Reinventing the (traffic) wheel

The Brooklyn Paper
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City and traffic activists are still trying to fix the Grand Army Plaza mess, but there’s one thing missing from the effort: your brilliant idea.

“The traffic circle is broken and can be made better,” said Robert Witherwax, a member of the Grand Army Coalition. “It’s at the center of [a large part of Brooklyn], but it’s an empty center.”

To fill that void with human activity (and not more traffic), the Coalition, an umbrella organization of Park Slope and Prospect Heights neighborhood groups and cultural institutions, has partnered with the Design Trust for Public Space to run a contest to reinvent the wheel in the middle of Brooklyn.

The sky’s the limit for ideas, so don’t get bogged down in worrying about what will actually work.

“The idea is not to come up with a specific plan, but to generate visions and excitement about how the plaza can be transformed,” said Stephanie Elson, program director at the Design Trust for Public Space, which is putting up the $5,000 winning prize.

There are no official design parameters for the competition — you could suggest, for example, detonating the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ arch in the center of the roundabout to make way for a parking lot — but Witherwax, one of the jurors, is inclined to smile upon submissions that overlap with the Coalition’s goals for turning Grand Army Plaza from an obstacle course for pedestrians into a true neighborhood resource.

Such goals include giving pedestrians more time to get across busy roadways like Eastern Parkway; increasing commercial activity, possibly with a greenmarket several days a week instead of only Saturday; and rerouting and closing some streets so that Prospect Park would extend beyond the arch to its neighboring fountain.

Such a plan would require the southern part of the traffic circle to be closed, with traffic rerouted onto new, two-way roads within the circle and onto a two-way Prospect Park West.

This fall, the Department of Transportation began painting additional bike lanes in the plaza and has since built raised concrete islands for pedestrians. But it’s unclear whether the more radical re-imagining of the circle envisioned by activists will come to fruition.

“These are good first steps, but do we want to nibble around the edges of the problem, or do we want to systematically and holistically handle it from the top down?” asked Witherwax.

Visit for information about the contest.

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Reader Feedback

Michael Cairl from Park Slope says:
One of the points the Grand Army Plaza Coalition made very clear in its recent presentation to CB6 was that a two-way Prospect Park West would NOT necessarily be an outcome of a makeover of the Plaza, but it COULD enable a two-way PPW should that be deemed desirable. More than this, though, please understand that there is no firm alternative plan for dealing with the traffic in Grand Army Plaza at this time. The CB6 presentation merely raised one vision that came from the Coalition's community planning workshop in March 2007.
Feb. 28, 2008, 1:57 pm
Red from B-lo says:
Gilbert Perrault interpretive exhibit...
Feb. 28, 2008, 3:12 pm

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