worse for everyone with solutions which won’t even work. But rules-based solutions give you a platform to scold people, which seems to be something you enjoy. I on the other hand like to suggest things which will solve the problem 100%. Politicians usually don’t like solutions like that because their only purpose in life is to invent or perpetuate crises which validate their jobs.

  • When a law or a rule makes sense, then enforcement is not only unobjetionable but is in fact highly desireable. And requiring bicyclists to yield to crossing pedestrians makes perfect sense. Kindly stop making excuses for antisocial behaviour.

    Look, I can fantasise with the best of them. In my fantasy world, there’d be no curbside parking and we’d have an on-street speed limit of 20 miles per hour. Most car traffic would be shunted into underground tunnels, and streets would be prioritised for bicyclists as well as buses. (On top of that, everyone would learn Esperanto at school and speak it alongside their native languge(s). When I fantasise, I don’t mess around.)

    But then I come back to the real world. In the real world, there is never, ever, ever going to be grade-separated bike infrastructure anywhere in New York City. No matter how much theoretical sense you think something like that would make, it simply cannot happen in the realm of reality. So talking about it as though it is a serious proposal is absurd. (Not to mention the blight on the landscape that your particular idea of a mass of elevated bike paths would cause. Even in the fantasy world that one’s a clunker.)

    Enforcement is problematic when the law being enfoced is bad, for example, the nonsensical law requiring bicyclists to wait the full period at red lights. The solution there is to fight to change the law (which requires cultivating allies amongst lawmakers, which requires not scaring them off by causing an increase in anti-bicyclist complaints by their constituents).

    But to object to enforcement of the rule that appropriately requires us to yield to pedestrians is simply boorish.

    Furthermore, basing this objecting on the grounds that you don’t want to hit your brake on a downhill is profoundly childish and even narcissistic. Please note that there are other people in the world.

  • Joe R.

    It’s amazing how you went from my sensible suggestion of a bridge at that location to a wholesale tirade against grade separation. Even I don’t think grade-separated bike lanes on every street make sense. Just put them along major arterials where cycling at street level has many conflicts. But putting that aside, suggesting one or two bridges isn’t the same as suggesting a full-on viaduct. I never suggested such a thing for the park. I’m just suggesting bridges at a handful of a busier crossings, or at crossings where cyclists are more likely to be traveling fast. The reason is eminently sensible. It avoids conflicts in a place where there are likely to be many of them. At less busy crossings “yield to pedestrians” is eminently sensible. But when there’s a near continuous stream of both cyclists and pedestrians you have chaos unless you separate the two streams. Neither pedestrians nor cyclists are known for obeying rules. Therefore, a rules-based system just won’t work in places where the rules might well force cyclists to sit their for many minutes waiting for a bunch of people to cross (or conversely pedestrians might be waiting forever for a gap in bike traffic). Either way, people will lose their patience, and just go.

    And I learned long ago that it’s dangerous hitting brakes on downhills. A friend of mine crashed and landed in a hospital doing that. Your center of gravity is shifted forwards. That makes your rear brake close to useless. It makes the front brake very dangerous as slightly too much pressure will cause an endover. There’s no way to safely stop a bike quickly when you’re going downhill, so it’s better to not expect people to do so.

    I hope the first cyclist to crash into this obstacle sues to pants off the city so it’s the last time they try something like this. It’s fucking dangerous but you just refuse to see it. Ironically, it’s not even making things safer for pedestrians. I can see a lot of cyclists having fun thinking let’s see how fast I can shoot through that gap. When someone is crossing, they’ll have only half the room to maneuver so as to avoid them. Before they had the entire road, making a collision half as likely.

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