On Tuesday, February 28, the Prospect Park Road-Sharing Task Force unveiled its proposal to redesign the park’s 3.5-mile loop drive, turning it into a strip with more than double the space dedicated to bicycling and walking.
The proposal will rededicate one lane on the loop drive to pedestrians and another lane to bicyclists, a move that those in support say will make the park safer for everyone, and one that transportation advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives, say will give bicyclists breathing room.
Under the proposal, cars would remain in the right lane with 10 feet of space while pedestrians would gain full use of the left lane, which is currently split between cyclists and walkers during the hours of 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., when automobiles are allowed in the park.
The center lane would be rededicated solely to bicyclists, with 10 feet of space, while the pedestrian left lane would have 14 feet of roadway.
The new allotment of lanes, which could be paved as soon as late spring, comes after a series of crashes between cyclists and walkers in which injuries were nearly fatal.
“Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s backyard," said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Bicycling and walking are the two most popular uses for the park and the Task Force’s proposal recognizes that.”
Some residents are also hoping that the proposed changes would slow down the 700 automobiles that use the park each hour during the morning, allowing everyone else to use the space more freely and safely.
And others are seeking to have cars banned altogether from using the loop.
Park Slope Neighbors (PSN), another community group, is calling on the task force to implement a three-month summer trial period during which motor vehicles would be excluded from the park.
If the trial period causes traffic problems outside the park, PSN suggests going back to the drawing board. PSN’s co-founder Eric Mcclure is betting that it won’t cause any complications.
“We applaud the Task Force for taking steps to increase the safety of park users, and for doing so with deliberate care and consideration,” McClure said. “However the single biggest threat to safety in the park is the presence on the drives of speeding motor vehicles.
"The well being of the countless walkers, runners and cyclists who use Prospect Park everyday is being compromised for the sake of a tiny minority," he added, "just a few hundred drivers a day, who invariably repay the privilege of taking a shortcut through the park by stomping on the accelerator.”
Prospect Park Neighbors conducted a radar study on the park’s west drive between 5 and 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 23, which revealed that 99 percent of drivers (193 out of 195 vehicles measured discretely) were exceeding the parks 25 mph speed limit.
The study found that the average speed was nearly 39 mph, and that close to half of the drivers were driving at 40 mph or faster.
“Removing cars from the park drives should really be considered a prerequisite for solving the issue of conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians,” McClure said. “Relying on the honor system to keep drivers confined to their one lane – the same drivers who routinely and nearly universally shatter the speed limit in the park – seems like a recipe for danger.”
Joanna Oltman Smith, a Park Slope resident and activist applauded the plan but said that it does not address the major safety issue of speeding cars. She said she “wholeheartedly” supports the car-free trial.
“This park is a unique national treasure and we use it like a speedway for the convenience of a few drivers. How many roads are in New York? How many places are like Prospect Park?” she said. “ I just can't risk my kids being hit by a car driving 40 mph.”
The roadway redesign could be implemented as soon as late spring. The Road-Sharing Task Force is set to meet again to discuss feedback received from the community, and make changes if necessary.