Prospect Park. Image Credit: Joe Buglewicz courtesy of nycgo.com.
Prospect Park’s entire loop drive will be permanently car-free as of January 2, 2018. On October 23, 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans for the closure of Prospect Park’s East Drive to vehicles. The announcement follows the success of the Park’s car-free summer when East Drive was closed from July 17 to September 11. After Labor Day weekend, a petition with over 1,100 signatures to continue the car-free program was received. The Park’s West Drive has been permanently car-free since 2015. The Park’s East Drive will be closed to vehicles on January 2, 2018.
On September 17, 2017, the East Drive reopened to vehicle traffic during morning rush hours of 7 to 9 AM. According to the Mayor’s Office, during these morning rush hours, recreational users, such as cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians, outnumber cars by more than a 3:1 ratio—1,000 recreational users compared to just 300 cars.
Early City studies of the car-free plan show almost no change in travel time for affected drivers. Alternative driving routes experienced only minimal delays during the car-free summer. In 2015, after the closure of the West Drive, the most affected alternative route had an increase of less than a minute for travel times, and some drivers actually had improved travel times. The Mayor’s press release stated, “[O]fficials are now confident a fully car-free park can be implemented without adverse impact.”
In January 2018, the Department of Transportation will closely monitor the traffic pattern changes to make any necessary adjustments, such as traffic signal timing. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg stated, “We are delighted to announce that Prospect Park will be completely car-free for the first time…cyclists, joggers and pedestrians, young and old, can rejoice year-round in a safer and quieter park.” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council Committee on Transportation, supported the effort stating, “With the expansion of bike-share programs and more bike lane miles, I am confident we can replicate this process and create more car-free areas throughout the city.” At Monday’s press conference, the Mayor described this plan as part of Vision Zero stating, “Vision Zero is about changing assumptions and making people safer.”
Danayri Sanchez, a high school junior who lives in Brooklyn and works with the Prospect Park Alliance to advocate for Park improvements, introduced the Mayor at Monday’s press conference. She stated, “Prospect Park is my backyard…it is incredible to see so many people from all over the world enjoying a beautiful and special place. I can’t think of anywhere else where you can escape the sound of traffic and crowds on the street.”
Mayor de Blasio, whose Park Slope residence is near Prospect Park, described how central the Park has been to not only his family, but all of Brooklyn. It is where the Mayor and his wife were married and their children played little league. “This is where our family grew up.” The Mayor also stated, “For some families, this is the only green space they get. This is their economic reality.” He described never feeling comfortable with cars sharing the same pathways as his playing children. The Mayor expressed that in a city where people work so hard, people need and deserve this space for tranquility.
The Park just celebrated its 150th birthday and “is part of what makes Brooklyn great.” The Park was built before the invention of cars, and thus was not built with cars in mind; “It was meant to be an oasis…It was built for people.” The Mayor stated, “This is about restoring the park to its original purpose.” This will be the first time the Park is fully car-free since the invention of the automobile.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also spoke at the press conference and stressed how important this park is to the community—”We break down barriers that prevent us from interacting right here on this field.” He also stated, “Dreams are made here…families grow in Brooklyn.” Borough President Adams described how safe and productive the neighborhood has become, citing a period of no felonies committed in the Park. He praised the Mayor for recognizing the City as one with five boroughs, and spoke of Brooklyn’s importance as an innovative part of the City and country.
Council Member Brad Lander, representative of the City’s 39th District where Mayor de Blasio once served as a Council Member, also spoke of the personal importance of the Park. Council Member Lander was overjoyed to improve the quality of the Park for all, including dogs, horses, squirrels, and cows! He mentioned Rachel Fruchter, a cyclist who was killed riding her bike in the Park in 1997. He thanked Danayri and other members of the Brooklyn community for being “stewards of the vision the fathers of Brooklyn” had for the community.
Council Member Mathieu Eugene concluded the press conference by celebrating “Brooklyn’s Backyard.” “The park is a great asset for all of us…regardless of your situation…If you want to have energy to work hard in New York City, come to the park.” Council Member Eugene declared this a health issue, and praised the Mayor for eliminating air pollution and protecting space where New Yorkers can be healthy.
Many speakers thanked Sue Donoghue, President of the Prospect Park Alliance, for her efforts to strengthen Park activities. She applauded the Mayor’s announcement and has stated, “As Brooklyn’s Backyard, it is important to do all we can to ensure the Park is a safe and tranquil destination for the millions of visitors who depend upon it for recreation and relaxation.”
By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)