The push for a crossing guard at Horace Harding Expressway and Junction Boulevard seems stalled in all directions, but those involved hope a recent push by Sen. JosÈ Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) will cause some action.
Several years ago a crossing guard manned the corner three blocks from PS 206, an elementary school at 61-02 98 St. where Rego Park and East Elmhurst meet, but she retired.
Then the Rego Center II mall was built on the corner in question, bringing even more cars to the roadway that siphons racing vehicles onto the Long Island Expressway. In fact the mall supervisors know this and during the Christmas season they hire private guards for their shoppers.
In the years since the last crossing guard’s retirement the Parent Teacher Association, Friends of LeFrak Library and Principal Joan Thomas have sent letters to city officials and departments without receiving a guard. Several petitions were also filed.
“We tried to latch onto the PTA’s efforts, but nothing happened,” said Pat Martin, president of the library group.
The reasons for inaction are varied.
“That’s the million dollar question,” Peralta said. “One of the reasons, when I spoke to the Police Department, why it isn’t happening, they seem to claim, is that they have another crossing guard in a nearby area.”
A spokeswoman from the 112th Precinct said the Junction Boulevard location is a secondary post to the already-filled spot at 99th Street, a block over, where that person helps students cross Horace Harding then use the pedestrian bridge to cross the LIE.
She said not many people apply to be a crossing guard, but if they had the manpower they would put a guard at Junction Boulevard and Horace Harding.
Last week Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, confirmed that, saying it is hard to find individuals who can work the spotty guard hours of the morning when children head to school and the afternoon at dismissal time.
But Peralta and those at the elementary school would like to see the guard shifted over.
“Ninety-ninth is a minor street,” Martin said. “There’s nowhere near as much traffic as at Junction Boulevard.”
Students are told to walk from PS 206 to 99th Street and use the guard, but Peralta worries most children who live across Horace Harding in LeFrak City aren’t going to walk a couple blocks out of their way for the safer option.
“They are going to take the chance,” Peralta said.
Police Officer David Saponieri at the 110th Precinct said, “We are still holding interviews for one more crossing guard.”
“I don’t know if they would go there,” he said, “but we are definitely aware of it and looking into it.”
Following a letter from the senator the DOT said it would analyze the corner for safety improvements, but spokeswoman Nicole Garcia gave no time frame.
“The thing about a crossing guard, it’s a reaction to a dangerous situation. It’s not the best solution because it’s not a permanent solution like a design change or enforcement would be,” said Juan Martinez, general counsel to the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
“The DOT is excellent at designing solutions,” he said. “I think they have the ability to take a long look and could come up with something really excellent.”
Speed cameras would be a way to monitor the street, Martinez said.
The state declined to budget for a camera pilot program, which the City Council requested. And even though the Council has asked the Senate to pass the bill already approved by the Assembly, momentum seems to be slowing down, Peralta said, adding that an 11th hour decision is not uncommon in Albany.
But he still wants a guard.
“Understand the bureaucracy of government,” Peralta said. “A design, a study and analysis could take months and years, then a bureaucrat would analyze it, but you might see dozens injured in the short term.
“Speed cameras are nice, but a live person who is willing to help them cross is what we need.”