Take one crew of cyclists, add a traffic-jam’s worth of cars, a marathon of runners, a pack of walkers, a Peninsula-full of dog-owners, stir in a terabyte of wireless Internet users, a murder of birders, and a smattering of strollers, and at times, Prospect Park can border on mayhem.
All of this is, of course, inherent to a popular park of only .9 square miles. Olmsted and Vaux’s masterpiece may seem as expansive as the western plains to some Brooklynites, but it’s tiny in relation to the ever-increasing number of people who use it.
More than 8 million people visit the park a year — up from just 1.7 million in 1980, according to the Prospect Park Alliance, which manages the park.
“They all feel it’s their park,” said Tupper Thomas, the president of the Alliance.
“The cyclists, this is their cycling park, the runners, it’s their running park, the concert-goers go for concerts. There’s even barbecuers and non-barbecuers.”
If the park is increasingly a battleground, it’s no surprise, given how many different constituent groups — from runners to sunbathers, softball players to soft-ice-cream eaters — are using the emerald expanse. The arrival of wireless Internet access two weeks ago may mean the emergence of an entirely new user-group, presumably with its own reasons to kvetch.
A trip to the park on any day shows that Brooklynites are a territorial — and irritable — bunch.
As Sloper Mike Yim barbecued last weekend, he took a moment to decry his personal park nemeses — the guitar-players who butcher classic songs, particularly those of Bob Dylan.
“You just hate the guy who can’t sing and has a guitar,” said Yim.
Apparently, one also hates the guy who walks the park bearing Sukkot blessings.
Katti Wachs, an atheist and Windsor Terrace resident, was approached by two wandering Lubavitchers last weekend, while she was languidly leafing through a tabloid in the grass.
“When people interrupt me when I’m in the park, I get irritated, particularly when they have religious purposes,” said Wachs, who’s seen a lot of proselytizing Mormons and Jews for Jesus lately.
And everyone hates a litterer (except the litterer, perhaps).
“But it’s just par for the course — outright disrespect for the property,” said Alex Nazaryan, a Crown Heights resident and park user who complains of trash scofflaws.
Even worse then the beer cans is human waste.
“I hate it when people go to the bathroom in the park in broad daylight,” said Amy Duquette, a member of the Prospect Park Track Club who was helping out at the Fourth Annual Miles for Midwives race.
“And we’re not just talking about number one,” said Duquette. “There is human feces near Prospect Park West and 13th Street all the time, and my Rottweiler used to eat it.”
Duquette couldn’t see it, but as she spoke, a mom helped her young daughter look out for number one behind a rock.
For now, cyclists and dog owners are taking the most heat, Thomas said.
“This summer, [Transportation Alternatives] became more aware of the hostility against cyclists,” said Thomas. “There were many close calls.”
And at least one that wasn’t close at all. On June 23, a pedestrian-cyclist crash sent a badly injured walker to the hospital.
A few months ago, Transportation Alternatives began an education campaign, benignly called the “bicycle ambassador program,” to get bikers to slow down in Prospect Park — but the cycling advocacy group said the program was not related to the June 23 crash.
Anne Perzeszty, president of the Prospect Park Track Club, who’s both a jogger and a cyclist, sees both sides of the conflict.
“There appears to be a huge increase in the number of cyclists of all ages and abilities riding the wrong way,” she said. “That needs to be enforced, and enforcement is not happening. Bicycles are very definitely vehicles.”
On the other hand, pedestrians aren’t necessarily doing their part to avoid conflict. Perzeszty had a near collision recently thanks to some reckless walkers.
“I was coming down a hill on my bike, and there was a group of youngsters coming off a bus,” she recalled.
“The person who was directing them into the park had her back into the oncoming traffic. I had nowhere to go at all, because the running lanes were occupied, so I started screaming ‘Heads up!’ ‘Heads up!’ It could have been really dangerous for the kids and for me.”
Another battle raging on the park’s green lawns pits dog owners against other park-goers who don’t like the pets’ off-leash privileges between 9 pm and 9 am.
Kimberly Edwin, a Prospect Heights resident, says she’s stopped visiting Prospect Park because of run-ins she’s had with free-ranging dogs.
“The stress of encountering off-leash dogs outweighed the benefits of regular exercise,” said Edwin, who complains of an “dog-owner entitlement mentality.”
She’s a supporter of this summer’s lawsuit by a Queens community group against the Parks Department challenging its long-standing courtesy hours.
But dog-owner organizations like Prospect Park’s FIDO, argue that dogs actually make parks safer for all patrons.
“In the 1960’s, reported dog bites in the city exceeded 40,000,” said Robert Marino, the president of NYCdog. “By 2005, this dropped to less than 4,000, of which only 86 — just 2.2% — occurred in parks.”
Moreover, “Police data supports the crime deterrent effect of increasing responsible parks usage,” he said.
Thomas, the Alliance president, agreed. But as with all of these competing interests, she admitted she somestimes feels like she’s more referee than ranger.
At least one park user, though, was able to look at the silver lining to this storm cloud: The good news is that Prospect Park has less conflict than its Gaphattan counterpart, says Pippa Mockridge, who used to run in Central Park.
“Central Park is a lot worse than here,” she said. “The cyclists would yell at you to get out of the way. Here, people are nicer.”
©2006 Community News Group
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