Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Friday, May 28, 2010

Civic Council: New Park Highway Will Relieve Congestion?

This story marks the beginning of "driving season" this Memorial Day weekend.

If the Park Slope Civic Council were to advocate a new highway through Prospect Park to relieve traffic congestion, the idea would probably be universally condemned today.

Thankfully, when the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, the Park Slope Civic Council's ancestor organization, proposed this very idea in 1930, it was roundly condemned at that time as well, and the Park remained "inviolate". This forgotten story will surely resonate for anyone familiar with contemporary issues such as bike lanes, cars in the parks, and one-way vs. two-way streets.

The sponsor of this idea was Dr. J. Francis Ward, president of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade in 1930. Ward was also the city's Regional Director for Prospect Park at the time.

Ward advanced the idea to build a new highway through Prospect Park as a continuation of 9th Street, to relieve the "traffic jam" that was induced when 9th street was widened during the construction of the F subway line. Many other neighborhood groups voiced immediate opposition to the proposal, but parks officials gamely agreed to survey the park with Dr. Ward to assess the proposed highway's impact:

New York Times, July 13, 1930

Dr. Ward was apparently an adherent of the idea that the way to relieve traffic congestion is to pour ever more concrete. Regarding his wish for a "direct route... to the Sunrise Trail," one also wonders whether Dr. Ward might have had a weekend cottage on Long Island to which he was seeking a quick getaway:

Nathan Straus, Jr., president of the city's Park Association, was decidedly unimpressed by the proposal, calling it two days later a "park encroachment of the grossest and most objectionable kind." Ward, meanwhile, citing the opinions of "experts," vowed to continue the fight:

New York Times, July 15, 1930

Interestingly, communities south of the park opposed the plan, in contrast to today, when it is sometimes assumed that some in those communities seek to maximize vehicular access through and around the park. The Borough Park Neighborhood Association in particular threatened to litigate if the plan for a new highway through Prospect Park advanced:

A Mr. Davy, however, employed in the capacity of City Engineer, voiced the seemingly counterintuitive idea that "any new roads through the park would only add to the traffic jam there now," an idea now known as induced demand or "Build it and they will come" (along with its corollary, "Take it away and they will go"). Mr. Ward concludes with an appeal to "the facts," and expresses the opinion that a highway could become a "decorative part of the park:"

Even the way Dr. Ward frames his argument ("I am as heartily for the sentiment of natural beauty as my opponents, but...") finds echo in today's opposition to bike lanes ("I'm all for bikes, generally speaking, but...").

Of course we all know the end of this story. Thankfully, the highway was never built. As for Dr. Ward, president of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, he was asked to resign from his post as director of Prospect Park, but he expressed no doubt that "time would show the wisdom of my plan:"

New York Times, July 24, 1930

1 comment:

ChickenUnderwear said...

Thanks for collecting those articles.