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Danger And Chaos, As A New School Opens In Brooklyn (Updated)

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Parents with children crossing Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

DITMAS PARK — It was obvious to anyone who had ever passed by the new school on Coney Island Avenue, that there were going to be issues with traffic, and that nothing was being done to fix them before the kids started school. 

This morning only one new school opened in Brooklyn – at 510 Coney Island Avenue, between Turner and Hinckley Places. P.S. 889 welcomed its first pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners, while six graders started at the co-located M.S. 890.

The schools sit in a building that is physically in District 20, but serve children in School District 22, which begins on the other side of Coney Island Avenue.  This means, as we have pointed out in earlier stories, that children need to cross Coney Island Avenue to get to school.

Lack of crosswalks makes it difficult and dangerous, and yes, people will always try to cross at the spot that is most convenient.

Mother and daughter crossing Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Greg Williams, who lives nearby, approached the crossing guard stationed on Hinckley and Coney Island Ave, at the corner of P.S. 889, but their conference was short.

“It’s a speedway,” Williams said. “How you gonna open a school without putting lights on each corner?”

Crossing guards told him to walk down to Beverly, but Williams wasn’t sure that was going to work. “You know how kids are,” he said, “They’re gonna try to cross.”

Crossing guard at the corner of Church Avenue and Coney Island Avenue this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Early this morning there were four crossing guards located on the school side of Coney Island Avenue at Beverley Road, Hinckley Place, Turner Place and Church Avenue, provided by the NYPD 66th Precinct.  The east side of Coney Island Avenue falls within 70th Precinct. At kindergarten dismissal – which was at 11:30am this morning – there were none.

Shortly after 8 am, a family stood stranded on the North East corner of Hinckley Place, making angry gestures of confusion towards the crossing guard on the school  side. The crossing guard tried to gesticulate for them to walk to Beverley Road – with no luck.

Parents with children waiting for a break in traffic to cross Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)
Parents with children crossing Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Meanwhile, angry drivers stacked up northbound on the avenue, unprepared for the guard in a hi-visibility vest denying them a left on Hinckley. Many had already started to turn by the time they noticed, hanging out into oncoming traffic, fuming.

Eventually, an NYPD SUV pulled up, the officers checked in briefly with the guards. As parents with schoolchildren in tow made the illegal dash across Coney, the loudspeaker rang out from the police car: “I NEED TO TALK TO THE PARENTS!”

Police talking to parents and children crossing Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

The officers lectured multiple groups of parents and kids about the proper places up the block to cross safely.

Police talking to parents and children crossing Coney Island Avenue at Hinckley Place to get to school this morning (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Ms. Garrison, a neighbor with school-age kids of her own, was concerned about the car wash and mechanics shops up the street from the school, which kids would have to pass if they made a safe crossing two blocks up from the school entrance, at Church Avenue.

Navigating slick sidewalks on the way to school this morning between Turner and Church (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

The sidewalks are often slippery with grease, with cars being detailed parked half on the sidewalk, half in the road. Miss Garrison had slipped there before, waiting for the bus, and couldn’t imagine kids crossing the multiple active driveways on their way to school.

School bus making a left onto Turner Place from Coney Island Avenue (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

A school bus pulled up driving up from Beverley Road. The driver was unable to make a left turn onto Hinckley Place, where the main school entrance is, due to construction, and made a left down Turner Place. It promptly got stuck trying to make a right at the corner of 8th Street.

School bus gets stuck making a right from Turner Place onto 8th Street (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Cars piled up as the driver tried to negotiate the tight turn, with parked cars all the way up to the corners. He finally made it through, but left a scrape of paint on a white van nearby. The turn seems to be way too tight for a bus with cars parked right by the intersection.

School bus gets stuck & scrapes a car while making a right from Turner Place onto 8th Street (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

A motorist tore after him, honking and alerting a police cruiser nearby. The officers caught up with the driver for a brief chat at Coney Island and Church Avenue, before sending him on his way—there were kids in the back still waiting to be dropped off at the school.

School bus unloads children on Coney Island Avenue as cars drive past (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

The school bus then tried approaching the school from Church Avenue side and pulled up alongside the jersey barriers in front of the school, stopping in the right lane of Coney Island Ave, and let the kids off. The cars and trucks driving by did not bother to stop while the bus was unloading children, despite all the police presence. 

School bus unloads children on Coney Island Avenue as cars drive past (Paul Stremple/BKLYNER)

Other than the scraped car, there were no accidents this morning by the school, but there were plenty of hair raising moments, and frustration.

