‘Apolline’s Garden’ is a Go, DOT Commissioner Says

The proposed design for the Apolline's Garden plaza, which DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez (inset) says he will make a reality.
The proposed design for the Apolline's Garden plaza, which DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez (inset) says he will make a reality.

It was a “garden” party.

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez confirmed on Tuesday night that a Brooklyn roadway where a 3-month-old girl was killed in her stroller by a reckless driver in September will be converted into a public plaza, pushing aside the parochial concerns of car owners who will no longer be able to use curbside space to park six vehicles for free.

Rodriguez made his comments at a virtual meeting of the Vanderbilt Avenue Block Association, which has been fighting to convert the stub end of one-way Gates Avenue between Vanderbilt Avenue and Fulton Street into “Apolline’s Garden,” a car-free plaza that will block future drivers from traveling the wrong way up Gates — as Tarik Mott allegedly did on Sept. 11, 2021, when he killed Apolline Mong-Guillemin and critically wounded her mother after slamming into another car.

“Traffic violence is a solvable crisis and I’m committed to carrying out Mayor’s Adams’s safety vision [by] expanding pedestrian plazas and open streets,” Rodriguez said. “The proposed plaza will provide much-needed space. … I am committed to working with you to make sure that the plaza that you’ve been fighting for so many years a reality.”

In case there was any doubt, DOT later tweeted that the proposed “Apolline’s Garden” is “slated to become a new NYC Plaza.”

Rodriguez’s comments came hours after the Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair, Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, took a bold (and surprising) stance against car culture and lent her support to the effort by block association president, and former Democratic District Leader, Renee Collymore.

“It is imperative that we unify behind this incredible initiative to create a safer environment to preserve generations of families to come,” Bichotte wrote in a letter of support. “There is no doubt that the creation of Apolline’s Garden is the appropriate answer to honor the short life of this 3-month-old baby, who will never have a chance to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher or otherwise. … I ask the entire borough of Brooklyn to band together in order to protect our streets from speeding cars, so that we may save lives.”

Collymore has been under fire from some of her car-owning neighbors, whom she recently described as “a small, car-owning minority [that] has defiantly seized the curbside, which is public space, to park six cars.”

On Tuesday, she celebrated the hard work.

“I am just happy for our community of neighbors,” she said. “Safe streets is an issue that affects everyone and we must continue to do the work to protect our local areas from tragedy, especially, by reckless driving. … We need more folks in government to voice their support. [But] just to know that we all got it done together is enough for me.”

It is unclear what design will be settled on, though community residents have put forward a plan created by Mike Lydon, who lives in the neighborhood. The genius of the proposal is that it uses the existing DOT toolkit for creating neighborhood plazas, and does not required extensive capital costs.

Rodriguez said the plan was a part of Mayor Adams’s embrace of Transportation Alternatives’ NYC 25X25 plan to repurpose 25 percent of space currently set aside for the movement and/or storage of cars for pedestrians and cyclists by 2025.

“In order to make big changes in society, we can’t change only laws, but we have to change the culture,” he said.

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