Rubber hits the road - Kids want car-free park

The Brooklyn Paper
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As the song by The Who goes, “The kids are all right.”

But they’d be a whole lot better if cars and trucks stopped racing through Prospect Park.

About 100 borough students marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Monday to protest the city’s continued refusal to close the park to vehicles, although the hours in which they can drive through the park have been greatly reduced in recent years.

The teenage protestors marched all the way to City Hall, where they presented 10,000 postcards to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office in support of a car-free Prospect Park.

The postcards were put in a blue cardboard mailbox that was addressed to the mayor himself, rally organizers said.

“City Councilman David Yassky and one or two others carried it up the stairs and dropped it off,” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian, bicyclist and public transportation advocacy group who spearheaded the project through their Prospect Park Youth Advocate Program. “We were told that the post cards had been received. They even thanked us for the mailbox.”

Throughout the summer, teens enrolled in the Prospect Park Youth Advocate Program collected the postcards for this pivotal march and drop-off.

The youth advocates are teens who either grew up or live around Prospect Park, which they use on a daily basis.

“These teens are the ones who have ball practice in the park every day,” Norvell explained. “They’re the ones who have their proms there.”

Those wishing to see Prospect Park closed to traffic say that vehicles speeding along the loop that wends its way around the park are not only a danger to bicyclists, but park goers looking to cross the loop.

“Prospect Park is our park,” said Oswald Bowman, a youth advocate involved in the march. “That’s why we’ve called on the Mayor to take the cars out and give us a safe place to exercise and relax.”

“Brooklyn’s kids deserve it,” he said.

Monday’s march and rally was encouraged by Yassky as well as City Councilmembers Bill de Blasio and Letitia James.

James met up with youth advocates at their staging area at Cadman Plaza Park Monday afternoon and joined them on the march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Prospect Park is a respite, a slice of heaven, a bit of the country, for all Brooklynit­es,” James explained. “Today, more and more residents of Brooklyn want car-free zones, and they need places where they can relax and exercise without fear of speeding vehicles.”

“Our parks need to be for people, not for cars,” she said.

De Blasio said that the city should “fully explore” how to make Prospect Park “a more inviting and safe destination for Brooklynit­es.”

“Prohibiting cars from the park has many benefits.”

“It is clear that something needs to be done to ensure the safety of the increasing number of people using Prospect Park,” added Yassky. “We must work to protect park-goers and ensure the long term vibrancy of Prospect Park as a Brooklyn destination.”

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation said that the city “implemented a partial closure to vehicles a year ago but have no plans at this time and completely close the park to vehicles.”

Advocates for a car free park claim that thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians use Prospect Park versus the hundreds of vehicles that drive through the park between 7 am to 9 am and from 5 pm to 7 pm on any given day.

Daily traffic hours in the park were reduced to four back in 2006, right after Transportation Alternatives and other park advocates began pushing for a three-month study to determine how closing Prospect Park and Central Park to vehicles entirely would affect traffic patterns.

Even though Prospect Park is car free twenty hours a day, those who use the park say that the hours cars are allowed to use the park coincide with the time “when the demand of recreational space is at its highest.”

Norvell said that that according to a recent Transportation Alternatives study, four out of five park goers said that they would use the park more if it was car free.

Car advocates said that closing the park to vehicles will disrupt traffic patterns in the area and cut off a vital artery to those traveling from Flatbush to Park Slope and downtown Brooklyn.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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