“The traffic was abysmal this morning,” said parent Thorsten Hoffmann. “All the car repair shops were a little tricky to navigate. It’d be great if there was a crosswalk or stoplight.”

“They’ll have to put in a light or a controlled crosswalk sooner than later. Hopefully they’ll act before a kid gets hit, not after the fact,” said neighbor Mark Anthony, whose child started kindergarten today.

Thorsten wasn’t worried too much about kindergarteners—parents would be on hand to collect them after school. “The middle schoolers might try to dash across Coney Island [Avenue]”.

“There should be a stop sign or something to give people a chance,” said Frank Agyekum, who crossed the four lanes of traffic at Hinckley to pick up his daughter. “It’s always a race—always a danger—and now it’s involving kids.”

On his way back, with his daughter in tow, Frank walked down to Beverly so the two of them could cross at the light. But even as they did, another family made the dash across with their kids gripped tightly by the hand, scurrying along after the adults.

None of the parents  we talked to had had any heads up from the school regarding issues with traffic or safety, and there were no crossing guards present for the 11:30am kindergarten dismissal. 

We talked to the DOT again yesterday, and while they seem to be fully aware of the situation, the spokesperson could provided sparce details regarding what or when is going to be done to improve the dangerous situation. We knew from previous correspondence they were studying signals for crosswalks at Turner and Hinckley Places back in August, and they  said that DOT will improve visibility at intersections within the school zone by installing No Standing zones in the coming days.

“Additionally, we are conducting studies at several intersections within the school zone to determine whether stop signs, signals or other safety treatments would be appropriate and contribute to these students’ safety,” a spokesperson emailed.

It seems rather irresponsible to wait for children to start attending the school to see what the issues will be, when those issues are quite obvious to any passer by.  While it does take time to study traffic patterns surrounding a school location, a school is not built overnight, and for years neighbors have been pointing out the issues and requesting traffic calming measures.

Last January (2017), while the school was already under construction, Turner Place neighbor Rachel Goldstein received the following response from DOT:

“This is in response to your April 11, 2016 e-mail regarding the traffic controls at the intersection of Church Avenue and East 8th Street, Brooklyn.  We must apologize for the delay in responding.
Please be advised that we completed an analysis at the above location in November, 2016.  Factors such as vehicular and pedestrian volumes, crash experience, vehicular speeds, visibility and signal spacing were all taken into consideration in making our determination.  Based upon our evaluation of the data collected, it is our judgment that additional traffic controls are unwarranted at this time.”
Rachel emails that many neighbors are very concerned about the traffic flow:
“Assuming the buses come down Hinckley or Turner Place (does anyone know yet?), the only way the buses can leave is that intersection at East 8th & Church Avenue.  It’s a blind turn when cars are waiting to get into the Hollywood carwash, and it’s sometimes blocked altogether by those waiting cars.
Traffic gets backed up on East 8th and there is sometimes a lot of honking. It’s a very dangerous pedestrian crossing, lacking a crosswalk. I hope the DOT will now reconsider, because I anticipate it will be a lot worse with a long line of school buses trying to make that turn.”
Originally published at 12:39pm, updated at 5:33pm:
Department of Education spokesperson had this to say this afternoon: “The safety of students and staff is our top priority and we’re continuing to work in close partnership with DOT to address these concerns. We have taken several steps to make safety enhancement and this work is ongoing.”
Let’s hope the next few days bring visible improvements to the situation.
Additional reporting by Paul Stremple.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I have said from the get-go that it was wrong for the City to place a District 22 school within these District 15 streets. (For many reasons, not just the potential traffic hazards)
    Somehow, being proven that I was right is a small consolation…. 🙁

  2. Ultimately this was a masterful play by the city and the RE lobby.

    – Place Ditmas Park school in industrialized zone in Kensington
    – Kid or two gets killed in the traffic and broken hip or four come snow time
    – Complaints, lobby, candlelight vigil, tv coverage
    – Industrial zone dismantled for the safety of the kids
    – Cortelyou styled businesses proceed north toward Prospect Park along Coney Island

  3. Ultimately this was a masterful play for the city and the Real Estate lobby.

    – Place Ditmas Park school in industrialized zone in Kensington
    – The accidents inevitably occur – vehicular and sidewalk slips
    – The candlelight vigils follow and then petitioning and lobbying
    – Coney Island is rezoned as a matter of school safety
    – Cortelyou style establishments and apartment towers then replace the zoned out car washes and gas stations

  4. Bunch of whiners. Boo hoo, you have to cross the street into Kensington. Those of us who live here do it safely all the time.

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