DOT to Liu: School walks checked often

by Philip Newman

City Council members questioned transportation and education officials Monday to try to determine who is responsible for the safety of children on their way to school, a quest brought on by the deaths of two Brooklyn boys.

Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee, conducted a public hearing along with Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, and Eva Moskowitz, (D-Manhattan) chairman of the Education Committee.

Liu opened the session at City Hall by asking for a moment of silence for Victor Flores, 11, and Juan Estrada, 10, who were struck and killed three weeks ago by a cement truck in Brooklyn as they walked home from school.

“There are longstanding concerns of parents, teachers, school administrators and the community at large about the dangers faced by our schoolchildren as they walk to and from their schools,” Liu said. “We have a responsibility to do much more to ensure that our schoolchildren are kept off the path of oncoming traffic so they do not fall victims to the same horrific accident as Victor Flores and Juan Estrada.

“The tragic deaths of children such as these boys should never be allowed to occur again,” Liu said.

“We must ensure the Police Department has the resources to protect our children,” Vallone said. “And that not only includes devices inside our schools for public safety but also crossing guards to greatly assist in shielding our children from the perils of the street.”

Transportation officials said the agency constantly updates maps showing locations of safe crossing intersections near schools. But Vallone and Liu questioned whether they were widely available. Some Council members also suggested that all of the public might be able to understand them.

“I have been able to find only maps that date back to the 1970s,” Liu said.

The NYPD employs 2,200 crossing guards assigned by precinct, giving priority to busy intersections near schools. But with the number of schools, a school will have an average of 1 1/2 crossing guards at most.

The Brooklyn children were struck by a truck that Department of Transportation officials said was not equipped with special mirrors that would have permitted the driver to see the children. The law requires school buses — but not trucks — to be fitted with such mirrors.

Michael Primeggia, deputy commissioner of Traffic Operations for the Department of Transportation, said the intersection where the boys were killed was not listed by his agency as a particularly perilous one.

Questioned extensively by Council members were Primeggia, First Deputy Transportation Commissioner Judy Bergtraum and Deputy Transportation Commissioner of External Affairs David Woloch as well as Ben Tucker, chief executive for School Safety and Planning for the Education Department.

Several Council members said they often get complaints from constituents of long delays before the Transportation Department acts on their requests for speed bumps or traffic lights to make intersections more safe for pedestrians.

“We asked that something be done and seven additional children got hit by cars before anything was done,” said Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. (D-Brooklyn).

Primeggia said what was called a warrant must be issued for such change to take place, but he assured the Council that the time before action had been drastically reduced recently from as long as 14 months to sometimes only four months.

Queens Council members Helen Sears (D-Elmhurst), Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica), Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) and James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) also took part in the hearing.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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