The city must do more to protect Sunset Park kids who walk by a dangerous Fourth Avenue gas station to get to school, and change has to come from the top, say local pols.
Mayor DeBlasio must force the Department of Transportation to take immediate steps to make the treacherous station between 30th and 31st streets — a block from an elementary school — safer for residents of all ages, according to a joint letter elected officials sent the mayor on Feb. 21.
State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D–Crown Heights), Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D–Sunset Park), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Sunset Park), Borough President Adams, and Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) wrote that the flimsy, temporary plastic barriers and signs that the police and transit agency installed on the unmarked pavement in response to complaints do not do enough to protect kids’ lives in the long-term, and that the city must keep locals involved in making the Speedway gas station safer.
“The children in our community have endured potentially dangerous street crossings for many years due to the gas station’s location and road infrastructure,” the electeds wrote. “That is why we further request that any redesign incorporate the community’s perspectives on new safety measures — this would ensure that solutions moving forward are both inclusive and consistent with the community’s needs.”
The pols complained that several factors — including erratic drivers who swerve off the busy avenue to reach the fuel bays, parking regulations that cause blind spots, and PS 172’s location only a block away — all create a hazard for pedestrians who traverse the block every day.
The transportation agency’s School Safety Division must add more safety signs, permanent bollards, or sturdy barriers to protect the nabe’s kids as they walk to school, the officials wrote, adding that the division should also “provide infrastructure to monitor speed and encourage driver awareness” and conduct a review of nearby school crossing guards, traffic signals, and signage. And the division should also add “no standing at anytime” zones to the Fourth Avenue and 31st Street entrances to reduce blind spots, the electeds wrote.
The pols also sent the letter to the commissioner of the transportation department, the chancellor of the education department, the police commissioner, the Community Board 11 district manager, and PS 172’s principal, Jack Spatola.
A rep from the police department said officials would review the letter. And reps from Speedway and the transportation agency met on Feb. 20 and are in the process of developing a joint-design plan, according to a Speedway spokeswoman, who did not respond to a follow-up inquiry about whether or not there would be a chance for public comment on that plan.
Spatola and local parents recently called community input after they alleged the transportation agency was keeping them in the dark on its plans for the site. A spokeswoman from the Department of Transportation promised that the agency would share more updates and details after schools’ reopened on Feb. 26 following their midwinter recess.
Neither Spatola nor the mayor’s office returned calls for comment.
Parents have slammed the city for punting the more-than-decade-old problem of the dangerous station from one agency to the next. The police department added additional plastic sidewalk barriers — with taped-on fliers reminding drivers to stay off the sidewalk — towards the end of January, but parents said the barriers are too flimsy, and that they saw cars crash into and drag them.
And Spatola insisted the city should add “school zone” signs in a two-block radius around the learning house, extend the crossing guard’s hours from 3:30 to 6:30 pm to accommodate students in after-school programs, and add a second crossing guard on 31st Street.
The parent who led the charge drawing attention to the station’s problems said she is eagerly awaiting the mayor’s response and glad that local pols are stepping up, but added that she hopes the problem-solvers would keep the parents who initially pushed for change up-to-date.
“I’m encouraged by all of the local elected officials who are working to solve this life-or-death crisis,” said Arsenia Reilly-Collins, who started an online petition calling for temporary solutions and a meeting with the transportation department, which has garnered more than 400 signatures. “I just wish that the parents were kept in the loop as partners. We feel shut out from the process.”