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Brooklyn Pols: Fix Grand Army Plaza and Make it Safer

Damn imagine if this bike lane on Plaza Street West had some actual protection on it. Photo: Dave Colon

They want to make Grand Army grand again.

A pair of Brooklyn elected officials are asking the Department of Transportation to improve the central plaza of the borough for pedestrians and cyclists by adding more protected bike lanes, installing speed bumps on the east side of the traffic circle, fixing the way traffic signals line up and generally sprucing up the area by finishing capital work that stalled during the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter by Council Members Crystal Hudson and Shahana Hanif notes that even though the city made forward-thinking changes to Grand Army Plaza in 2011, including adding additional pedestrian space and protected bike lanes near the entrance to Prospect Park, residents and travelers still need more.

"Local community groups have since raised the alarm regarding traffic safety issues and urged DOT to make initial improvements, including but not limited to installing two speed bumps on Plaza Street East, protected bike infrastructure, and harmonizing walk signals along Eastern Parkway and Plaza Street East," the Brooklyn lawmakers wrote.

The two Council members, whose districts overlap at Grand Army Plaza, also asked the DOT to immediately start a comprehensive traffic study for the area in order to find the best ways to bring some fixes in the neighborhood around the Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch, where more than 1,500 people live and many more cyclists and pedestrians use as a key route. Hudson and Hanif pointed to a 2019 survey of local residents, in which respondents identified traffic and volume and noise as their biggest concerns in the car-choked traffic circle.

"The area is in a state of disrepair — defined by endless traffic, poor sidewalk conditions, broken benches, and overflowing trash cans and litter," they wrote in the letter. "Notably, the site has seen numerous pedestrian injuries and crashes in recent years, including a 2021 incident in which a woman and her 1-year-old son were hit by a car at the intersection of Plaza Street West and Berkeley Place. In the past five years, 89 people have been injured at Grand Army Plaza, including 19 cyclists and 12 pedestrians."

In addition to the crashes that have caused injuries, there have also been 206 non-injury causing crashes around the allegedly traffic-tamed plaza between 2017 and 2021. Local activists who have been petitioning for safer conditions at Grand Army Plaza also said it was time for an update.

"There is a major safety gap at GAP and the current design doesn't serve anyone," said Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn Organizer Kathy Park Price. "In addition to the support of Council Members Hudson and Hanif, 2,000 neighbors have signed our #SaferGrandArmy petition urging the DOT to conduct a comprehensive traffic study now. Making pedestrian and cycling-friendly changes are long overdue to remove conflicts and improve safety."

The letter from the Brooklyn Council members is just the latest missive in a long-running effort to turn Grand Army Plaza from a car-first dystopia into an actual grand park entrance in front of Prospect Park. As far back as 2007, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition was holding workshops asking neighborhood residents and other interested parties how to best remake the area, which once devoted all of its street space to moving automobiles around the circle and into Prospect Park before it was car-free. Starting in 2011, the city made massive upgrades to the area including pedestrian islands on the north side of the plaza, protected bike lanes in front of the park entrance, painting the bus lane on the west side of the inner ring road and painted pedestrian bumpouts on the east side of the inner ring road.

However, a protected bike lane initially proposed for Plaza Street East and Plaza Street West was downgraded to a painted bike lane in the final plan, a decision that has constantly allowed drivers to put cyclists risk by forcing them into traffic and injure them by driving through the bike lane. And even with the concrete island between the Brooklyn Public Library and the pedestrian plaza in front of Prospect Park, pedestrians constantly get stranded standing between northbound and southbound traffic on Flatbush Avenue because of improper signal timing.

A spokesperson for the DOT said that the agency would review the letter, and will be meeting with residents around the Grand Army Plaza area later in May.

"As noted, DOT has done a lot of work in the area, we will review the letter and look forward to a meeting later this month with the community to discuss future work," the spokesperson said.

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