Reinventing Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza is the main entrance to Prospect Park, and it’s been called New York City's answer to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, the space as it is used today is difficult to walk around, drive around, and is generally not very user-friendly.

The Design Trust for Public Space is launching a new project to redesign Grand Army Plaza. Tupper Thomas of Prospect Park and Deborah Marton of the Design Trust for Public Space talk about how GAP could be improved - and they want to hear your ideas on making it more user-friendly!

Weigh in: What do you like and dislike about the way Grand Army Plaza is currently used? What would you like to see changed?


Deborah Marton and Tupper Thomas

Comments [30]

jennifer from inwood, nyc

i just got back from china where they have underground walkways beneath major intersections. then they have shops, etc down there. it can be convenient in a circular space like this as you can walk at any angle you like. also instead of having shops, perhaps we could make it a place for musical performance or artistic display.

Feb. 07 2008 06:08 PM
Mike Eakin from Plaza Street East & Vanderbilt Avenue

The inaccessibility is greatly overstated. I've lived on Plaza Street since 1992 and lived at Butler and Sterling from 1974 to 1981. The DOT made substantial improvements a few years back so that traffic today is reasonably well behaved considering the volume at this great crossroads. I get to the central park around the fountain and Arch routinely and easily. There are well marked crosswalks and traffic lights. True, you may have to wait a bit, but it's not difficult or dangerous. When I go to the Park or Farmers' Market, living directly across from it as I do, I can walk either way around Plaza Street, or around either sidewalk next to the traffic circle, but I usually choose to walk straight across, passing next to the fountain and under the Arch to again admire the Bronze reliefs by Eakins and Donovan.

Feb. 06 2008 09:25 PM
Kimberly from Prospect Lefferts

PLEASE BEAUTIFY FLATBUSH AVE ALONG CORRIDOR FROM G.A.P. TO OCEAN AVE : it could be such a lovely boulevard to the Zoo and the Botanic Garden, BUT the sidewalks are crumbling, the iron fences are falling apart. More benches, more lighting, some flower planters, and even safety barriers to protect pedestrians from the speeding cars and buses along Flatbush are desperately needed. Eventually, I think the Saturday Farm Market could stretch along that boulevard to include arts and crafts booths!

Please can somebody think about this...

Feb. 06 2008 08:14 PM
Beth from Carroll Gardens

Martin, the JFK monument is there right now, just north of the Bailey Fountain. It was temporarily removed in 2004 when the inner oval space was renovated.

Feb. 06 2008 05:27 PM
Carol from Brooklyn

The light project - just mentioned - is truly beautiful. It is a lure to the space. Something like that should be incorporated into the final design. Of course, access to the site is the first priority - it has to be safe and user-friendly.

I have been inside the arch and look forward to the day it will be open to all.

Feb. 06 2008 01:55 PM
Christopher Gray from 80th & Broadway

Interesting, isn't it, how the broad swath of roadway is now such a threat to life and limb. And yet they are the width, or like it, that they were designed a hundred years ago.

One issue is that there is more traffic now than there used to be. But to me the more pertinent lens through which to view such public spaces is that of speed. When vehicles moved at horse-speeds, even the widest roadways were open to pedestrians - who are often visible meandering through them. The whole thing - sidewalk, plaza, roadway - was a common space.

Now, with higher speeds, they have become killing zones - even a six year old knows that the NYC streets are forbidden areas.

Feb. 06 2008 01:53 PM
JC from Brooklyn

Considering the concern for the design and historic character of GAP, Could the guests please explain the new glass and ateel apartment building being built opposite the Public Library. Many find it to be entirely out of place , if not offensive. How was this design passed if this area has landmark status?

Feb. 06 2008 01:51 PM
Zoe Knight from Brooklyn

I think the GAP is beautiful and triumphant but extremely difficult to enjoy due to lack of pedestrian access. My husband proposed to me under the arch so we have a personal connection to it. I hope it's less "redesign" and more "renovation"!

Feb. 06 2008 01:50 PM
sunday from long island

what about an overhead pedestrian bridge? this would put people safely where you want them & give a beautiful overhead view as well... it would be nice to make a bicycle lane there as well...

Feb. 06 2008 01:46 PM
Hal from Crown Heights

Please consider the connection for bicyclists riding from the bike path on Eastern Parkway on their way to the park entrance.

As it stands, the bikeway ends at Washington Avenue and there is no indication of recommended route, and you are faced with oncoming eastbound traffic on the Parkway.

