DYKER HEIGHTS — Mornings at the intersection of 14th and Benson Avenues are hectic and dangerous for students attending PS229 in Dyker Heights.
In the morning, during drop-off, city buses and school buses compete for space with parents letting their kids out of cars. All of these vehicles double park, sometimes stopping literally, in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, restricting visibility, and creating dangerous conditions for children crossing the street to get to school. Cars run red lights, lots of them, concerned parents and the school’s principal told Bklyner.
Jennifer Jansen, co-president of the PS229 PTA, told us that while traffic has always been a problem around the school, it has gotten worse recently.
“There’s just more cars, more people,” she says.
Construction on the school this year has compounded the problem as well, as kids have been entering through a different door on 14th Avenue. “Now, people are parking on 14th Avenue instead of Benson,” a much busier road that connects to the Belt Parkway Jansen says.
A crossing guard would help alleviate some of these issues, they believe. While there’s often at least one guard stationed at the corner of Bay 7th Street and Benson Avenue, one has not been provided for the corner of 14th and Benson Avenue — despite the school having first asked for one in Spring of 2019.
Safety issues, such as cars running a red light, have escalated to the point where Principal William Kirk, who started at PS229 last school year, has instated himself as a crossing guard at the corner of 14th and Benson Avenues every morning during drop-off.
“He’s stopped quite a few kids from getting hit, from stepping into the street and getting hit by a car,” Jansen said.
Principal Kirk told us that he goes out to serve as crossing guard whenever he can, starting two weeks after he started the job almost two years ago — and he still wonders why a “major intersection” like this would not have a crossing guard and additional police enforcement. Parents notified him of the problem with double parking, and then he took it upon himself to go out and monitor the intersection himself. One morning, while serving as a crossing guard, he saw something even more troubling: four cars in a row ran red lights.
“As a principal, and as a parent, that’s something that would keep me up at night,” Kirk said.
The double yellow line on 14th Avenue is the cutoff between the 68th and the 62nd Precincts, a technicality which, Jansen said, has slowed the process down considerably.
“We’ve been going through the motions,” she said. “It became a tit-for-tat, who didn’t want to take responsibility for it.”
While the school ended up getting approval for the crossing guard, they’re still waiting to receive one. All the NYPD has done is to put up a speed camera, even though speeding isn’t the issue, Jansen believes.
We asked parents picking their kids up from school what they were most worried about in regards to traffic safety outside the school, and what they felt could be done about it.
Most parents were quick to recall chaotic and often dangerous traffic situations during pick-up and drop-off times. Vision Zero map shows that since 2010, there have been 17 crashes with injuries at the corner of Benson Avenue and 14th Avenue, of which five involved a pedestrian injury. In an email, Department of Transportation informed us of “Eight crashes resulting in minor injuries at 14th and Benson Avenues during the five years from 2013-2017, including one pedestrian and seven motor vehicle occupants.”
“Vehicles are double-parked here in the morning, and parents are rushing to go to work — they don’t have the time to go and park anywhere,” said Paul, the father of a first-grader. “So that is a huge compliance issue for the school, especially, because then you have more accidents. And people can get [run] over. Even kids.” He saw a woman get hit by a car at the corner of 14th and Benson Avenues about two months ago, although we have not been able to corroborate as this incident does not show up in the City’s data.
Doreen, whose child is in third grade, said she sees double parking every day at the school. The double parking “backs up all the traffic, it backs up the buses. People, when they’re crossing, cars can’t see them and they can get hit by a car,” Doreen said. “It’s not safe at all.”
Monica, whose children are in second grade and kindergarten, also spoke to the dangers of double parking. “It’s chaos in the morning. Kids are running,” she said. “We need a crossing guard in the corner [of 14th and Benson].
Several other parents mirrored concerns about double parking on 14th and Benson Avenues, and also mentioned that many cars tend to speed past the intersection. One father named Antonio, however, whose child is in the third grade, was not as quick to condemn the double parking itself.
“I think [double parking] is something normal in the city,” Antonio said. “So the problem is not in the double-parked cars, it’s the people that are driving that want to do 40 miles an hour when they see double-parked cars.” People who double park should also try not to block the street as much, Antonio added, “But the people driving should also be aware that there is a school.”
Paula, with two children in pre-kindergarten and second grade, believes that drivers don’t respect the bus stop sign. When children are getting off the bus in the morning, Paula said, cars are still moving even when the sign clearly says ‘stop.’” Paula insisted that the only way to address the issue is to ticket people who violate traffic safety laws, “If you hit somebody’s pocket, they’ll start to learn what the law is.”
Others claim that traffic doesn’t pose much of a danger.
“There’s nothing — it’s relatively quiet,” said Ms. Morris, who picks her granddaughter up from school every day. “I never noticed anything.”
Andy, whose child is in kindergarten, felt similarly. “It’s not that bad here,” he said. “People tend to go slow. It’s just that there’s a lot of kids, and a lot of cars that are double-parked.”
A police officer at the school, who asked not to be named, said “[traffic is] bad. Especially right here, 14th Avenue.” Drivers are always in a rush on the stretch of 14th Avenue that passes the school, especially because of the proximity to the Belt Parkway. “They don’t slow down for kids!” He’s seen kids almost get hit a few times.
“When you [have] a principal, who is a principal, who’s got to do his extra job out there — that’s dangerous!”
The problem, the officer said, isn’t so much speeding. It’s that cars don’t always watch where they’re going, “You’re in a school zone. You’ve got to slow down.”
The Department of Transportation declined to comment on the problem but provided accident data.