Spruce St. parents, locals call for safer streetscape

A pedestrian crosses at the intersection of Gold and Spruce Streets — one of several in the vicinity of the Spruce Street School that, according to local families, could be safer. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  City officials are promising to improve pedestrian safety conditions on the eastern side of City Hall Park this fall, but local residents are demanding quicker action.

Residents and parents of children who attend the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397), which opened last September in its permanent home at the Frank Gehry building, were shaken by the fatal accident involving an S.U.V. and 58-year-old U.P.S. worker Michael Rogalle in mid-April.

Rogalle, a beloved neighborhood mailman, was critically injured when the vehicle struck him on the curb of Beekman Street, near Nassau Street. He died in the hospital less than a week later.

As soon as Spruce Street School parent Jemuel Ripley heard the news, he began fearing for the safety of his kindergarten-aged daughter. Ripley, along with more than 100 other parents, sent a petition to the city Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) in May requesting that the city immediately implement traffic control indicators mandated by the New York State Law for School Zones, including signage, a school crossing and speed bumps, in addition to a reduced speed zone.

But the area is not designated as a school zone, according to the D.O.T.

The request was months in the making since, according to Ripley and other parents, the school opened at the Gehry building without adequate safety measures to deter cars from speeding along Spruce and Beekman Streets.

Ripley, who belongs to the school’s Parent Teacher Association, decided to take matters into his own hands when a May meeting he scheduled with D.O.T. officials and Nancy Harris, the school’s principal, never materialized.

“The D.O.T. seems to operate with [the mentality,] we’ll do something more once a fatality or a serious issue has happened,” he said. “That’s obviously terrifying to hear and see.”

He helped draft a resolution for Community Board 1 asking that the D.O.T. install traffic control indicators on both Spruce and Beekman Streets, including speed bumps on Spruce Street, mid-block crosswalks between Pace University and the Spruce Street School and additional school crossing signs in the immediate area.

The D.O.T. responded in mid-June by putting up new signs along Gold, Spruce and Beekman Streets that abide by federal guidelines and that are meant to protect school children in particular.

The Department has also promised to paint the crosswalks on the blocks neighboring the school prior to the start of the new school year. Due to ongoing sidewalk construction along Spruce Street, however, the D.O.T. must hold off on this until August, according to Kim Lua, project manager of the D.O.T.’s Office of School Safety.

The D.O.T. is also looking into the possibility of classifying the area as a school zone, a decision to be made in September.

But the news, which D.O.T. officials communicated at C.B. 1’s June 21 Quality of Life Committee meeting, hardly satisfied the locals.

Ripley, for one, complains that the new signs aren’t effective. “It’s two people that look like two people — it doesn’t say school or anything,” he said.

“We don’t have to wait ‘til September. We have the hospital and pregnant women and university students crossing there every day,” said Ann DeFalco, chair of the board’s Youth and Education Committee who works at nearby Pace University — blocks away from the Spruce Street School — and witnesses the school bus drop off children on Spruce Street on her daily route to the college.

Cars fly down the street and don’t stop when the school bus comes to a halt, DeFalco said. “You have a huge cross area that has no street markings in the middle of the street,” she said. “The speed bumps should go there.”

Youth and Education Committee co-chair Paul Hovitz asked for temporary crosswalk lines to be painted on the street. “There’s a hospital there, there’s a synagogue there, there’s a brand new 75-story building there,” he said, “so at least there [should be] some kind of safety for the kids and everyone else that’s in the neighborhood.”

But according to Lua, the city must check with Downtown Hospital and Engine Company 6 before installing the bumps.

Hospital spokesperson Anthony Ercolano said the hospital supports the requests of C.B. 1 but wouldn’t comment further.

Lua told the committee he’d look into the matter further. The D.O.T. is also contemplating reducing the area speed limit to 20 miles per hour from 30 miles per hour, according to Lua.

“The inspector was there several weeks ago to see if they qualified,” he said.

But Hovitz pointed out that drivers’ adherence to speed limits is contingent on the presence of cops.

“Speed bumps are self-enforcing,” he said.

Barclay Street resident Alana Chuong, whose child also attends the Spruce Street School, expressed concern about pedestrian safety along Park Row, where an S.U.V. nearly collided with her and her five-year-old child on a recent weekday.

“[The car] stopped this close…I was almost in tears,” she said. “I’d love to see the light come to a red and not give pedestrians the right of way by counting down.”

Nassau Street resident Maggie Lava stressed the need to identify the school in the form of signs or crosswalks.

“For those of us that work here or live here…you’ll be making such a difference for us,” she said.