DOT’s Grand Army Plaza Plan: Bold, Exciting, Crowd-Pleasing

At last night’s presentation to a joint meeting of three Brooklyn community boards, DOT assistant commissioner Ryan Russo unveiled what he called "a pretty dramatic and bold, exciting plan" for Grand Army Plaza. The proposal lived up to the billing. Lots of asphalt will be reclaimed for walking and biking. Getting to the central plaza will be a much-improved experience, as will biking to the greenmarket, the Brooklyn Public Library, and the park, thanks to an entirely two-way system of bike lanes. Russo said DOT hopes to begin implementation in August.

It’s a complex project that really needs graphics to help you visualize it, but I don’t have the plans just yet. Here’s my bullet point description and a Google satellite view until DOT posts the full presentation online, which should happen later today.

  • On the north end of the plaza, northbound traffic on Flatbush and southbound traffic on Vanderbilt will cross at a greatly simplified X-shaped intersection. The pedestrian spaces that define the boundaries of the "X" will be much more generous and well-defined than the mish-mash of poorly-connected islands and striping that people navigate now. Walking to the central public space will be safer and simpler, especially if you’re approaching from Park Slope.

  • The Plaza Street bike lane will be converted from a buffered, one-way counterclockwise path to a two-way, parking protected path, giving cyclists a safe and legal way to take the shortest routes around the plaza.
  • The area between the arch and the central plaza will be set off with DOT’s epoxy-and-gravel surface treatment, seen on Broadway and other pedestrian reclamation projects. Physical barriers will be added to keep cars from illegally cutting across.
  • On the south side of the plaza, pedestrian islands will be expanded and five crosswalks will be added, making it easier to walk between Union Street, Plaza Street, and the greenmarket area. The greenmarket area will also be set off with epoxy-and-gravel and have physical barriers from traffic.
  • There are several two-way bike connections planned for the south side, the general effect of which will be this: Anyone coming or going from Prospect Park West, the Prospect Park loop, or either end of Plaza Street will be able to bike safely and legally to any of those streets. Eventually a two-way path on Eastern Parkway, part of a separate capital project, will feed into this system. The plan also appears to include a small "bike roundabout" where PPW meets a two-way connection leading into the park loop (h/t @mikepstein for pointing that out).

Russo got a sustained round of applause after the presentation. Most comments afterward were of the helpful suggestion variety, although there were a few people who had qualms with narrowing traffic lanes or introducing new bike infrastructure. A few cranky individuals had come for the next agenda item — the Prospect Park West bike lane — and couldn’t wait to air grievances. (For more on how that went, check out @mikepstein’s twitter feed again.)

The advocates and public servants who are closest to the campaign for a better Grand Army Plaza seemed thrilled by the plan. Prospect Park Administrator Tupper Thomas said she loves the changes in store for the north side and reassured the crowd that she had worked with DOT and the Parks Department to make sure the project works well.

Robert Witherwax of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition — the alliance of several community groups and local institutions formed in 2006 to advocate for public space enhancements — called the plan "a huge step forward" in an email to Streetsblog.

We’ll have more on this important development for Brooklyn’s most iconic public space later today.