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The Taming and Reclaiming of Prospect Park West

Up until this summer, speeding was the norm on Brooklyn's Prospect Park West. With three wide lanes inviting motorists to hit the accelerator, it was a street monopolized by car traffic. That changed in a big way in June, when NYC DOT converted one vehicle lane to a two-way bikeway separated from traffic by the parking lane. Physically separated bike lanes are making New York safer for cyclists and pedestrians wherever they're installed, and this one is no exception.

The new lane feels safe and comfortable to ride on, no matter how much experience you may have as a cyclist, and it's attracting riders of all ages. For everyone walking to and from Prospect Park, the street re-design means slower cars -- compliance with the speed limit is up by a factor of five, according to a study by Park Slope Neighbors -- and safer crossings at intersections.

The transformation has been dramatic, and like any major change to the street, this one has attracted some vocal critics -- most notably Borough President Marty Markowitz.  While some opponents contend that the lane has been installed without public input, the truth is that community groups have been calling for traffic calming and safer biking on this street for years. Watch and see how the new Prospect Park West has made good on those demands.


[intro music]

Speaker: [00:07] What’s really encouraging is you see a lot of kids, you see a lot of elderly people, families, cos it shows that when you do provide these design improvements that make the street really, really safe, you get not just the intrepid, but really everyone.


Aaron Naparstek: [00:19] When you ride your bike this way you can also just see the arch. You get a sense of like when Ormstead and Box were designing the street, they probably meant for you to go this way on it so you could see this beautiful memorial.


Aja Hazelhoff: [00:30] So the lane has been actually really great as well for pedestrians because it turned a street that was three lanes dedicated to very high speed vehicles into two lanes for cars and one lane for bicycles going both north and south. And in addition, it’s provided pedestrians with a shorter crossing distance and a dedicated space for them to cross the two lanes and then watch for cyclists that are coming both ways.


Speaker: [00:57] I’ve been living in this neighbourhood since 1995. I actually work in Williams Park and I drive my car everyday back and forth. I leave at eight o’clock every morning and I come back around 6:30. I’ve had no problems parking since I’ve lived here, and I really haven’t seen any changes at all since the bike lane, you know, since the bike lane was introduced. I guess Prospect Park West used to be more of a freeway before and I think with the introduction of a new biking lane, I think speeds are somewhat down and so I think it’s a lot safer for a lot of the foot traffic.


Eric McClure: [01:29] We’ve been out with the radar gun measuring speeds on Prospect Park West. Back in March of this year we did a pre-test to see what speeds were like. The average we recorded was above the 35 miles per hour, and almost a third of cars were going 40 miles per hour or faster. We’ve been out the last two weekends doing do a post-test and have found that speeds have dropped significantly in the order of 15 to 20% reduction in average speeds. And people exceeding 40 miles per hour now maybe represent 1% of cars versus 30% before the work was done.


Speaker: [02:04] Since I ride after work, late at night and you cannot ride in Prospect Park you will get a ticket, so it’s a nice legal alternative to riding in the Park. And I can ride safely with my daughter and not have to worry about traffic, being hit by a car.


Eric McClure: [02:19] Some opponents have claimed that the floating parking lane where the cars have been moved off the curb to allow for the implementation of the bike lane causes a problem for people parking. But as you can see along the avenue, it’s like parking against the curb anywhere else. Cars manage it without a problem. There’s a buffer between the parking lane and the bike path to protect cyclists and to protect people getting in and out of cars.


Speaker: [02:45] Well I’m a relatively new biker in the city, pretty scared of cars and this bike lane is exactly what I think is good about new bike lanes. I mean I’m not scared of, you know, someone being… someone dooring me, I’m not scared of someone parking in the bike lane, pulling into the bike lane.


Eric McClure: [03:02] The bike path is getting a lot of use from cyclists. It’s a lot of families out in the path, a lot of novice riders who are taking advantage of the safety of the protected bike path. You see a lot of little kids on scooters, on bikes, sometimes with training wheels. You see rollerbladers. It’s really a space that people of all abilities as far as cycling is concerned are able to take advantage of.


Speaker: [03:29] I’m coming from Crown Heights, so I have to go through that crazy traffic circle. My heart’s beating, I feel like I’m going to get hit by a bus, and as soon as I’m on this lane it’s amazing, I feel safe, I can relax, and it’s just awesome.


