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Prospect Park's East Side Neighbors Fume Over Exclusion From Car Ban

By Rachel Holliday Smith | June 18, 2015 6:56pm | Updated on June 22, 2015 8:14am
 Runners exercised on the East Drive in Prospect Park Thursday following the mayor's announcement that cars would be banned in most of the park, except for two hours during the morning rush on the east side road.
Runners exercised on the East Drive in Prospect Park Thursday following the mayor's announcement that cars would be banned in most of the park, except for two hours during the morning rush on the east side road.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

PROSPECT-LEFFERTS GARDENS — While pedestrian advocates in Park Slope cheered for the ban of car traffic on the west side of Prospect Park announced by the mayor Thursday, residents on the east side of the park wondered: Why not us, too?

The new rules set out by Mayor de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will completely eliminate car traffic in the park starting July 6 — except between 7 and 9 a.m. on the East Drive, the south-to-north road that curves along the park’s east side to Grand Army Plaza.

Many of those who live near the eastern portion of the park said any reduction in car traffic is a good thing, but were left perplexed by the city’s choice to exclude the East Drive.

"It should either be that all the roads are closed, or none,” said Warren Berke, a Crown Heights resident and member of the local community board who bikes in Prospect Park nearly every day. “This is just another example of [the city] catering to the Park Slope elite and ignoring Crown Heights.”

“Any reduction of cars in the park is something to celebrate. But what's the basis for distinguishing between the two sides?” asked Dynishal Gross, a Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident who lives a block away from the park’s Lincoln Road entrance. “The fact that our neighborhood is lower-income and mostly people of color doesn't mean we're less invested in safety or deserve less consideration.”

The transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives echoed that sentiment in a statement that applauded the city’s new rules, but scolded the administration for leaving cars on the East Drive.

“The fact that the neighborhoods along the eastern side of Prospect Park will not get to enjoy the same car-free experience as residents of Park Slope … [is a reminder] of the extraordinary lengths our city will still go to indulge the perceived needs of drivers,” Trans Alt board member Ken Coughlin said.

During Thursday’s announcement, Trottenberg said the volume of cars on the East Drive are “twice as high” as they on the West Drive, at about 400 cars per hour. She said the DOT will continue to monitor how the ban will affect traffic patterns in the park, but did not specifically address if a complete ban will be considered by the agency.

Daniel Kristjansson, a Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident and member of local Community Board 9’s transportation committee, doubts how crucial the East Drive is to reducing congestion. During his daily morning visits to the park, he’ll see “two or three cars on the road,” dwarfed in numbers by dozens of joggers and bicyclists.

“It’s not a lot of traffic. It’s more of an annoyance and a quality of life issue. Before the cars enter, you hear the birds tweeting,” he said.

Similarly, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident Samara Smith said she wants to see the ban expanded to the entirety of the park, which she described as a “great sanctuary” from the area’s heavy traffic.

“Being able to get into a green space where you don’t have to worry about traffic and the fumes and the noise and the pollution is really important,” she said.

“Even as a driver, I still feel like, in the city, pedestrians need to be prioritized,” she said.

But not everyone who enjoys the park is ready to throw cars to the curb completely. After the mayor’s announcement on Thursday, runner Gabriel Richards said he has no problem with cars in Prospect Park, where he’s exercised every day for years — in fact, he encouraged it.

“It frees up the traffic on Ocean Avenue, on Parkside, on Flatbush,” where congestion is often bumper-to-bumper, he said. And besides, he added, since he moved to the area in 1980, he’s never felt threatened by cars in the park.

“It’s been safe for as long as I’ve been here,” he said.