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Prospect Park Safety

November 14, 2011

Today, the Emily Lloyd, the Prospect Park Alliance President and Prospect Park Administrator, announced a series of safety initiatives in the wake of a two very serious cyclist/pedestrian incidents.

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.

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12 Comments
  1. Mike permalink
    November 14, 2011 10:18 pm

    Surprised you didn’t suggest the most obvious solution, which is to remove one car lane. The traffic volumes don’t justify more than one lane for cars. By reclaiming the second lane, we could have a full-time bike lane, which would mean that the markings could make sense around the clock. It would also have a major traffic-calming effect by reducing jockeying, passing, etc.

    • Billytall permalink
      November 15, 2011 11:57 am

      So glad you brought this up. I just moved to Louisville, where there are a ton of Olmstead parks and they are all one car lane, one really wide rec lane. Granted, L’ville and NYC are very different, but it surprised me that no one had ever brought this up as an option, had always heard 2 lanes or car free.

  2. November 14, 2011 10:34 pm

    Ah, the most obvious solution and I missed it. Good call. I may add it to my list for Wednesday night.

  3. November 15, 2011 9:12 am

    These are great suggestions. One thing I would like to see is for responsibility for crashes to be legally placed on the operators of faster moving vehicles, by default. I’m always amazed at serious bicycle crashes like these; it is not difficult to ride without endangering others, unless you are only thinking about yourself. People should know that hitting someone will cause them some unpleasant legal headaches, at a minimum.

    This principle also applies to motorcycles and automobiles, which is why it won’t be instituted in America without years of bitter debate and many tales of spritely pedestrians leaping out of the bushes. But even in this country I do believe we’re headed back to a world where it is not acceptable to crash a fast-moving vehicle into the young, the elderly, the pregnant, or even the distracted.

  4. Mike permalink
    November 15, 2011 9:52 am

    The reduction to one lane, by the way, is what they’ve done with orange barrels at the downhill. If it’s good enough to do there, why not do it everywhere, and without the ugly barrels?

    • BkBiker permalink
      November 15, 2011 10:08 am

      Actually I think what they’ve done (although I purposely avoided the area this morning), is to merge the bicycles with whatever motor-vehicle traffic there is in the morning (when the park is closed to cars), and the full brunt of the afternoon commute (when the park is open to cars). Should be interesting this afternoon.

      • November 15, 2011 11:04 am

        If that’s true then that’s all the more reason to reduce the speed limit for all vehicles. We don’t need bikes traveling at 10 – 20 mph mixing with cars traveling at 30 – 40 mph.

      • Mike permalink
        November 15, 2011 12:33 pm

        No, that’s not true. There’s one set of barrels that merges the two car lanes into one, and another set that separates the car lane from the bike/ped lanes.

  5. PParkRunnerCyclist permalink
    November 15, 2011 10:01 am

    The problem of placing responsibility on cyclists in bike-ped crashes is that the pedestrian is sometimes at fault. I will not venture to guess what percentage of the time. But, as a cyclist and a pedestrian, the only times I find myself in trouble are when I less-than-carefully walk into a roadway, or when I’m cycling and someone does the same. It is surprising how many grown adults have forgotten the only rule for crossing the road: “Look both ways.” I can also tell you that as a cyclist, we REALLY REALLY don’t want to crash. Seriously. It’s really scary, and even though it might not make the news, the cyclist often gets the worst of it.

    I agree with brooklynspoke’s thesis that it’s ambiguity causing a lot of the problems. The loop is 100% designed for automobile traffic, and yet only has automobile traffic a small percentage of the time. It just doesn’t make any sense, and people don’t know what to do or what is expected of them.

  6. NBBLer permalink
    November 15, 2011 11:12 am

    Kinda shows the aburdity of NBBL’s suggestion to move the bike lane inside the park, doesn’t it! If there’s this kind of confusion already, why not add on top of that two-way bike traffic and limited access points to PPW? Yeah, that would work!

  7. November 15, 2011 12:45 pm

    =v= It’s long past time for a carfree Prospect Park.

    I remember when Transportation Alternatives and the Prospect Park Alliance collaborated on a wallet card to explain where to walk, bike, etc. It was two cards, folded over, with tiny print on both sides! All these points of conflict and complicated rules for same could be eliminated along with the cars.

    It’s a park, not a drive-thru.

  8. Brooklynite permalink
    November 16, 2011 11:56 pm

    If you got the cars out of the park, you could also do some really nice things to the plaza area in front of the park where the green market currently resides on weekends. Take a good look next time you’re there. So much of that park entrance space gobbled up and made ugly by what is, essentially, highway infrastructure guiding motorists out of the GAP maelstrom and straight into the park.

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