Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza could be a terrific public square. Qt the northern end of Prospect Park, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to be a gateway to Prospect Park, and features a beautiful arch modeled on Paris’s Arc de Triomphe.
Instead, it is a crowded traffic circle where pedestrians dart across multiple lanes of traffic on short-duration walk signals. It evolved into its current state under decades of management by traffic engineers who see moving the maximum number of cars per hour as the primary goal. Project for Public Spaces lists it in their New York City Hall of Shame.
But a coalition of local residents want to fix that. They have a series of short-term improvement suggestions, from converting some of the large empty asphalt areas into landscaped, raised pedestrian islands, building a bike lane from the park across the busy traffic intersection to the quiet outer ring of the plaza, and adding many new crosswalks. Some, including trimming a traffic lane on Eastern Parkway, have already been endorsed by the newly-progressive NYC DOT.
Their long-term vision significantly reclaims space in the plaza for park use, and rebalancing the plaza between pedestrians, bicycles, and cars instead of its overwhelmingly car-centric current layout. Instead of a large traffic circle, the plaza could be two two-way streets, Flatbush Avenue and another connecting Vanderbilt to Prospect Park West, making the plaza’s signature arch and fountain part of Prospect Park and making the plaza fulfill its potential as a lively public square in the center of Brooklyn.