A bevy of public officials gathered to mark completion of a they say turned an unused concrete wasteland into a vibrant public space.
“For too long Grand Army Plaza has been a 1.5 acre circle of traffic,” said Janette Sadik-Kahn, head of the city’s Department of Transportation. “It was something out of the Wild, Wild West.”
Because there weren’t enough crosswalks, those wanting to cross the circle had to either walk around or dodge four lanes of traffic, leaving the football-field-size park at the center largely unused.
Now, after four months of construction, there are new crosswalks and landscaped pedestrian islands to help pedestrians cross.
Bicyclists also have it easier now with a two-lane protected bike lane at the south side of the circle connecting Prospect Park West with Eastern Parkway.
And a new traffic light and clearer lane markings make it easier for drivers to navigate the circle.
The changes were marked by a number of area pols.
State Sen. Eric Adams welcomed the changes, saying there is nothing more tragic than “to have a public space that every day Brooklynites cannot use.”
"It was always difficult to navigate this space. Today it’s easy,” said Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James.
Park Slope Councilman Steve Levin praised the new access to Brooklyn’s “Arch de Triumph” and Prospect Heights Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries called the easier access to the plaza by pedestrians “a wonderful occurrence.”
This is the second set of improvement the DOT has made to the circle. In 2007, the city put in three concrete islands, five crosswalks and a protected bike lane on Plaza Street. Since then injuries at the plaza are down 40 percent, Sadik-Kahn said. Officials hope the new changes will cut them even further.
The improvements were the brainchild of the Grand Army Plaza Coaition (aka GAPCo), which formed several years ago so activists from Prospect Heights and Park Slope could make their shared circle more useable.
While Grand Army Plaza’s design was Prospect Park designers Olmsted and Vaux’s “brilliant solution” to how to connect the park with the major thoroughfare that ran next to it, in the 20th Century, the solution has become less effective, said Robert Witherwax, GAPCo’s coordinator.
“The balance between street and park tipped in favor of street,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do over the years was tip it back.”
"It's fantastic," said Michael Cairl, president of the Park Slope Civic Council and a GAPCO member said before the event. "I see more people walking through because now they can do it safely."
This morning the plaza had several people sitting on benches, and a steady stream of walkers, bikers and joggers crossing through.
Several people said they've walked through the plaza for years and that the improvements haven't made an appreciable difference to them. But others called the changes huge.
Valerie Narbut, a Park Slope nanny said that since new crosswalks were put in, she takes her two young charges to the plaza at least once a week.
“She loves it,” she said, gesturing to the toddler at her side. “She says, ‘I want to go to the fountain, I want to go to the fountain.”
Michelle Tate, a photographer from Prospect Heights, said she used to walk around the plaza, but now walks through it nearly every day.
“It’s such a pleasure," she said, "to actually cross the street without fear of getting knocked down by a car."