Eric McClure: [03:40] People who are critical of the bike path claim that it was sprung on them in the last couple of months by the DOT, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The truth is that the community’s been asking for traffic calming on Prospect Park West, including a protected bike path, for at least four years.

[music]

http://transcriptdivas.ca/transcription-canada/

Robin Urban Smith is a multimedia storyteller who prefers to go by bike.

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  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Doug Doug

    Great job!

  • Bicycle Sheik

    Look at that beautiful screen cap of a complete street.  

    For anyone who is complaining about how much room cars aren't getting in the new config, looks to me with two rows of car parking and two travel lanes there's plenty!

  • vnm

    I love the "before" shot of a speeding SUV swerving around law-abiding motorists to run a red light.  Remind me why people supported a streetscape that condoned that type of behavior? 

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    vnm -

    Tell me about it.  Robin searched and found that 2009 shot on a tape I had shot for a Bike to Work event I was heading to.  The vehicle came with one inch of killing me - and it went by so fast.  

    I still can remember how scared I was afterwards.  Thankfully the new lane makes riding on PPW much safer.

  • steve

    too bad "advocates" don;t seem to care for the other sides of the park...i guess as long as "their" side is taken care of, they're happy

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/markwalker Mark Walker

    Beautiful. Makes me optimistic about the future of New York.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Jeff Jeff

    Makes me optimistic about the future of Prospect Park Southwest! That would really round out the "Look at how progressive our DOT is" tour to Coney Island that I make all my guests suffer through!

  • eliot

    Love the new lane! Would love even more to see it extended past Park Circle.

  • Kevin

    As much as a like to be a "I was fine riding PPW before" kind of cyclist.  
    This path is really useful.  
    I still head through the park from GAP to Parkside and Coney Island Ave.  But, now when it is after 1, I don't have to risk being ejected from the Park by the NYPD in order to have a relaxing late night ride home. 

    And yes Steve, Flatbush, Ocean and Parkside could use a lane too.  Even just a 1 way separated lane clock-wise all the way around that park would be good.  There is room on all those streets.

  • IanM

    Good stuff - the floating parking area really creates the "right" kind of bike lane in my opinion, while the unprotected ones are hardly worth the paint.
    I'm curious - has Park Slope Neighbors, or anyone else, tracked average car speeds down the hill here on 4th ave? I'd be surprised if they weren't even higher than PPW, and can't help but point out that there's plenty of room for a nice protected bike lane on each side of 4th, with plenty of space left over for cars.

  • Danny G

    Steve,

    Yes there are cultural and economic differences between Park Slope and Parkside, but that's no reason not to fight for safe streets south or east of the park. Get on your community board, reach out to your neighbors, start drawing up plans that are so thorough and well done that the DOT can't ignore it. Reach out to Park Slope Neighbors to see how they pulled it off, and steal their tactics.

  • Suzanne

    More, more, more, we want more protected bike lanes!

    I love that lane. Ride down it every night home from work. Steve, if you want to start a PPE Bike Lane group, I'll join!

    -Suzanne aka "PPW Bike Lane Fan"

  • ChrisC

    The new and improved Prospect Park West is fantastic. I can think of several other places in Brooklyn and Queens that could use similar treatment.

  • dporpentine

    Nothing but good things to say about the new lanes, though I'm still convinced the next administration will sweep them away. Poor Marty Markowitz just wants his voice heard the same as everybody else!

    And I'm all for extending lanes on every side of the park; criminy, they could just make safe, legal bike entrances and exits to the park from all sides and I'd be happier.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    In Montreal there are bike lanes like this on the perimeter of many of their parks.  No one cries about it.

  • benf

    Congratulations, Robin. You know you've arrived when the anti-bike lane folks call you a Nazi.

  • LD

    @ benf... Wow!

    "Robin Urban Smith is the Bike Lobby's Leni Riefenstahl"

    Absurd.

  • Willow

    Beautiful! I rode it today, on my way from Williamsburg over to Red Hook, and I love it. Really impressed by Brooklyn's bike lanes in general. Have not imagined in my wildest dreams to ride in this city (am from Germany originally and bike lane spoiled...).

