There are few things that my 18-month-old daughter Anna loves more than Prospect Park. Even before she could walk, my wife Zoe and I brought her to crawl in the grass and romp around the playgrounds. Of course, there’s one barrier between our home on 11th Street and the park we visit every day: Prospect Park West.
As a new parent, it’s the sort of street that scares me to the core. Any plan that slows down speeding cars and makes it safer to cross has my full support, and I’m glad the Department of Transportation is finally doing something that’ll let parents like me breathe easier.
The instinctive fear that many of us feel about this dangerous street is validated by the hard numbers. Put simply, Prospect Park West is too wide for the modest amount of traffic it carries. The result? A mini-highway where drivers weave in and out at high speed.
Earlier this year, Park Slope Neighbors, a local civic organization, took a radar gun out to the street and found 85 percent of cars exceeding the speed limit, with a startling 30 percent averaging 40 mph or more. At that speed, it’s all but certain that a pedestrian struck by a car won’t survive.
All of this brings me to the proposed plan to narrow Prospect Park West and add pedestrian refuges and a two-way physically separated bicycle lane on the park side of the street. This project will improve safety for everyone, especially walkers. Our most vulnerable pedestrians — children and senior citizens — won’t have to cross a dangerous 50-foot-wide street anymore. And by reducing the number of traffic lanes, the new design will finally get vehicles driving at or below the speed limit, making the road safer for drivers and passengers as well.
Park Slope has more bike commuters than almost any neighborhood in the city, and the bike lane is clearly a boon for cyclists; where a similar design was installed on Williamsburg’s Kent Avenue, we now see children and seniors riding safely — an indication of a truly safe cycling environment. These designs work; they’ve been reducing injuries and fatalities on streets across the city in recent years. It’s time we put them to work in our neighborhood.
I’ve heard grumbling from some of my neighbors — our borough president included — about the plan’s supposed impact on drivers. I remember the same “sky is falling” outcry when bike lanes were installed two years ago on Ninth Street nearby. Here we are in 2010, no “car-mageddon” on Ninth Street, just a safer street all-around.
I guarantee that after a few months of seeing a redesigned Prospect Park West at work, those arguments won’t hold much water.
It’s taken ages to convince the city to do something about Prospect Park West. Thousands of families like mine have been waiting for the day when we can cross this street without fear. We shouldn’t have to wait a single day longer.
Paul Steely White is the executive director of Transportation Alternatives and a resident of Park Slope.