Prospect Park reopens East Drive to vehicular traffic after car-free summer

Prospect Park's East Drive reopened to vehicular traffic on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, after going car-free as part of an eight-week pilot program by the city.
Prospect Park’s East Drive reopened to vehicular traffic on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, after going car-free as part of an eight-week pilot program by the city. Photo Credit: Nicole Brown

Prospect Park’s East Drive reopened to vehicles Monday morning as the city studies the impacts of its car-free pilot program held this summer.

Despite support from safety advocates to keep the park completely car-free, the city’s Department of Transportation said this weekend through Twitter it would carry out plans to reopen the park Monday, wrapping up what the city billed as a “well-received” eight-week pilot.

“We are analyzing data collected from the pilot during those low-volume months and we will collect additional data with the Drive reopened in order to make future determinations about vehicles on the East Drive,” said Scott Gastel, DOT spokesman. “We will continue to consult with local elected officials and stakeholders and look forward to sharing our findings.”

Lucy Gardner, spokeswoman for the Prospect Park Alliance, said the alliance partnered with the city on the pilot to “enhance the park experience,” and “look(s) forward to reviewing this data with them.”

Many enjoying a cool late summer in Prospect Park Monday said they want the park car-free at all times to improve safety. During a peak morning hour in the summer, fewer than 300 vehicles use the East Drive, compared with almost 1,000 people on foot or bike, according to the DOT. On a fall morning, the number of vehicles increases to 400.

“The park is a safe haven for a lot of kids that are running around and also the elderly who are trying to stay active,” said Alex Cruiz, 22, an aquatics instructor who regularly runs through the park for exercise. “I can see allowing emergency vehicles through, but keeping cars out just makes it safer.”

As Lauren Rodriguez rode her bike along Prospect Park West with her 13-month-old daughter in a rear-mounted bike seat, the schoolteacher said she wished the city would expand its car ban year-round.

“I’d prefer if there were no cars in the park, especially looking out for her safety,” Rodriguez said, nodding back to her daughter. “Without cars, it’s a nicer, more pleasant park for everyone who uses it.”

A good number of Prospect Park visitors, many of whom said they were regulars, didn’t realize the pilot had taken place. Perhaps that’s because vehicles have had gradually reduced access to the park over the years. After banning vehicles on West Drive two years ago, only East Drive is open to motorists on weekdays, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., for those heading north from Park Circle to Grand Army Plaza.

When the DOT studied a West Drive closure in June 2015, DOT’s studies at the time showed the most impacted alternative route saw an increased travel time of less than a minute, according to the de Blasio administration. Other afternoon drivers saw travel times speed up.

Hart Faber, 53, of Prospect Heights, sympathized with drivers trying to maneuver congested city streets. He said he’d be willing to compromise: Ban cars in the summer, but allow them the rest of the year.

“I believe everyone — bikes, pedestrians and vehicles — need to get along better on the road,” Faber said. He noted that he hasn’t owned a car since 1995. “That said, when a driver makes a mistake, the consequences are far more severe and dangerous.”