Stop and go on B.P.C. traffic safety issues

Downtown Express photos by Sam Spokony This stop sign was recently installed near P.S./I.S. 276 after a crossing guard was hit by a cab, but the city has denied another request to allow more students to use bus service.
Downtown Express photos by Sam Spokony
This stop sign was recently installed near P.S./I.S. 276 after a crossing guard was hit by a cab, but the city has denied another request to allow more students to use bus service.

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  City education officials have once again denied a group of P.S./I.S. 276 parents’ request for bus service — and the parents say it’s a decision that places technicalities and finances ahead of their children’s safety.

The group of 30 parents, who all live in the Financial District, were pushing the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation to grant a hazard variance to the neighborhood’s third-to-eighth graders who must currently walk nearly a mile, through dangerous, high-traffic intersections, to get to the Battery Park City school (located at 55 Battery Pl.).

O.P.T. guidelines state that students above second grade, and who also live less than one mile from their school, cannot ride the bus unless they are granted a hazard variance due to safety concerns.

Kate Godici, one of those parents (whose second-grade daughter will lose bus service next school year), applied for the variances on behalf of the group last September, after she had told an O.P.T. official about her situation, and was actually urged by the official to submit an application.

Her argument was bolstered by the fact that the P.S./I.S. 276 bus that already picks up younger children in the Financial District is nearly empty throughout the school year. In addition, its riders will continue to dwindle because students in that neighborhood are now being zoned for the nearby Spruce Street School or forthcoming Peck Slip School.

But the city denied those requests a month later, claiming that “no hazards” exist on the students’ rush hour walking route, which crosses both the mouth of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and the busy north and southbound lanes of Route 9A/West St. The written response came from Robert Carney, O.P.T.’s chief of staff.

The parents were outraged by his decision, as this newspaper reported last year, and — with support from local elected officials — eventually convinced O.P.T. to reconsider the proposal by conducting another study of the route at the end of December. However, Godici says Carney told her that he actually had no interest in reversing his ruling based on the consideration of safety issues.

‘I’d called Carney to ask what was taking so long,” Godici told Downtown Express, “and he said, more than once, that he was going to do the study again just so he could prove his position. He was being personally vindictive.”

According to both her and Stacey Vasseur, another parent in the FiDi group, the O.P.T. chief was particularly miffed by the fact that Godici was trying to get a variance for her daughter in advance of the second-grader aging out of bus service.

“Carney clearly took exception to Kate fighting this fight for us, as a representative,” Vasseur said. “He had a problem with it.”

Godici added that she kept pushing so hard, not only to support her fellow applicants, but because she “saw this all happening, and I didn’t want it to happen to my kids next.” She also has a first-grade daughter who will soon be forced to walk the allegedly unsafe, crosstown route to school.

In the end, Carney did deny the variance requests one again — while perhaps revealing his own frustration with the nature of the parents’ effort — in a Jan. 27 letter to Godici.

“You have requested information on behalf of the parents of other children who are now ineligible and in anticipation of the fact that, given the decisions made in the other cases, one of your children will become ineligible next year,” Carney wrote, dwelling on Godici’s personal stake in the issue before stating that his previous denial still stands.

 The intersection of Battery Place and Little West St. near P.S./I.S. 276, which does not have any traffic signals.

The intersection of Battery Place and Little West St. near P.S./I.S.
276, which does not have any traffic signals.

As with last October’s decision, the letter also put forth an O.P.T.-approved walking route for the children, which would still force them to cross the busy bottom of West St. It also suggested that the students cross an intersection at Battery Place and Little West St. that has no traffic signals (although the letter states that intersection “can be avoided” by crossing higher up at Battery Place And First Place).

“It just seemed like making the kids safe was never part of the equation for [Carney],” said Vasseur, whose fourth grader must now continue to make the walk to school each day.

But the FiDi parents still have support from local elected officials as they seek to make their voices heard on the issue. Along with previous backing from Councilmember Margaret Chin and State Senator Daniel Squadron, Chin sent a Feb. 20 letter to D.O.E. Chancellor Carmen Farina, urging her to “review the safety situation and reconsider this [O.P.T.] decision if possible.”

However, when this newspaper asked D.O.E. for an explanation of its bussing office’s actions, — of lack thereof — and mentioned Chin’s letter, the department’s response was decidedly terse.

“We have criteria for bus service,” wrote D.O.E. spokesperson Marge Feinberg, in a Feb. 24 email. “Older students do not meet the distance requirement and are not eligible to ride the school bus. We have provided an alternative walking route that avoids intersections parents had mentioned.”

Apart from the bussing stalemate, another recently highlighted safety issue around P.S./I.S. 276 involved the Department of Transportation’s decision to install three-way stop signs at the intersection of Battery Place and First Place, just outside the school’s entrance, where a crossing guard was struck (but not seriously injured) by a cab on Jan. 29.

“Following a recent intersection study, D.O.T. installed multi-way stop regulations there to reduce potential conflicts between vehicles and the many students crossing the intersection, enhancing safety for everyone using these streets,” said D.O.T. spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera.

That particular decision has been applauded by parents and local electeds.

“The recent incident involving a school crossing guard served to highlight a concern that local residents and parents have expressed repeatedly: This is a dangerous intersection and it is crucial that we take measures to reduce the likelihood of an accident,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in a statement released last week. “I want to thank the D.O.T. for responding to our community’s needs.”

Meanwhile, Chin is also reviving a previous push to convince D.O.T. to approve a Slow Zone — which would lower the speed limit to 20 m.p.h. and further enhance traffic safety — around the entrance to the B.P.C. school. An application last year was denied by the Department.

In her Feb. 20 letter to the D.O.E. Chancellor, Chin said she and other advocates plan to resubmit an application this year. She also asked Farina to “join me in urging [D.O.T.] to install better traffic calming and safety measures in proximity to the school.”

A new application may be more likely to succeed, given Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new Vision Zero initiative that seeks to implement Slow Zones and other new safety measures across the city, in an attempt to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries.

But the mayor does not yet seem willing to take a stance on the issue, specifically regarding P.S./I.S. 276. When asked for comment on the possibility of a Slow Zone there, de Blasio’s office did not respond.