Some Thoughts on Prospect Park
When the Prospect Park Road Sharing Taskforce announced its proposal for a new design of the Park Loop (note: can we please all stop calling it the Drive?) I mostly held off from rendering my judgement until after I attended the public forum, held last night at the Picnic House. I figured it was worth waiting to see what other details emerged at the presentation.
Overall, my feeling is that the design is a step in the right direction. Anything that reduces the effects of cars in the park is worthwhile, even if it’s not the full-on ban on cars that many advocates, neighborhood residents, and other interested parties had hoped the Taskforce would at least recommend. Sadly, such a recommendation was not part of the proposals last night. (More on that later in this post.)
Still, there are many reasons to like this design. A few, in my mind, are:
- It can be implemented almost immediately, hopefully reducing the likelihood of injuries to park users just as quickly.
- The design reflects the fact that the vast majority of people experience the park on foot or by bike, and not behind the wheel of the car.
- Pavement markings will be more clear. No longer will symbols reflect the minority of time when cars are allowed in the park. Instead they will reflect the majority of time when they are not.
- Reducing motorists to a single lane limits opportunities for speeding by motorists and eliminates their ability to weave in and out of multiple lanes. (Provided they are driving behind a slow “lead car.”)
- The design sends a strong message to drivers: you are guests here. Please remember your place.
I’ll dive into a few nitpicky details later–there’s too much emphasis on outreach and enforcement, for example, and cyclists will soon have to stop for all red lights, which is not going to work on a number of levels–but for now I wanted to address what Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors has elegantly labeled, “the S.U.V. in the room.”
Emily Lloyd, the Park Administrator, said that the idea of banning cars from the park was taken “off the table,” which came as a shock to the ninety-nine people–out of one hundred–who voiced their support for a car-free park at November’s hearing. It was also something that was stated by speaker after speaker at the Picnic House last night.
In the Times, Lloyd mentioned that the Taskforce “did not see this as an issue of cars in the park,” but, that, of course, is 100% wrong. The reason the pavement markings are currently as confusing as they are is precisely because they are designed for the four hours every day that cars are in the park. The reason we are having conversations about what cyclists and pedestrians should do at traffic lights is because of traffic lights that were installed to accommodate car traffic. Indeed, nearly every element of the Taskforce’s proposed design change grows directly out of the decision to allow cars in the park. I found Lloyd’s black-and-white stance that even a trial ban is not in the cards right now to be a complete misreading of public sentiment as well as a failure in her duty as a steward of what, it should not need repeating, is a park. As Brooklyn resident Hilda Cohen said last night, when she tried describing to her son why cars are allowed in the park she realized that “the idea of cars in the park makes about as much sense as cars in the kitchen.”
The choice is not between either banning cars from the park permanently or taking the idea of a ban “off the table” altogether. In a way, Lloyd missed a perfect opportunity to serve as an ally for the people who, after two public meetings and decades of advocacy, overwhelmingly favor a car-free park. Plus, she could have done it without the burden of actually having to do anything. All it would have taken was a simple statement: “The current proposal allows us to address safety concerns immediately while allowing DOT to explore the possibility of further limiting cars in the park in the future.”
Is closing the park to cars a political football? You bet it is. Council Member Brad Lander mentioned publicly that banning cars in the park would ignite a “culture war.” But that’s for the politicians like Lander, Marty Markowitz, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Mayor Bloomberg to sort out and for our conflict-driven media to cover. The Prospect Park Road Sharing Taskforce’s duty was not to consider politics, but to consider one thing and one thing only: safety. Being able to enjoy a stroll or a bike ride in a park without worrying about getting hit by a car racing at 53 miles per hour should not be a political issue.*
*From a recent Park Slope Neighbors study of car speeds in the park:
Park Slope Neighbors conducted a radar study on the park’s West Drive, about 100 feet northwest of the Prospect Park Lake, on Thursday, February 23, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., when cars are permitted in the park. The study revealed that a shocking 99% of drivers (193 out of 195 vehicles measured discretely) were exceeding the park’s 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, averaging nearly 39 MPH. Close to half of drivers (45.6%) were driving at 40 MPH or faster, and PSN recorded a top speed of a highway-like 53 MPH.