Feb. 06 2008 01:41 PM
Tamar Smith from Brooklyn

As other posters have said the worst thing is the inaccessibility of the fountain. I've lived in Brooklyn all my life and have never been there because its just too dangerous. Also, when you are driving around the traffic circle coming from Eastern Pkway, its very hard to get to Union Street - there is a roadway that looks like a way to drive there, but its not - but its not until you're half way around that you realize you shouldn't have driven that way - and by then you're nearly being run down by people coming up into the traffic circle from Flatbush Avenue. The bottom line is that it needs to be safer to cross, we should be able to easily visit the arch and the fountains, and it should also be clearer which way to go when you are driving. Its such a beautiful place!

Feb. 06 2008 01:41 PM
martin from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

One of the guests on the show mentioned a bust of JFK. Its gone and has been gone for about 2yrs now. Does anyone know where it is?
To improve GAP:
time the traffic lights to suit pedestrians.
bycycle paths all-around GAP.

Feb. 06 2008 01:38 PM
hjs from 11211

can we ban the cars and have a walking plaza?

Feb. 06 2008 01:34 PM
martin Lubin from Jackson Heights

I grew up on Butler Place, a one-block street radiating from the circle. We used the crescent-shaped hills surrounding the plaza, (we called one the "The Banana Hill") as play space, but there was no access other than climbing the fences, as I believe is still the case. Much better use could be made of these parts of the plaza and of the sidewalks and benches surrounding them.

I went back not long ago, partly to revisit the two bronze relief panels in the arch, (designed, I believe, by Thomas Eakins? and were they of Grant and Lincoln on horseback?), and found the plaza deserted and inaccessible, as I always had as a child.

My father, a painter, referred to the style of the sculpture of the fountain as "Greeks chewing grapes."

Feb. 06 2008 01:19 PM
Ian from Prospect Heights

It would be great to see the arch and fountain more accessible to pedestrians. As it is, the arch is so inaccessible, it remains untouched even by graffiti artists!

Though I have major reservations about cameras in public spaces, I think the Plaza is a place where cameras would help. It might deter the daily reckless driving and it would likely help walkers feel safer.

Feb. 06 2008 01:02 PM
Hugh from Brooklyn

Many thanks for discussing this. Here are my thoughts:

1. GAP is terribly hostile to pedestrians. The center island(s) of the Plaza are nearly cut off entirely from the outer perimeter.

2. I love trees, but I actually think that the Plaza is somewhat overgrown. Potentially, there is an extraordinary view from the steps of the Brooklyn Library and the entrance of Prospect Park, but this is entirely hidden by dense tree growth. (Of course, buildings might block any view if trees did not).

3. Absolutely no advantage is currently taken of the Plaza's potential to be one of NYC's great public spaces. (The exception being the farmers' market on Saturdays -- a market which seems steadily to be declining in size.)

4. The auto traffic is insane, and murderous. Lights, speed limits, pedestrians are ignored. The exit onto Flatbush at the Library has one traffic camera -- the only camera I'm aware of in the Plaza. More cameras might urge caution upon the drivers.

5. The roadways are too wide. The exitway onto Eastern Parkway has one lane too many. The roadway through Prospect Park could be just one lane on each side, rather than two.

Sadly, if past development in New York is any indication, the design-by-committee approach probably means the Plaza will end up worse.

Feb. 06 2008 12:52 PM
Beth from Carroll Gardens

I walk across Prospect Park West and Flatbush 2 times every workday. The speeding cars are awful (as Jamie says above). Apart from a tunnel, are there other traffic controls options like multiple human traffic cops, speed bumps (followed by tire-piercing spikes), or charging a toll to drive through GAP?

Feb. 06 2008 12:17 PM
Jamie from Brooklyn

It's that bloody light between the Library and the Park entrance. There are two streets to cross and the cross walks are sinked so PEDS get stranded on that small sliver of concrete while 4 lanes of traffics buzz around them. It is the most awful experience and extremely dangerous.

(Though GAP is definitely the heart of Brooklyn!)

Feb. 06 2008 12:11 PM
Shannon from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Grand Army Plaza's striking arc and the surrounding island and fountain hold so much potential for public and private events and, sadly, the space goes virtually unused.
I think this area could easily be converted into a source of potential revenue for the city. I envision cultural events such as festivals, fairs or concerts functioning nicely once automobile traffic is contained and restricted, and pedestrians and bikes given priority.

Feb. 06 2008 12:04 PM
Juliana Luecking from Prospect heights

I live a block away from Grand Army Plaza, at Flatbush and Sterling. I'm not kidding, I fear for my life at every crosswalk around the Plaza.

I like Ed's idea of tunneling the Flatbush and Eastern Parkway traffic. In the meantime, Brooklyn NYPD should be ticketing speeding, negligent drivers. Where are the police?

