Two years in the making, a new pedestrian plaza in Flatbush is giving locals a place to take a moment.
The section of Hillel Place between Flatbush Avenue and Campus Road has been closed off to cars and will now offer a refreshing space to pause for the many people passing through from the Flatbush and Nostrand Avenue junction to the schools and businesses in the area, according to one local business leader.
“Because of the way people come and go between the transportation hub and the different schools, there is really no place to pause and look around you and give you the strength to explore the surrounding area,” said Kenneth Mbonu, executive director of the Flatbush Nostrand Junction Business Improvement District.
The new plaza was closed to cars at the beginning of the month with traffic barriers rerouting cars onto Kenilworth Place, and filled with chairs and tables as well as flowerpots.
The idea of creating a pedestrian plaza came from seeing the community enjoy the space when the city closed the street for special events, according to Mbonu.
“Every time we had an event, at the end people would come out of their homes and apartments with strollers and children playing on the street, which really gave the area a neighborhood feel,” he said.
The business group submitted plans to the Department of Transportation in 2016 with the support of more than 90 percent of the local businesses, and the city supported the idea because of the lack of public space in the area.
But Community Board 14 had some concerns about the large number of students that converge from the surrounding schools and colleges, such as Brooklyn College and Midwood High School. In response, the business group revised the plan to include a security guard to supervise the plaza when school days end Monday to Fridays from 1 to 5 pm, according to Mbonu. The plan was finally approved in early March.
The new plaza has proved to be a challenge to some delivery drivers. One truck recently got stuck on its approach to Hillel Place because it could not fit around the left turn onto Kenilworth Place. Instead, it had to reverse back out onto Campus Road.
To alleviate this, Mbonu said that loading zones have been created at three locations — on Flatbush Avenue in front of the Pretty Girl clothing store, on Nostrand Avenue by the Dallas BBQ, and on Campus Road by Far Better Printing — and local businesses just have to let their delivery drivers know about them, he said.
The plaza provides an enhancement for the new entrance to Brooklyn College on Campus Road, as well as a spot of rest for theater-goers before or after shows at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, Mbonu said.
And drivers will be glad to know that no parking spaces were harmed in the making of this plaza — quite the opposite, in fact. The nine spots that were on that section of Hillel Place were replaced by 15 new spaces on Campus Road, opposite Brooklyn College.
The new public space will be officially opened at the end of August, and the city will conduct surveys and evaluate the success of the project over the next year but Mbonu said the feedback so far has been good.
“We are testing the waters to see how the community takes it, and so far the response has been phenomenal,” he said.