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Grand Army Plaza: Now For People as well as Cars

New bike lane, crosswalks and more create the public space Olmsted and Vaux intended, officials said at a ceremony this morning.

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." 

Eric McClure November 09, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Kudos to GAPCo, NYCDOT, and elected officials who lent their support to the transformation of Grand Army Plaza. The new design is a giant leap forward for the safety and convenience of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
Anne K. November 10, 2011 at 01:10 AM
I love this new design. SOOOOO much safer and easier to get across and around. When will they add the bike lane on Plaza Street?!?
Amy Sara Clark November 10, 2011 at 02:44 AM
Anne, sorry to say as of now there are no plans for a two-way bike lane on plaza street http://prospectheights.patch.com/articles/new-bike-lane-traffic-light-and-more-for-grand-army-plaza
Alexa November 10, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Why won't there be a bike lane on Plaza? Because of those people in NBBL? What jerks.
Amy Sara Clark November 10, 2011 at 10:56 PM
Alexa, to clarify, there already is a one-way bike lane on Plaza Street, but your point remains valid because people want a two-lane protected lane.
Peter November 10, 2011 at 11:35 PM
The only flaw, as it stands in the GAP design, is that lack of a 2-way leg. As a cyclist, there is no safe & legal way to get from the North end of the PPW bike lane to Union Street, Berkeley, or St. Johns Place. It's a little absurd to expect that cyclists will bike all the way around GAP rather than go 200 yards against traffic. There aren't any other alternatives at the moment. At some point, it'll have to be built, so why not just build it now?

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