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Proposal to Ban Cars from Prospect Park Met With Support, Fears of Traffic Snarls

Many area residents interviewed said they supported the ban, but most of the pols remained cautious until a traffic study could be completed.

Cars may no longer roam the roadways of Prospect Park, if one city councilmember has her way.

Councilwoman Gail Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, introduced a bill banning cars from the main loops of Prospect and Central parks during all times yesterday.

“People are using these parks by the millions,” Brewer said, adding, “I’m a big believer that without the cars you have more pedestrian safety, bicycle safety and air safety."

The proposal that got favorable support from most Prospect Heights-area groups and residents interviewed, but a more cautious response from pols concerned about increased traffic in surrounding neighborhoods.

Cars would still be able to enter on Ocean Avenue and drive to the Wollman Rink parking lot under the legislation, a spokesman for Brewer's office said. They would also still be able to cross Central park on the East-West roads.

Brewer’s proposal is a re-introduction of a 2006 bill, which made it as far as a Transportation Committee hearing. But it was withdrawn after Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a compromise of banning cars all times but rush hour: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Prospect Park, and a longer rush hour period in Central Park. 

 But rush hour is also primetime for joggers, bikers and other people enjoying the park, and Transportation Alternatives and other groups have been pushing for years for a total ban. 

"Central and Prospect parks are New Yorkers' back yards and just like someone with a house, we don't want highways driving through our back yards,” Transportation Alternative’s executive director, Paul Steely White, said in a written statement.

Others support the ban for environmental reasons.

Anne-Katrin Titze, a New York State licensed wildlife rehabilitator who visits the park often during morning rush hour, said the bill would highlight how "fragile the park's environmental conditions are."

“The trees, and lake, and the birds who inhabit them, are impacted negatively by the exhaust fumes,” she said.

Prospect Park spokesman Eugene Patron said via e-mail that park officials are "always willing to consider anything that benefits the community and our parks."  

Community Board 6, which includes Park Slope, has been in support of closing Prospect Park to cars for a six-month trial period since the idea was floated in the 1990s. But Community Boards 14 and 7, which cover the Windsor Terrace and Ditmas Park  have both raised objections because of traffic concerns, said Craig Hammerman, Community Board 6’s district manager. Prospect Heights’ Community Board 8, has not taken an official position.

Area pols were also mixed on the proposal. 

While Prospect Heights Councilwoman Letitia James said she’s for the ban, others said they would reserve judgement until more about the effects on traffic were known.

“I would love, ideally, to close all our parks to vehicular traffic, but I don’t want to do it in a manner that would put the surrounding communities into an environmental or traffic shock,” said state Sen. Eric Adams, whose district includes Prospect Park and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Chris Owens, the district leader for the 52nd district, which includes parts of Prospect Heights and Park Slope, agreed. “I’m a park user, but I think people who live around the park do deserve some consideration. We don’t want to make Grand Army Plaza anymore of a parking lot than it already is.”

Asked about the traffic impact, Brewer said studies indicate closing the loops won’t have much of an effect.

“Traffic is terrible all the time. I don’t think it would be any worse,” she said.

Danae Oratowski, chairwoman of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, agreed.

“The traffic issue needs to be considered, but there is going to be so much more traffic on our streets because of Atlantic Yards that it’s really crucial to protect the quiet, open spaces that we have,” said she said.

Park users interviewed were generally in favor of the proposal.

Eleanor Celmer, a 19-year-old trail guide from Kensington Stables said that although the horse trials are off-road, she has to cross the loop several times during a ride.

“It does get scary sometimes,” she said, adding, “I’m not sure what it will do to traffic outside the park but it will certainly be much nicer in the park.”

Isadora Alteon, who is also 19 and a barista at Dean Street Café, said she often takes her 12-month-old goddaughter to the park after work.

“It’s hard enough with the stroller, and to walk around with people running at night. But with cars it’s a different kind of a worry,” she said.

But Rachael Nemeth, a 24-year-old stay-at-home mom of a toddler who recently moved from Prospect Heights to Bed-Stuy, used to jog in the park about three times a week and didn’t mind the cars.

“I never considered it an inconvenience,” she said.

Mike Fagan March 25, 2011 at 12:27 AM
Actually, after the change, the ambulances would be able to speed down the park road, unimpeded by other vehicles. But 8th avenue may see some more traffic during rush hours, because the traffic that used to take the park drive will now take it.
Chicken Underwear March 25, 2011 at 10:19 AM
How about we try it for 2 weeks and see if it is the end of the world on PPSW.
Elena March 25, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Park space is so rare in this city, to let cars travel through our parks has always seemed silly (and, dangerous) to me. Taking cars permanently out of the two major parks in NYC would do a lot for our city's health, well-being, and residents' happiness. I'm all for it!
Tyler March 26, 2011 at 02:56 AM
This is absolutely the stoopidest argument on this thread. Sorry, but it is. I really hope you were being sarcastic.
Sophie Thiele March 31, 2011 at 12:00 PM
What a gift this would be. The presence of car traffic in the park at peak recreational use time is just so sad, even when drivers go slowly and carefully (many don't). This is the only place the community has to get away from the din and rush of city life; everywhere else, cars and trucks dominate. I drive a car in Brooklyn, and I hate being stuck in traffic as much as the next person. But I wouldn't dream of taking the noisy, smelly thing into the green oasis of Prospect Park!

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