Radars of the lost park: Activists tracking car speeds in Prospect

Radars of the lost park: Activists tracking car speeds in Prospect
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

They feel the need — the need to monitor speed!

An anti-car activist group is deploying members armed with radar guns to Prospect Park to hunt for speeding motorists in an effort to convince the city to nix all cars from Brooklyn’s Backyard, according to the organization’s head honcho.

“We want to uncover how bad the problem is and further evidence that the park should be car-free,” said Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White.

Mayor DeBlasio outlawed driving on the park’s Ditmas Park-bound West Drive in 2015, but stopped short of banning cars from the green space altogether, with Prospect-Heights-bound motorists still allowed on East Drive between 7-9 am on weekdays and holidays.

Now Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D-Prospect-Lefferts Gardens) is working on a plan to oust those vehicles as well, and Steely White is hoping to give him the data he needs to prove once and for all that the drivers are a menace to the pedestrians, cyclists, joggers, and horse riders who also use the road.

Not only do park-using rev-heads regularly blow the 25-miles-per hour speed limit, the bike-booster claims, they frequently hit East Drive before its legal 7 am opening.

Steely-White took a radar gun down there on Thursday between 6:45–7:45 am, where he says he clocked 10 drivers going at least 10 miles above the speed limit, and 21 motorists putting unsuspecting bipedal commuters in danger by driving in the park before 7 am.

“It’s more dangerous because park users aren’t expecting cars at those hours,” said White. “It really catches people unaware and lulls users into a false sense of security.”

But nixing traffic on East Drive would be not so easy as it was on the West, says a Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

East Drive is more heavily trafficked — in 2013, around 418 vehicles per hour used the road, versus 233 on West Drive — and it would be tougher to divert into onto alternative roads nearby, which are already busy enough and the sites of frequent car crashes, she said.

But park-lovers say West Drive’s lower traffic was a result of many years of activism from the Park Slope side of the meadow.

“Over a number of years, there were many things that happened that slowly ramped down the demand on the West Drive,” said local resident Seth Kaplan, founder of park advocacy group Parks4us. “That’s to the credit of the community there and the elected officials, but it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, because when they looked at the data and DeBlasio said they want to close West Drive to car traffic, there was a lot less demand.”

Many Prospect-Lefferts Gardens residents are now eager to see similar results on their side of the park, he said.

“This community definitely does want to see reduced or no traffic,” he said. “It’s a park, not a highway.”

In fact, some residents say the notion is so popular locally, they have a hard time even imagining even motorists objecting.

“No parent, biker, jogger, or park-lover I know is against this,” said Prospect-Lefferts Gardens blogger Tim Thomas. “You’d have to be kind of selfish to demand the right to drive in a public park, you know?”

Eugene declined comment.