  • steve

    do you really think it should take 3-4 different community boards, 3-4 different struggles, to get all sides of the park taken care of..or would have it been wise, and more equitable, for the DOT to take a more cohesive approach...like Jeff mentioned, a lane on ppsw would have allowed you to get all the way between GAP to Coney Island. instead that's a really odd missing link

    but again, this DOT has shown an amazing abaility to grab headlines and make already nice neighborohoods just a little bit nicer.

  • Jacob

    Steve,

    It takes time. This project had amazing community support and it still drew incredible controversy. Park Slope also had a large amount of cyclists to begin with.

    Keep up the pressure and you'll get your improvements as well.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There are a lot of those traffic counters around Windsor Terrace these days, so I believe DOT is trying to come up with a way to extend the bike route.

    I'm not sure PPSW is wide enough for the PPW treatment, particularly since it is two-way, but they may be looking to bring Prospect Avenue into it somehow.

    Perhaps the bike route would be diverted to Prospect Avenue. Or PPSW would be made one-way south/east bound, and Prospect would be made one-way north/west bound.

  • J. Jackson

    Wow. I really think/hope that @NoBikeLane is a troll; it's posts are so absurd and offensive.

    One tweet blames the bike lane for a robbery, and links to a story where no bike is mentioned.

    One tweet calls a bike lane advocate "ugly" and accuses him of only wanting publicity not actually safety.

    One empathizes with the driver of an SUV that hit a bollard, possibly saving a cyclist on the West Side Greenway.

    And now this Riefenstahl thing. Yeah, wanting a safe place to ride your bike is exactly like gassing millions of people.

    That's my cue to go back to ignoring this fool.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/wompedy Daniel Dunnam

    what a great video!

    the zealots who were at those anti-bike lane meetings really just have nothing to say to this other than call names. typical. what a bunch of ignorant dbags.

    thanks for making such a great short explaining what a wonderful asset the lane is park slope and all brooklynites!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/inwoodist inwoodist

    Hi Robin, you can take comfort in the fact that at least Leni Riefenstahl is a considered to be one of the great filmmakers (even though she tragically put her art in service of the Third Reich). I mean, hey, if someone with Leni Reifenstahl's skills wants to make livable streets films, I'm all for it!

  • Pedestrian Uno

    I think it's fine, but someone needs to police the idiots (mostly trucks & black cars) who block one of the 2 remaining lanes for vehicles. And someone still needs to teach the bikers inside the park who are lunatics and dangerous to pedestrians. And control the bikers throughout the city who ignore simple safety and traffic regulations. It's a 2 way street folks!

  • Steve F

    Stay tuned for one last real world congestion test. Next week the summer/Labor Day/Jewish New Year holiday/vacation season comes to an end. I am going to sit out on a PPW bench and watch motor traffic flows between 3 and 5 PM to see if all the cars stopped at a red light are able to clear that light on one green cycle. My observations since June are that there has been no backup delay at any of the PPW signalized intersections, period. In fact, there is usually 20-30 seconds of empty street before the next red cycle. Therefore, the car travel time from one end of PPW to the other has not changed. Only the peak auto speeds between red lights has changed, from 0-50-0 down to 0-30-0. The end to end average speed is the same. And would the world come to an end if there were an occasional backup?

    Once everyone returns to work and schools are fully reopened next week, we will see if there is any delay during the peak commute hours. I just realized that technically, extra school buses stopping should not create a bigger problem after the change from 3 lanes to two. All cars are supposed to stop for unloading school buses anyway. We will see next week.

  • Jonathan

    I just moved to PPW and 15th and as a cyclist I was thrilled to note the bike path. What a great addition. Let's hope for similar installations in the coming months all over Brooklyn.

  • ChrisCo

    As much as I've praised this project, it would still be better were the street two-way (in addition to all the changes made). One moving lane and one parking lane in each direction. That would further slow traffic down from an average of 28 MPH to probably under 25.

  • Mathiew (Poland, Warsaw)

    Lucky you! In Warsaw thare is NO bikes infrastructure at all. :(

  • Ed Pino

    We need more of these types of lanes in the city. Can Queens Blvd be next!

  • http://crankmychain.com Dan Kaufman (CrankMyChain.tv)

    Great story and video!

    All the brouhaha over parking seems absurd to me. We have better uses for our streets than subsidized vehicle storage spaces.

  • http://www.comunicar.com.br João Augusto

    Very good! excellent initiative