The Prospect Park Chute
I had a chance to check out the new orange barrels that Prospect Park and DOT installed on part of the park loop in the wake of a serious collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian earlier this month. I hesitate to call say that what the Park and DOT have done is install safety measures because the jury is out on whether this particular choice will, in fact, make things safer.
As you head down the hill on West Lake Drive you will see these orange barrels and the “Pedestrian Crossing” sign on the far right. The orange barrels gradually reduce the roadway from two traffic lanes to one:
This new sign greets riders as they approach the crosswalk at the bottom of the hill. Another set of barrels form what many people at the Road Sharing Task Force’s public forum referred to as the “chute.”
I took this video on my phone on Saturday morning, hours after the larger groups of racers would normally be finished for the day:
Many of the people who spoke out last Wednesday noted that cyclists now have less room to maneuver if something goes wrong; if a pedestrian steps in front of a group of cyclists without looking, the cyclists would likely all crash into that person instead of spreading out like a flock of birds evading prey. Even if they did avoid a collision with a pedestrian, one cyclist clipping a barrel could send an entire peloton down.
Lest you be inclined to comment that fast cyclists deserve whatever injury they get, let me say that as someone who has had to suddenly avoid wayward pedestrians, soccer balls, water bottles, skateboards that have been liberated from their riders, cracked pavement, piles of horse manure, and sticks at low speeds on my commuter bike, I don’t think you have to be a high-speed racer to have the same concern. Three kids biking together could easily find themselves squeezed with no place to go but to the pavement.
Does this configuration slow cyclists down? It’s hard to say. I didn’t see too many hard-core racers while I was in the park on Saturday, but the few fast riders I did see were still riding quickly enough through this chute to cause serious injury to themselves or others in the event of a crash. Narrowing the lane further would exacerbate many of the problems and concerns I mentioned above. There’s also the little matter of cars in the park; you can only narrow the lane here so much if you still want cars to fit through.
A speaker on Wednesday also mentioned the barrels’ height as a concern, one he didn’t think Prospect Park or the DOT considered. The barrels are slightly taller than the average five- or six-year old and could possibly make it harder for cyclists and drivers to see a child about to dart across the road.
The Park also changed one important configuration for pedestrians, closing off a path that opened up onto the drive and instead directing them to use a crosswalk further down the hill.
It’s really hard to say what effect any of this will have. After all, it’s just one section of an over three-mile loop and two accidents, as horrible as they were, are statistical blips when it comes to determining overall park safety. During my casual ride around the park, I still saw plenty of pedestrians meandering in the middle of the road, parents with baby carriages crossing behind blind curves, cyclists riding in the wrong direction, and even two people tossing a football from one side of the drive to another.
The Park can’t very well put orange barrels around the entire loop, close off more pedestrian crossings with French barriers, and put signs on every available lamppost and tree. What kind of park do we want? One thing I do know is that most people, especially the people who took the effort to show up last week, want it to be car-free, no matter what the media reports may suggest.
I firmly believe that unless and until cars are banned from the park entirely, no discussion of park safety will have any serious or lasting effect. It’s completely ludicrous that the Task Force continues to debate the effects a 160-pound rider on a 25-pound bike can have on pedestrians while completely ignoring the effects of motorists of any size driving two-ton cars and trucks.