May/June 1998, p.8-9

Prospect Park: Brooklynites Speak: Cars Out!

Read the latest news about this issue.

Led by T.A.'s indefatigable Brooklyn Committee, almost 400 T.A. activists and their friends and neighbors filled Brooklyn Borough Hall with wise, passionate and occasionally sorrowful calls for a car-free Prospect Park. The April 21st gathering evoked an incredible outpouring of energy, vision, and ideals from a public that seemed clearly aware that car culture is a dead end for Brooklyn. The meeting was held by Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden. But the night's political champ was City Councilmember Steve DiBrienza, whose proposal for a two month car-free trail period in July and August was eagerly embraced by the auto-free throng. Because of crowding, hundreds of car-free enthusiasts were turned away at the door. By evening's end, 75 people testified in favor of a car-free park, with three opposed. Three community members' comments follow.

"I've always thought that Prospect Park should be a refuge from the city and not a thoroughfare. About a year ago, I became involved in a grassroots effort to make Prospect Park car free. In doing so, I met hundreds of diverse people who share this vision of a car-free park. Over and over, I heard that the recreational lanes are too narrow, that the daily opening and closing of the park causes too much confusion, that the speed limit is too high.

As I stand before you, our elected officials who have the power to restore Prospect Park to its rightful role as a refuge, it is incumbent upon me to declare that we are a political force. Yes, we the "500" people in this room, we the 4,000 people who signed postcards, we the 1,700 people who sent personal letters to the borough president, we demand a car-free park and we will pay attention to those who support this important issue when we vote next September.

To the relatively small group of Brooklynites who use the park as a shortcut, is it too much to ask that you add a minute or so to your trip and drive around the park, so that the park can be a safe and peaceful place?

To the relatively small group of Brooklynites who enjoy driving through the park as a change of pace from the city streets, is it too much to ask that you park your car nearby and enjoy the park by foot, bicycle or rollerskates?

And to the relatively small number of runners who believe that car traffic in the park deters crime, is it too much to ask that you run on the thousands of miles of city streets, where there is always car traffic, so that those of us who see cars as the real threat to safety can have a mere 3.3 miles of car-free space?"
-Testimony of Alan Mukamal

Last summer, Brooklyn lost respected health researcher and community advocate Rachel Fruchter to a rogue motorist driving in Prospect Park. Park users mourned her passing then (above) and invoked her memory at the Borough Hall hearing."My mother, Dr. Rachel Fruchter, felt that Prospect Park was one of Brooklyn's treasures, a beautiful place that we all should use and enjoy as much as possible. There's a barricade up in the park now that's supposed to stop drivers from going where the man who killed my mother was driving. You can understand my bitterness when I say that barricade is too little too late. Despite years of Transportation Alternatives championing this issue, it took my mother's death before anyone in the Parks Department found the WILL to put up that barricade.

During that miserable week, my sister and I walked to the place where my mother was knocked flying from her bike. Suddenly, we had to scramble from the roadway as a gas-guzzling "sport utility vehicle" rocketed past that barricade at 45 miles per hour, during car-free hours. You can understand my resentment that neither the Parks Department nor the Police has found the WILL to halt that danger.

One week later at that same sad spot by the skating rink, I biked up to five cops who were having a friendly conversation while ignoring the cars that were rolling past that barricade and right over the spot where my mother's life ended. It's too dangerous, they told me, for police officers on foot or bicycle to stop automobiles. And yet, I've watched families with small children and the WILL to do so stop cars quite effectively.

You can understand my outrage and disbelief when I see that the Mayor can have the Police write 500 bicycle tickets in a month but nowhere in our city government is there the WILL to effectively protect a mother on her bicycle in Prospect Park from being killed by a speeding van driving where it's not allowed to be!

Please, before anyone else's mother is killed - before ANYONE else is killed - Tupper Thomas, Commissioner Safir, Mayor, make Prospect Park truly safe from automobiles: ban cars completely."

-Testimony of Lev Fruchter

"I am a registered professional engineer, a life-long resident of Brooklyn and have lived near Prospect Park, on three sides, for nearly 30 years.

I am thoroughly familiar with Prospect Park, its surrounding streets and the traffic patterns throughout this part of Brooklyn. I was the engineer who converted the left lane of the park into a bike and jogging lane. I closed the exit to Parkside Avenue, developed the plans to close the entrance at Lincoln Road and protected the closing of the park. Many predicted these closings would cause massive traffic congestion. With proper engineering, they had minimal impact on the traffic network.

I fully support a two-month Auto-Free Prospect Park Trial Period this July and August to help determine the actual effects. I know many in the community are concerned about the diversion of traffic to local streets. The diversion of traffic will be spread out over several routes. With some changes in signal timing and other traffic measures, these routes should be able to adequately handle the diverted traffic."

-Testimony of Samuel I. Schwartz, former NYC Deputy Traffic Commissioner, a.k.a. Daily News' "Gridlock Sam"