From playground to parking lot: City de-pedestrianizes Park Slope play street

kathy price
Kathy Park Price and her kids show what’s possible if the street becomes a bonafide play street.
Photo by Ben Verde

The city effectively deregulated a so-called “play street” located outside of a Park Slope middle school earlier this month, eliminating recreational space for students in favor of placard parking for teachers and faculty, according to outraged locals. 

“I’m definitely bummed,” said Kathy Park Price, a Park Slope mom, Community Board 6 member, and member of the Community Education Council for District 15. “It feels like we’re robbing the community.”

The city transformed Fourth Street — a cul-de-sac branching off of Fifth Avenue that leads to MS 51 — into a play street at the request of parents and civic gurus in 2011, creating a pedestrianized space for kids to play while the JJ Byrne Playground located in nearby Washington Park remained under construction. 

The city claims the play street was never meant as a permanent amenity, and that it’s special designation was officially revoked in 2014. However, in an act of constructive incompetence, bureaucrats neglected to remove the “play street” sign located at the entrance to Fourth Street near Fifth Avenue until a few weeks ago.

Civic gurus involved in advocating for and planning out the play street say the Department of Transportation never declared the strip as temporary, and that locals had pushed for the Fourth Street’s development into a woonerf, a Dutch shared-streets concept that employs various traffic calming measures to pedestrianize roadways. 

“For all intents and purposes it would have been an intensely shared street where pedestrians would essentially set the tone and pace for the area,” said Craig Hammerman, who served as district manager of Community Board 6 during the planning process for the street.

fourth street play street
Answer: the DOT. Photo by Ben Verde

Reverting Fourth Street into faculty parking was certainly not part of the plan, Hammerman said. Overnight parking for residents had been discussed during the planning process, with the understanding that it would be cleared of cars during the day. 

“That was not supposed to be full of teacher parking ever,” he said. “That was part of the agreement.” 

Even before the play street was eliminated, Price, who runs the family-oriented civic engagement group Citizen Squirrel, continued the push to further pedestrianize Fourth Street, saying the famed stroller capital of Brooklyn needs as much public space as it can get. She has since created a petition demanding the city reinstate the roadway’s status as a play street

“JJ Byrne is overcrowded, MS 51 right there has over 1,200 students — any amount of public space would help add a sense of safety,” Price said. “We need all the public space we can get.” 

She envisions the street as an extension of Washington Park, creating a totally car-free zone that connects the school with the green space. 

In reality, however, the street has become less kid-friendly over the years, according to Park Slope bike advocate Doug Gordon, who said cars started piling into Fourth Street in 2017, when the De Blasio administration orchestrated a massive election year placard giveaway to the powerful Council of School Supervisors and Administrators union in 2017, reversing a Bloomberg Administration order that lowered the number of placards from 63,000 to around 11,000. 

“The mayor deserves most of the blame here,” said Gordon. “Unfortunately, since kids lack a powerful political union, they lost out.” 

Gordon lamented the city’s effortless ability to promote the interests of drivers over children, comparing the play street’s sudden disappearance with the grassroots slog locals went through to get the space pedestrianized. 

“The process for turning space for people into space for cars requires none of that and can be done quickly without local input,” Gordon said. “We need to flip the equation.” 

While the play street sign was removed, “No Standing Anytime” signs remain in place, although Brooklyn Paper found the street was stuffed with cars, most of them sporting Department of Education-issued placards during visits on Jan. 14 and on Jan. 11. A Department of Education spokeswoman said they are working to clear teachers’ cars from the area. 

“All school staff must follow parking regulations and signage and we’re working with the school and the Department of Transportation to address the matter,” said Miranda Barbot.