Prospect Park Safety
Prospect Park Administration and the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) are taking steps taken to ensure the safe enjoyment of the Park Drives by everyone. In an effort to slow cyclists at crosswalks and remind them to yield to pedestrians, DOT has introduced a pilot program on Prospect Park’s West Drive between Center Drive and Wellhouse Drive:
- Orange traffic barrels have been placed along the drive, narrowing the right lane of vehicle/cycling traffic into one lane. The narrower travel lane is expected to both slow traffic and alert drivers and riders to the upcoming pedestrian crossing.
- In addition, signs have been posted to alert cyclists that the intersection of West Drive and Wellhouse Drive (near Vanderbilt Playground) is a pedestrian crossing, as well as to remind pedestrians to use the crosswalk.
- This week, DOT will be placing a high visibility crosswalk at the intersection.
- NYPD is planning roving enforcement of yield-to-pedestrian laws as well.
While I don’t question the need for safety enhancements or the efficacy of narrowing of travel lanes from two to one, I do wonder about some of these proposals. I don’t think the park needs more signs, since if you’re the type of cyclist who speeds around the loop in a peloton and screams at walkers and slower riders to get out of the way, I doubt you’re going to heed signs at the top of a hill alerting you to the presence of crosswalks at the bottom. I am also afraid that the last item on the list will simply be a license for NYPD to ticket cyclists, even those who are at no risk of causing harm to others. (Will the stalwart stewards of the park’s aesthetic legacy have anything to say about a bunch of orange barrels lining parts of the drive? Don’t hold your breath.)
There’s a big thing missing from this list, the elephant in the room that no seems to want to deal with once and for all. That elephant is the presence of cars in the park. Of course, it’s not just speeding vehicles that cause problems for park users. Cars’ deleterious effects are felt even when drivers are not allowed to use Prospect Park as a rush-hour short cut. Traffic signs and road markings confuse park drive users during the 16 hours each weekday and 40 hours each weekend that it is closed to automobiles. That confusion, in turn, is the source of many of the conflicts currently playing out between cyclists and pedestrians.
While it may be politically unfeasible, at least for now, to completely eliminate cars in the park, I think there are ways to both reduce their number and decrease the negative effects they have on park users at all hours of the day. Here are my proposals:
- Lower the speed limit for drivers from 25 miles per hour to 15. As has been documented in Central Park, most drivers in Prospect Park travel at 30 to 40 miles per hour, coming dangerously close to cyclists, joggers, pedestrians, dog walkers, and others squeezed into the narrow “recreation” lane. Prospect Park can’t very well ask cyclists to not go 20 or 25 miles per hour down a hill when drivers routinely break those speeds in violation of the law. Even if there’s no enforcement, if lowering the posted speed limit to 15 mph for automobiles has the effect of reducing speeds to the current limit of 25 that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
- Lower the speed limit for maintenance and non-emergency vehicles to 10 miles per hour at all times. This would have two effects. First, any park vehicles using the drives during the hours in which cars are allowed would serve as pace cars for the rest, setting the tone for all drivers. Second, when the park is closed to general automobile traffic these vehicles ought to be traveling at speeds that mix well with pedestrians and cyclists. Any NYPD vehicles or ambulances driving faster than 10 or 15 miles per hour should only do so in response to an emergency and should also be required to have sirens and flashing lights on. This is something the powers that be at the Parks Department and Prospect Park could institute immediately.
- Charge for parking. There is absolutely no reason why Prospect Park should be giving away parking in the middle of one of Olmsted and Vaux’s greatest treasures, yet this is exactly what happens every day at Wollman Rink as cars enter and must cross the loop to reach the rink’s lot. I understand that people need to bring sporting equipment or other gear into the park and that this need will only increase once the rink reopens, but many people have long managed to do this without vehicles. (Wollman Rink has actually been closed for months due to construction and yet people were still able to get to the park all summer.) To encourage people to leave the car at home, parking should be priced to make it comparable with the cost of three or four round-trip subway fares. In fact, the reopening of the rink presents a unique opportunity to introduce some form of priced parking.
I’m sure many people will decry scofflaw cyclists, weekend warriors, Lance wannabes, texting pedestrians, and iPod-deaf joggers at this Wednesday’s Road Sharing Taskforce public forum, but I hope everyone can come to that meeting with a healthy dose of perspective. I jog in Prospect Park, I train on my road bike there, and I ride with my daughter on the back of my commuter bike when we visit the zoo. Many other people also experience the park in many different ways and hope to experience Brooklyn’s giant backyard as Olmsted and Vaux intended: free of automobiles.