Jan. 2, 2018
BROOKLYN, N.Y. —New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that Prospect Park’s entire loop drive will be permanently car-free for the first time since the inception of the automobile.
The park is used by cyclists, walkers, and other recreational users on a regular basis. On spring and summer weekend mornings, bike races are held on the loop. But the presence of cars there has always been a danger and a hindrance. Prospect Park safe usage has been a lightening rod for cyclists and pedestrians for years, with at least one very well known fatality to mar its history and spur residents to anger, that of Dr. Rachel Fruchter in 1997.
Now peace is finally here.
Today’s change was first announced in October 2017, and came as a direct response to the success of the park’s first car-free summer trial last year. The car-free hours received enormous support from the park’s recreational users, who had outnumbered cars by more than 3-1 during peak morning hours.
“Prospect Park holds a very special place in my family’s history,” said de Blasio. “Today, we are providing a great new year’s gift…Now as a safe refuge that has permanently removed cars, the park can expect to see even more people enjoying walking, jogging and bicycling on its beautiful loop road.”
Even Citibike dedicates a whole page on its website to cycling in the Brooklyn-based park (see photo). There are other special, delicate creatures living in the park, namely the inhabitants of the Prospect Park Zoo, and there is little reason they should be living in a fume-inhaling environment (see photo of three such occupants below).
Prior to today, Prospect Park’s East Drive had been open to traffic during weekday morning rush hour, between 7 and 9 am. The summer car-free trial proved popular with the park’s walkers, joggers, and cyclists, who during peak season, outnumber cars during morning rush hours by 1,000 to just 300.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was also on hand to ring in the change. “We are delighted in this new year to announce that Prospect Park is now completely and permanently car-free,” she said. “..Young and old, will be able to rejoice year-round in a safer and quieter park.”
Bike racing has been going on in the park for years. Charlie Issendorf is the current director of racing for the NYC Bike Racing series that takes place from March through August in the wee hours of the morning. The races were sponsored last year by law firm Lucarelli and Castaldi, and the bike clothing manufacturer, Castelli.
After Labor Day weekend, New York City received petitions with more than 1,100 signatures calling for the full-time car-free hours for the entire park. In October, the Mayor announced the permanent car-free change as part of Brooklyn City Hall in Your Borough.
“The permanent removal of traffic from the park, this masterpiece of urban greenery will now be cleaner, safer, more open, and more beautiful,” added NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver.
DOT found that during the summer-car free trial, traffic on alternate routes outside of the park was only marginally affected. The agency concluded that when combined with improvements to signal timing and turn lanes, adverse effects of a car-free park on nearby streets could be minimized.
After the park’s West Drive went car-free in June 2015, the most affected alternative southbound evening rush hour route saw an increased travel time of less than a minute, while other afternoon drivers actually saw travel times improve.
DOT coordinated the transition to a car-free Prospect Park with NYC Parks and the Prospect Park Alliance. Drivers have been advised of the change by variable message boards posted at the Park Circle entrance of the park for the last three weeks. As the car-free hours take effect, DOT will closely monitor traffic to better accommodate traffic pattern changes, as well as implement additional changes if necessary.
“A new year means a new chapter for Prospect Park, a chapter that once and for all has permanently removed cars from Brooklyn’s backyard,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “I applaud all of the incredible community members whose years of advocacy have translated into action. It is a pleasure to be part of this meaningful decision that will advance safety and serenity in this signature park.”
“Parks are spaces designed for family recreation and individual leisure. The flow of vehicles in Prospect Park interrupts the peace of park visitors while increasing the level of greenhouse emissions and pedestrian crashes,” said Council Chair of the Committee on Transportation, Ydanis Rodríguez. “Having Prospect Park free of vehicles will keep the park’s visitors safer and more protected than ever before.”