The French apparently hold the key to fixing Grand Army Plaza.
Three of the four teams that won prizes in a new design competition to reimagine the clogged traffic artery in the heart of Brooklyn are from France.
Two organizations — the Design Trust for Space and the Grand Army Plaza Coalition — invited architects and urban planners to craft a new vision for the plaza.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the top prizes went to teams with a close personal connection to Paris’s Place Charles de Gaulle — the notorious traffic hub where 12 avenues meet and, like our own Grand Army Plaza, there’s even a large, ceremonial memorial arch in it.
All 30 finalists will go on display in the inner plaza on Sept. 13 — and Brooklynites long exasperated with the once-illustrious gateway to Prospect Park will even get to vote for their favorite.
Eventually, one of the chosen designs may even become a reality, said event organizer Deborah Marton, the executive director of the Design Trust.
Two French teams — one from Nantes and one from Paris — tied for first place. Both the winning plans envision a paved — though car-free — zone between the park’s Union Street entrance and the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Arch, currently a busy car link between Park Slope and Eastern Parkway.
The second-prize winner, from another Paris-based team, imagines a reflecting pool, an amphitheater and kiosks for newspapers, food, and bicycle rentals. Flatbush Avenue, currently divided into wide, north- and south-bound segments rushing through the circle, would become a single, two-way street on the east side of the plaza while the current south-bound lanes would be given back to pedestrians.
The lone homegrown team, a Brooklyn-based partnership between Garrison Architects and the transportation consulting firm of NelsonNygaard, won the third prize with a plan to expand the center oval and push both segments of Flatbush Avenue further to the outer edge of the circle.
In addition, this team would build an elevated pedestrian walkway to the inner plaza, and add a formal system of bikeways.
Users of Grand Army Plaza — drivers, bikers, pedestrians and open space enthusiasts — are eager to view new ideas of how best to use the 11-acre space.
“There’s never been a kind of comprehensive look at what should happen to this place to suit the needs of the people who live around it and the people who pass through it,” Marton said.
“We wanted to use this as a way to flush out visionary ideas … and to work on out what the possibilities are and to build the support for moving for the next phase,” Marton explained.
When the exhibition comes down, city planners and traffic engineers will consult the conceptual designs while creating a master plan, Marton said.
Grand Army Plaza Coalition Vice Chair Michael Cairl said that residents and users will be involved at every step of the way, which is the point: “The best thing the designs can do is give the community a sense of what the out-of-the-box ideas are,” he said.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be better for the community to sit down and come to a consensus of what it wants, what is buildable, and what best serves our objectives,” he added.
But the design competition has no official capacity. Even as Brooklynites browse the exhibition, the Department of Transportation is planning its own parallel track of traffic-calming measures and usability studies for the hectic space which was designed by its original visionaries, Olmsted and Vaux, as a grand gateway to their master work, Prospect Park.
Last October, the city transformed 11,000 square feet of street space into three concrete pedestrian islands, five new crosswalks, 10 new pedestrian signals, and a protected bike path. The city also has painted several additional bike lanes throughout the plaza.
Other proposed plans include closing the southern part of the traffic circle and rerouting new, two-way roads within the circle and onto a two-way Prospect Park West.
Several design ideas from this contest proposed transforming Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West into two-way streets, and abandoning the traffic circle idea altogether and constructing a more conservative square-shaped intersection.
The exhibit opens to the public with a party on Saturday, Sept. 13, 11 am to 4 pm in the center of the plaza. Visitors will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite ideas via text message; the results will be announced on Oct. 8.