Car-free park? Council bill would ban behemoths among Brooklyn’s boughs

Car-free park? Council bill would ban behemoths among Brooklyn’s boughs
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A Manhattan lawmaker wants to ban cars from Prospect Park — a plan that would tame the “hectic pace of city life,” its chief supporter says.

Councilwoman Gale Brewer (D–Manhattan) introduced a bill last week that restricts drivers from entering Prospect Park at all times, saying, “New Yorkers should be able to go to the park without worrying about motor vehicle traffic.”

Some Prospect Park devotees — well, the cyclists, dog-walkers, goose-watchers and pedestrians, at least — love what the bill would mean for the 585-acre oasis.

“If she gets this bill approved, I’ll vote for her for mayor!” said Bob Ipcar of the park’s esteemed dog group FIDO.

Cars in Prospect Park are currently restricted to the West Drive on weekdays from 5 to 7 pm; and the East Drive from 7 to 9 am. Motor vehicles can’t enter the park at all on weekends — which is when cyclists dream of wider restrictions.

“Parks should be a place where you can bike in peace,” said avid two-wheeler Johanna Clearfield.

It’s not the first time Councilwoman Brewer has pushed for car-free parks. In 2006, she introduced a nearly identical bill that died after the Bloomberg administration limited car hours to rush hour.

The same year, the Department of Transportation — then under the leadership of Iris Weinshall — announced a six-month pilot program to increase the number of car-free hours in Prospect Park.

The bicycle advocacy group Transportation Alternatives called the pilot program a success, and pushed for car-free parks. But that push caused a backlash from neighbors — many of them Winsor Terrace residents — who feared the plan would clog their streets.

Indeed, a 2007 city study of the pilot program revealed that banning autos from Prospect Park would increase traffic by 30 to 47 percent on Prospect Park Southwest and by 6 to 11 percent on Prospect Park West, between 7 am and 9 am.

And since that study, Prospect Park West has been narrowed to two lanes from three to accommodate the internationally controversial bike lane.

“It’s just too much,” said baseball mom-turned-team chauffeur Lisa Finshrom. “It will squish more cars onto narrow streets.”

And Borough President Markowitz thinks that the current limitations are fine.

“In many respects, the goal of having a car-free Prospect Park is a laudable one,” the Beep said in a statement, “However, as the borough president I must represent all Brooklyn residents, including those who drive through Prospect Park as well as those who reside near the park that may be negatively impacted by additional restrictions.”

Markowitz said that the the current schedule was negotiated by a group that included himself, the borough’s Council delegation, the Prospect Park Alliance, the Department of Transportation and the NYPD.

“I believe that the existing limited access for automobiles in Prospect Park sufficiently balances the needs of all users,” he added.

The new bill comes at a time when neighbors, Weinshall among them, are hotly debating — and even suing over — the use of streets surrounding the park. (Weinshall didn’t return our calls, But Transportation Alternatives still trumpets the bill as nothing short of green space genius.

“Central and Prospect parks are New Yorkers’ backyards,” said spokesman Noah Budnick. “Just like someone with a house, we don’t want highways running through our backyards!”