The city has lavished its traffic-calming gifts on the southern portion of Grand Army Plaza — but now, the Department of Transportation is poised, Santa-like, to start working on the North pole of Brooklyn’s most muddled roundabout.
Proposals are afoot to improve traffic flow through the circle where six busy avenues converge in a Paris-like maelstrom that favors automobiles over every other potential user.
“Grand Army Plaza works well for cars, but not for people moving in the space in any other way,” said Robert Witherwax, the coordinator of the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, an umbrella group of stakeholders in Park Slope and Prospect Heights. “We’d like to improve that without limiting its function as a traffic rotary.”
In the recent past, the improvements have included new crosswalks, a protected bike lane, planters and wider sidewalks for greater pedestrian safety on the southern side of the circle.
Now the city is considering eliminating the traffic circle’s treacherous left turn loop.
Currently, a northbound car that needs to get onto Prospect Park West or Union Street has to cross several lanes of traffic to enter the western-most lane to enter the loop and, eventually, swing around to the southbound side of the circle.
But once there, the driver has to swing across five lanes of traffic to make his right turn on Union Street or to go straight onto Prospect Park West (see map).
The harrowing, grand-prix–style switchbacks explain the origin of the expression, “There are no atheists in Grand Army Plaza.”
The suggested improvements would do away with the loop in favor of a normal traffic light with a left turn signal at the intersection of Vanderbilt and Flatbush avenues inside the circle.
Witherwax said the change would make driving safer, but also help pedestrians and cyclists who want to get to the circle’s center, with the renovated Bailey Fountain and Soldiers and Sailors arch.
As a result, some of the barren traffic islands that pepper the northern end of the plaza could be absorbed back into the center and landscaped to promote a more park-like feel.
“People forget that Grand Army Plaza is also a park because the greenspace is underused and difficult to get to,” said Witherwax.