Grand Army Plaza is about to undergo a massive facelift and public reaction couldn’t be more, well, um, confused.
As reported in The Brooklyn Paper two weeks ago, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, a citizens group, wants to calm traffic in the bustling circle by eliminating some roadways, transforming others into two-way streets and giving pedestrians the upper hand over cars.
It’s a sensible plan, of course — after all, that traffic circle has long been one of the city’s most dangerous intersections and the public hasn’t been able to truly experience the majesty of the Civil War memorial and recently restored Bailey Fountain in years — but convincing people of that isn’t always so easy. I discovered that when I journeyed to Grand Army Plaza armed with our exclusive schematic of the GAPCO plan from our June 30 front page. First reactions from people — even those who traverse the circle every day — ranged from squinty-eyed confusion to mouth-open stupefaction.
In short, the plan calls for the elimination of the roadway that connects Union Street to Eastern Parkway and the simultaneous transformation of Prospect Park West and the portion of Flatbush Avenue that runs through the circle into two-way streets.
The plan also calls for eliminating a shortcut that allows drivers to exit Prospect Park roadways at Grand Army Plaza and enter the circle.
Naturally, that confused some people. Phil Marriott, a Park Sloper, took a few minutes to really grasp the beauty of the proposal.
“A two-way traffic circle?” he said. “I’ve never such a thing.” But after studying all the plans ebbs and flows, Marriott was convinced. “If they eliminate that road between Union Street and Eastern Parkway, it could eliminate the traffic that backs up all the way down Union Street to Seventh Avenue. When I really look at it, it looks like the circle will indeed be safer. It won’t be like it is now, like that circle around the Arc de Triomphe with those insane drivers.”
Alex Beers, who described herself as “41, with two kids and a minivan, who is always driving through that circle,” also balked at the “counter-intuitive” two-way intra-circle traffic. But then, she added, “When you get over the shock, you realize it’s kind of beautiful.”
It’s more than that, says one of its chief backers, transportation activist Aaron Naparstek. Computer simulations done in 1999 show that the redesign would run fluidly. And changing the direction of streets and filling in empty areas with greenery is an inexpensive and simple way of changing the problem, added GAPCO member Robert Witherwax.
The other day, one park user said anything would be better than the less-than-grand Army Plaza. “I had to cross six streets so my kids could play in the fountain,” said Jonathan Gold of Kensington.
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