Brooklynites have strong opinions about Grand Army Plaza. 

The question for the New York City Department of Transportation is how to incorporate those opinions in its ongoing Grand Army Plaza Capital Vision, a plan to make the stately entrance to Prospect Park less chaotic for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

The city budgeted $1.8 million for the DOT, in partnership with the Department of Design and Construction, to conduct a nearly two-year study on Grand Army Plaza and nearby Underhill and Vanderbilt avenues. 

The Capital Project Scope Development Study is set to conclude at the end of 2024 and includes idea-gathering workshops and outreach. The full project scope will also result in a traffic study, some preliminary design documents, including landscape design and three design alternatives with cost estimates. 

While the word has spread about the possibility of a car-free Grand Army Plaza, DOT representatives insist that they are not pushing for that outcome.

The most extreme of the department’s three preliminary ideas would connect the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch with the entrance to the park, removing the cut-through that connects Union Street and Eastern Parkway. This would eliminate cars from one part of the plaza and, in the DOT’s words, create “a seamless public space from the park to the fountain.”

“We welcome any and all ideas,” a DOT spokesperson said.

“We’re in the listening stage of this project and want to leave space for creative input.”

In true New York fashion, there will be no shortage of input. So many people joined a Nov. 16, Zoom workshop — a group of nearly 300, which included DOT reps and Community Board members — that the department had difficulty organizing. 

a screenshot of a Power Point presentation, highlighting existing issues in Grand Army Plaza, including long waits to cross the street in complex crosswalks, uninviting space due to heavy traffic, complex routing through the oval, slow buses, and complex and confusing operations and lane designations.
A page from the DOT’s presentation. Photo: NYC DOT.

When the attendees were finally shepherded into breakout groups, many said they find the plaza confusing, complex and dangerous. 

“The current layout doesn’t work for anyone,” one attendee said. 

According to a poll asking participants how they travel through or to the park, about 88% reported walking, 30% were drivers and 60% said they bike. Pedestrian safety was a major concern. 

“I’m a parent with young kids,” said one attendee. “My kids like the fountain, but it’s terrifying to get to it. [We] need much safer crossings and fewer cars.”

Several participants stressed the importance of accessibility for people with disabilities. Others said the future should be car-free, citing climate concerns. A couple of people who live near the park expressed frustration with loud music there and feared that expanding pedestrian spaces could worsen the noise, while others said they felt ‘under threat’ by cyclists while walking. 

A screenshot from a Power Point presentation, showing three ideas for Grand Army Plaza.
A page from the DOT’s presentation. Photo: NYC DOT.

The DOT presented three ideas along a spectrum of change. One would leave the area as-is but include more permanent paint to demarcate pedestrian spaces. A significant number of workshop attendees agreed that this was a non-option. The second idea would consolidate traffic along Flatbush Avenue. The third would create a car-free zone between the fountain and the park entrance. 

Participants showed interest in options two and three while many expressed a desire for clearer maps, a better understanding of traffic patterns and more out-of-the-box thinking from officials. 

“Simplify,” one participant wrote in the workshop chat. “Fewer intersections = fewer collisions, fewer crosswalks to navigate, better for differently abled. Prioritize. Pedestrians > Buses > bikes > cars.”

The DOT’s full presentation can be found on its Brooklyn project page.

Elizabeth Lepro

Elizabeth Lepro is a New York-based freelance writer and reporter. Her work has been published in various outlets in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Cairo, Egypt. She has covered topics including opioid...

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  1. I was on that call and DOT ran a good virtual mtg. Just about everyone in my group voted for Option 3, given the 2 most traffic desire lines are served and pedestrian conflicts are minimized.

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