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Meet the Disabled Runner on a Mission to Get Cars Banned from Prospect Park

 Marathoner Michael Ring can't run anymore, so he's devoting his time to banning cars from Prospect Park.
Meet the Disabled Runner on a Mission to Get Cars Banned from Prospect Park
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PARK SLOPE — A temporarily paralyzed marathoner is devoting himself to a new goal: getting cars out of Prospect Park once and for all.

Michael Ring, 51, recently launched an online petition on Change.org calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to ban vehicles from Brooklyn's backyard, a quest that activists started more than 20 years ago.

Cars are only allowed in one lane on the park's 3.35-mile loop road during rush hour on weekdays, but Ring says even those limited hours are too much. Cars share the loop road with cyclists, runners and stroller pushers, and spoil the oasis for other users, Ring said.

“It’s not that many cars and they're all ruining it for everyone else,” said Ring, who logged thousands of miles running in the park before a bout last year with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which temporarily paralyzed his legs. He's now in slow recovery and hopes to run again one day.

Ring's signature drive has garnered more than 1,100 supporters so far, enough to win an endorsement from City Councilman Brad Lander.

“In light of strong and growing support from my constituents — as reflected in the Change.org petition created by our good friend Michael Ring — of the long-term success of the Prospect Park Drive reconfiguration in 2011 that significantly reduced traffic in the park, and of our continued work together toward Vision Zero. I agree the time has come to get rush-hour traffic out of Prospect Park,” Lander said in a statement released Wednesday.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams supports a trial ban on cars in the park, a spokesman said, and Community Board 6 released a statement Thursday calling for a test ban.

But de Blasio is Ring's main target.

The mayor backed the car-ban movement back when he was a city councilman representing the 39th District. He was even featured in a 2002 video in which activists declared they were "closer than ever" to ridding the park of cars.

The Mayor's Office did not respond to a request for comment and neither did representatives for the Department of Parks and Recreation and Prospect Park Alliance.

But a Department of Transportation spokesman said the agency is in ongoing talks with City Council members and other stakeholders about the possibility of a ban, and noted that de Blasio has long been a supporter of car-free parks.

Ring is hopeful that momentum is building, and perhaps by the time the city decides to take action on the issue, he'll be able to run again.

Ring was training for his 30th marathon in April 2014 when he suffered a flu-like illness then started experiencing pain in his feet. He went to see a nurse practitioner whose office was across the street from his Park Slope apartment.

She guessed that Ring had early symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome, and told him to get in a cab and go immediately to the emergency room. Ring wanted to dash across the street to change out of his T-shirt, but the N.P. told him there wasn't time. Today, he credits her with saving his life.

The nerve disorder strikes with little warning and can quickly paralyze a person and, in extreme cases, leave them unable to breathe. Ring was spared that fate, but he spent 134 days in the hospital unable to use his arms and legs.

He's slowly regained the use of his limbs with hard work in physical therapy, and doctors say he'll continue to recover "at a glacial pace," Ring explained recently on his blog. He lost the use of his hands but doctors hope he'll be able to use his fingers fully again in about six months.

After months in a wheelchair, he considers it a victory that he can now use a rolling walker. He made his first trip to Prospect Park in a year a few weeks ago with the Achilles Track Club, which serves disabled runners.

The voyage felt great, Ring said, but it was at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday, and cars were zipping past the group. When a fellow Achilles runner asked him if he knew what time the cars leave the park, a lightbulb went off in Ring's head, he said.

He decided that since he can't work or run now, but he can still use a computer and has plenty of free time, why not launch an online campaign to get cars out of the park?

Ring, co-president of the Prospect Park Track Club, said when he first started running in Park Slope, runners avoided the park because there was too much crime and too much traffic — cars were allowed 24 hours a day and took up three lanes, he recalled.

Since then cars have gradually disappeared from the park. The last major change to the park's car policy was in 2012, when the city limited cars from two lanes to just one lane on the park's loop road.

"There’s been slow movement over the past 20 years to reduce the amount of traffic in Prospect Park," Ring said. "I don't think [a ban] would have that much effect on drivers and it would turn the park into a permanent happy place. A park is a place where you go to escape all this."