September/October 1997, p.6

Prospect Park: Death in "Car-Free" Sanctuary

Read the latest news about this issue.

Cyclists remain outraged and sick at heart over the July 12th death of noted scientist and civic figure Rachel Fruchter in Prospect Park. Dr. Fruchter was struck and killed on a Saturday on what is supposed to be a car-free stretch of Prospect Park roadway. The van driver who killed her was taking a detour to avoid traffic on Ocean Avenue and was speeding at 40 mph. He was ticketed for having a cracked windshield. Dr. Fruchter's prominence resulted in heavy media coverage of her death and renewed attention on Prospect Park. About one hundred park users and others attended a vigil organized by T.A. which called for a permanently car-free Prospect Park and a real police effort to end speeding and dangerous driving. City Park's Commissioner Henry Stern responded with a feeble and illogical statement in the New York Times that the "tragedy was the fault of the van driver who used the road." It "wasn't due to a lack of enforcement. The signs were up." In fact, a cycling or pedestrian death or serious injury was (and remains) inevitable given the full-time auto access to the Wollman skating rink parking lot, not to mention motorist contempt for and confusion over hours during which cars are allowed in the park.

Commissioner Stern's lame response speaks volumes about the contempt that the City has for the well being of cyclists, skaters and pedestrians using both Central and Prospect Park's drives. In a 1994 interview with Transportation Alternatives, Stern called motorists "legitimate park users" and said a car-free park "depends on local conditions. It's a community issue. (Prospect Park Administrator) Tupper Thomas is weighing the number of people using the park against the number of drivers." Stern and other park officials seem unable to understand that people driving through the park as a short-cut are not "park users." Even if they were, would it not be reasonable to ban a group of park users who regularly threaten and sometimes maim and kill other park users?

In August, the first two volumes of a long delayed Department of Transportation study of the traffic implications of a car-free park were issued. Unfortunately, the study misses the point. The real question is whether city parks should be places of peace and green or highways.

T.A.'s Brooklyn Committee is conducting traffic calming rides each Thursday evening to assert a cycling presence in the park. We encourage you to join them.

Join T.A/s Brooklyn Committee Thursday Night Group Rides
Thursday* at 6:30 PM, meet at the exit to the Wallman Rink OH the park drive. Through October 16.

The July 17th vigil for Rachel Fruchter drew over one hundred park users. Attendees called for a car-free park and a crackdown by the police and district attorneys on driving crimes. Above, Charles Komanoff recalls Dr. Fruchter's many accomplishments.