“In all my years I’ve never seen one parent drop a child off at school on a bicycle,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky, referring to Department of Transporation plans to put a bike lane on Jewel Avenue.
Stavisky joined City Councilman James Gennaro, Assemblymembers Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and Nettie Mayersohn (D- Flushing), and community leaders on Tuesday morning to call on the DOT to halt plans to make Jewel Avenue, near P.S. 200, one-way between 164th and 168th streets. The plan also includes adding a bike lane and reducing traffic to one lane in both directions.
The DOT proposal ignores community and parent’s requests for an additional crossing guard, better signage and better timing on the traffic light. These requests followed a fatal accident outside the school last December when a fourth grade teacher was run down while crossing 164th Street at Jewel Avenue. While the driver was not held responsible for the death, the tragedy shed light on long-standing safety concerns near the school.
“This is being done to rocket off a bike lane. It not only has nothing to do with parent’s safety concerns, it’s going to create chaos,” said Carolann Foley, president of the 107th Precinct Community Council.
Community outrage at DOT’s arbitrary action came about because of a perceived lack of community consultation. “This is about the mayor’s PlaNYC 2030, not safety,” Foley said..
According to the P.S. 200 PTA President Nora Perkowsky, the school was not informed about the proposed changes until Aug. 27, only days before the school year begins. “We could have arrived back at school and found this already implemented,” she said. “And then how would we park to drop off our kids?”
Stavisky pointed to a letter faxed by the DOT on Aug. 24 informing elected officials of the changes. “It was sent to the wrong officials. “I represent this area but wasn’t notified. I had to download the proposal from DOT’s Web site.”
A common theme of the complaints against the city agency was the speed employed. “It takes years to get the DOT to do anything. I’ve never seen them act so fast,” Stavisky noted.
Gennaro added that not only is the plan bad, but it has also been mishandled. According to community representatives, the DOT came to the last Community Board 8 meeting in June and presented its plan as a done deal, no discussion possible.
“They ignored the common sense views of CB 8 and foisted this on us. DOT failed to communicate with the community, but they need to heed the legitimate concerns of parents,” Gennaro added.
Mayersohn commented that the Department of Transporation has taken the wrong aproach in this matter.
Lancman noted that it was appropriate that they were standing outside a school. “This is a needed civic lesson for the DOT.” He reminded those present that this area is where people live and have a reason to be concerned.
“Parents who drew up a petition requesting changes for their children’s safety, were met with DOT indifference,” Lancman said.
Y. Phillip Goldfeder, from the mayor’s community affairs office, refused to comment on the rally or the viability of the DOT plans. Asked whether the mayor’s office was aware of community feeling, he said, “That’s why I’m standing here.”
No DOT representative was present, although Goldfeder confirmed that he would be reporting back to the mayor’s office and the DOT.
When asked whether the agency could proceed with its plans despite opposition from elected officials and the community, Gennaro acknowledged that the DOT has the legal right to implement its plan. “But it doesn’t have the moral right,” he said.
The transportation department has argued that by reducing the number of cars and lanes, the traffic will slow, making the road safer. The proposal was rushed before CB 8 in June because the agency said it had wanted to inform the community before the summer recess because the work would be completed before the next meeting.
Lancman called on the DOT to hold hearings on the proposed changes. He believes this would, “allow them to understand what the community’s needs are and engage in a good faith exchange of ideas on how to meet these needs instead of shoving this half-baked plan down the community’s throat.”
Stavisky added that government functions best when it works together with the community and “doesn’t impose decisions from afar.”