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Parking or Parkland? Brooklyn Judges Could Lose their Perk

Columbus Park should live up to its name, not parking, one lawmaker said.

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

Car seat of power: This parking lot reserved for court judges at Borough Hall is steps from several subway stops.

The redesign of the park around Brooklyn Borough Hall could finally lead to the eviction of cars owned by entitled court judges under a plan being put forward by local electeds and local leaders. 

Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Council Member Lincoln Restler, and business leaders presented ideas for a new Columbus Park at a community meeting at Borough Hall on Monday night, including designs that would do away with the car storage for the judiciary elite at the corner of Joralemon and Adams streets.

In addition to removing the car seat of power, the boosters hope to replace the plaza's mostly stone pavers and fenced off lawns with more open greenery, playgrounds, a skatepark and restrooms.

“We really need to consider putting cars someplace else,” said Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.

The pols began thinking last year about ways to make the space in the heart of America's Downtown more attractive to residents and visitors, and they emphasized the proposals are still in their early stages, but the four "approaches" architects at WXY presented swapped out the small parking lot with a lawn, playground, a kiosk, or restrooms.

None of these proposals retains the parking lot for judges at the bottom left corner of Columbus Park. Photo: Kevin Duggan

“We’re eager to hear from community members about how they think that space could be best utilized,” Restler told Streetsblog at the meeting. “Parks should be for people, not for parking.”

Residents at the brainstorming session agreed, saying the legal eagles should just use one of the many private parking lots in the area if they choose to drive to one of the most transit-rich area's of the city — a spot at the confluence of the 2, 3, 4, 5, F, R, A and C trains and a few steps from the G.

“[The parking lot] is a waste. I think a lot of us actually resent it,” said Ben Baxt, an architect and longtime Cobble Hill resident. “Why should they be able to drive up to their front door when most of the world can’t? I think it's a vestige of another era of privilege that should be done away with and should be returned to the public.”

At eight acres, Columbus Park is little larger than Union Square, but unlike the Manhattan space, the Brooklyn park is underused beyond a twice-weekly farmers market and as a popular, albeit unofficial, skateboard spot.

“This is the center of Brooklyn and when you walk up to it, the building is gorgeous, but we could be doing better,” Reynoso said. 

The Borough Hall steps have become especially popular among skaters in recent years and one boarder hoped any new design would keep a space for them.

"We’re trying to get like a plaza-esque spot for us to skate here for the Brooklyn community, but at the same time not push people out," said Tamanda Msosa, a co-founder of a local skating collective who also goes by "Ghost."

Skater Tamanda Msosa, who also goes by "Ghost" hoped the redesign will keep space for skaters. Photo: Kevin Duggan

The proposals look at improving the streets around the park as well, which are wide arteries of car traffic and one of the borough’s hotspots for illegal placard parking. 

Adams Street could get a center-running protected bike lane to better connect to the Brooklyn Bridge. 

A protected bike lane on Adams Street would give cyclists safe passage of the highway-like road leading up to the Brooklyn Bridge.Rendering: WXY

The city could also expand sidewalks, narrow roads, and add bus lanes on roads around the plaza like Tillary, Court, and Joralemon streets. Underused Johnson Street could even become a pedestrianized space, according to the renderings.

The streetscape around Borough Hall could do with more space for pedestrians, bikes, and buses.Map: WXY

The area next to Borough Hall used to be a dense grid overshadowed by elevated train tracks, but after those rails came down, master builder Robert Moses razed the area in the 1950s under the guise of slum clearance to make room for a grand plaza and civic center.

The Lindsay administration renamed the southern half of Cadman Plaza after Christopher Columbus in 1971, and locals have more recently tried to remove a statue of the explorer outside the courthouses due to his history of atrocities against indigenous people.

The Brooklyn electeds plan to incorporate the public feedback into a proposal for the city, but they don't have a timeline for when the overhaul might happen, Reynoso said.

A state courts spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

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