And please, no commercial zoning for Grand Army Plaza. It's public space! - Juliana

Feb. 06 2008 12:03 PM
David from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Living in the neighborhood, I try to avoid walking and biking around the plaza because of how long it takes with how badly the lights are timed. However, having driven around it a couple times, I have to say it isn't any less annoying for cars either! It is a bad design for anyone who has to cross it.

I like Rob's idea of making it a peninsula off of the park - this would also improve the area for the farmer's market on Saturdays. But I wonder why the plaza couldn't be turned into an actual traffic circle for cars like intersections elsewhere in the world.

Feb. 06 2008 10:41 AM
Rob from Brooklyn

Grand Army Plaza could be Brooklyn's greatest civic space: it has great architecture, great monuments, and great design. But it is inaccessible: it is an island, isolated by an ocean of asphalt and the rapid currents of traffic.

We should change this island to a peninsula - reroute traffic, so that it goes to the side of the arch and fountain and not around it. That will make pedestrian access far more feasible. And it will enable a lot of the programmin options discussed in posts above to occur and succeed.

Feb. 06 2008 09:46 AM
Mike from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Grand Army Plaza needs to be reoriented towards pedestrians and cyclists and not cars. Crosswalks need to be made safer and lights timed more conveniently for pedestrians, especially children and the elderly. Coloring or raising crosswalks may be a good idea for defining pedestrian and cyclist space. More direct crossings would also make the plaza more ped/bike friendly. Peds and cyclists have to cross 4-7 intersections, hopping from island to island, to get between park slope and prospect heights. That number should be cut down.

A tunnel for Flatbush is a good idea but it cant happen because two subway tunnels run under the street and plaza. In order to create better access to the plaza the number of car lanes in the inner circle must be reduced and direct crossings to the fountain should be installed. It would be great to have a shake shack or something like it over there to attract people. Also, closing the park to cars would enhance public space for the greenmarket as well as safety for cyclists, pedestrians, and park users.

Feb. 05 2008 10:31 PM
Bruce from Park Slope

The arch and fountain should be better linked to the larger park space. There should be easier and safer ways for pedestrians to make their way across the plaza. The traffic congestion on Union Street is horrendous and backs up the smooth flow of traffic on 8th Avenue. The potential for an attractive network of arch, fountain, and park has been squandered by over-attention to the needs of automobiles.

Feb. 05 2008 10:22 PM
karen from park slope, brooklyn

Pedestrian bridge(s) should make the site more accessible and preserve the beauty. As it stands, it is most inaccessible! The traffic circle is a menace for cars and pedestrians alike. Traffic experts should rethink the traffic flow and lights.

Feb. 05 2008 06:06 PM
Diane from Plaza Street

The timing of the traffic lights at the intersection of Union Street and Plaza Street West results in traffic congestion on those streets as well as on Berkeley Place and 8th Ave. Irritated drivers think nothing of using their horns, bike lanes and crosswalks to enter into GAP in order to reposition themselves at the next set of traffic lights. Please consider, at the very least, retiming the traffic lights so that
civility returns. A tunnel is an intriguing idea!

Feb. 05 2008 06:01 PM
Ed from Park Slope

Since this is just wishful thinking, how about a tunnel for the cars? Flatbush Avenue could turn into a tunnel from before Plaza Street and not come out again until Empire Boulevard - then pedestrians, bicyclists and local traffic could have a real plaza, and Prospect Park could be reunited with the Botanical Garden.

Feb. 05 2008 03:42 PM
Andrew from brooklyn

I agree that it is hard to get to but No bridges please. There can be accomodations made for pedestrians to make it to the circle more easily.

GAP has the potential to be one of the premier public spaces in New York, if not the United States.

Thought must be given to how to integrate the circle with the park and surrounding cultural institutions.

there could be sculpture, a shake shack type of retail setting, art fairs, better bus shelters, more inviting and better maintained park facilities along Plaza Street, fewer lanes for high speed traffic and more space for bikes and pedestrians.

I welcome the efforts of the design trust to rethink Grand Army Plaza. We have to do it now before the Atlantic Yards mess brings an additional 10-15k cars into the neighborhood each day.

Feb. 05 2008 02:09 PM
Kate from brooklyn

It needs to be made more pedestrian and bike friendly. Crossing the street there is a nightmare for pedestrians.

Feb. 05 2008 02:01 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

I wish the fountain could be made more accessible! It's beautiful and inviting, but it's so hard to get to. How could the fountain be made easier to get to? Traffic would need to be redirected, which seem unlikely.

Could a big pedestrian bridge be built to stretch over the traffic in several directions over GAP?

Feb. 05 2008 10:49 AM

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