Is Washington Park pedestrian zone ‘Fourth’ coming?

Is Washington Park pedestrian zone ‘Fourth’ coming?
Community Newspaper Group / Stephen Brown

An influential Park Slope restaurant owner is pushing for a plaza a dead-end portion of Fourth Street that would eliminate around 30 parking spaces, setting the stage for yet another showdown between pedestrians and drivers.

Irene Lo Re, the executive director of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and the owner of Aunt Suzie’s restaurant, said that barring cars from Fourth Street west of Fifth Avenue would create a much-needed play area to replace portions of Washington Park during renovations that will last for at least one year.

“It’s fabulous real estate that is just being used as parking,” said Lo Re. “It can be turned over to the community for leisure space.”

Lo Re knows she has a fight on her hands, as any loss of parking in Park Slope inevitably leads to cries of driver prejudice. The stretch of Fourth Street serves as parking for teachers during school hours at MS 51, which faces the park.

“We’re not going to be able to park anywhere,” said one teacher who did not give her name because the Department of Education apparently punishes teachers who speak to reporters.

Another teacher shook his head in dismay, grousing that the proposal was made simply to satisfy stroller pushers.

“One thing I’ve learned about the Park Slope parents: they’re always right. Just ask them!” The teacher then stormed off, saying he could not give his name either.

Some locals picking up their kids also want the cul de sac to remain a regular public street.

Fifth Avenue boosters want to turn the dead-end Fourth Street into a plaza that will link MS 51 to Washington Park across the street. Some of us still call it “J.J. Byrne Park,” but we’ve lost that battle.
Community Newspaper Group / Stephen Brown

“This street is the only way we can pick up our kids,” said Herman Moreno, who was parked in front of MS 51. “There’s no parking on Fifth Avenue, and if you double park, you’re in the bike lane. They should just let us come in, make our little U-turn, then leave.”

Lo Re said she was open to implementing a mixed use-style plaza that would allow parking for teachers during school time, though that would eliminate the possibility of play equipment for kids.

“Sometimes you have to make a hard choice,” said Lo Re. “Is it best for someone’s convenience, or should the neighborhood have more park space?”

Kim Maier, the executive director of the Old Stone House, which is in Washington Park, said that the plaza concept was still in the preliminary stage, but that it would be a big improvement.

“It would be a safer area to connect the school to park — I’ve seen a lot of near-misses when drivers think they’ve found a spot and almost hit kids,” Maier said.

A spokesman with the Department of Transportation said that no firm plans were in place, but that a “play street” had been considered while Washington Park is under construction. The spokesman added that the plaza could be implemented in the near future.

— with Joe Anuta

Community Newspaper Group / Stephen Brown