Is my son at age 9 old enough to walk by himself to the school bus stop?
I recently pondered that question over pints with a friend, as our kids’ soccer team practiced across the street. We remembered walking to school by ourselves — by kindergarten. Granted, neither of us grew up in NYC. But it seems that many children roamed more freely in crime-ridden 1970s NYC than our kids — and kids nationwide — do today.
Much has contributed to this cultural shift, of course. But here’s a practical point: In the 1970s, when I walked a half-mile to my suburban elementary school in Massachusetts, crossing guards were at every dangerous intersection (“police ladies,” we called them). Putting more crossing guards on NYC streets would make it safer for children to walk to school in 2015.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, along with City Council members Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx), have requested funding for a 10% increase in the number of crossing guards, or an additional 236.
Brewer’s office surveyed communities surrounding 100 schools above 96th Street last summer and found that, according to survey respondents who lived in the area, 39 more guards were needed in that neighborhood to make streets safer for kids.
According to the NYPD, there are 127 vacancies but Local 372, the crossing guards’ union, says 300 are needed.
The proposed funding increase would boost compensation, making it easier to fill jobs. The city’s 2,300 guards need a living wage (current hourly pay starts at $10.33), year-round health care (benefits cut off during the summer), and no cap on their hours. Most work 25 hours a week — school drop-off and pickup — not enough to make ends meet.
During the school day, as Lander has suggested, crossing guards could be stationed at dangerous intersections in the city. After all, kids aren’t the only pedestrians who deserve protection.
Reducing pedestrian deaths has been one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature issues. Here’s a chance for him to continue making the streets safer, create a couple hundred good jobs, and help give our kids more independence.