Mayor Says He’ll Revisit Oriental Blvd. ‘Zebra Stripes’

By Joe Maniscalco

Manhattan Beach residents still roiling over Oriental Boulevard’s zebra stripes and Bay Academy’s admission policy finally got a chance to gripe directly to the city’s top dog last week. The Manhattan Beach Community Group hosted Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a phalanx of lieutenants and commissioners including Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Iris Weinshall and Region 6 Superintendent Gloria Buckery at P.S. 195, 131 Irwin Street. Noting a few boos for Weinshall during the introductions, Bloomberg said, “I will say this of Iris – I am a very big supporter of her. As [Congressman] Charlie Rheingold once said, ‘Iris, I’m with you as long as I can be.’” Seriously, the mayor said Weinshall had a tough job and that he did not make a mistake in choosing her to be DOT commissioner. The faux-town hall format left time for only a handful of pre-selected questions, however, further truncated by a long, gushing campaign ad for the mayor courtesy of Manhattan Beach Community Group Vice-President Dr. Ron Biondo. But what Manhattan Beach residents really wanted to know is why they still feel unsafe riding along Oriental Boulevard and why their high-performing students graduating from P.S. 195 couldn’t get into Bay Academy. Judy Baron, chair of the Interstate Environmental Commission, told Weinshall that the neckdown of Oriental Boulevard and the installation of a concurrent bike lane was a “failed experiment.” “The fact is that crossing Oriental Boulevard is life-threatening,” said Baron. “We’ve really had enough of the DOT’s experiment, Mr. Mayor. For the safety of all New Yorkers who travel or cross Oriental Boulevard, we beg you, please get rid of the zebra stripes, end the bike lane and give us traffic lights.” Weinshall said that if it were up to her, there would be traffic lights along Oriental Boulevard. “The City of New York, long before Michael Bloomberg became mayor and long before I became DOT commissioner, chose to use a [federal] warrant system to determine how street lights are put up,” said Weinshall. The eight-point federal warrant system is a uniform standard which applies to cities from coast to coast. Although many in Manhattan Beach feel differently, the DOT commissioner said that the agency could not justify installing traffic lights along Oriental Boulevard under the federal warrant system. The DOT plans on conducting new traffic studies of Oriental Boulevard in June and July. “Hopefully, we’re keeping our fingers crossed, one of the intersections will meet a warrant,” said Weinshall. With regard to the bike lane, the commissioner said that her agency had other alternatives they’d like to discuss with the community. Bloomberg conceded that “some of these things don’t make a lot of sense to me either.” “Why if it looks like you need a traffic light, you just can’t put in a traffic light,” he said. “Why don’t I make the following commitment to you? Either I or Iris will come back and address you and see if we can’t find some solution to the problem.” The city could scrap the federal warrants system, according to the mayor. “But then it just opens up the whole city,” he said. “You’d have a traffic light every single place and nobody would be able to go anywhere.” Parents miffed over the dramatic decline in the number of P.S. 195 students being accepted into I.S. 98 The Bay Academy for the Arts & Sciences at 1401 Emmons Avenue, wanted action from the mayor as well. Community Board 15 is still waiting for a face-to-face meeting with Region 7 Superintendent Michelle Fratti to discuss admission policies. “What I need you to do is call up Region 7 and say that we have about 50 or 60 great kids from this school that should be going to Bay Academy and we’re going to open up two additional classes,” said District 21 Community Education Council member Ira Zalcman. Zalcman and other area critics of the DOE argue that for middle school purposes P.S. 195, located inside District 22, has traditionally fed into Bay Academy which lies in District 21. “Two years ago we had about 55 children go to Bay Academy and Mark Twain,” said Zalcman. “Last year we had seven children get into Bay Academy and seven in Mark Twain.” Buckery said that the DOE’s goal was to make sure that the city had 1,200 excellent schools. “I recognize that Bay Academy has a well deserved reputation for a tradition of excellence,” she said. “However, there are many other schools of excellence. As the numbers of students who have been accepted into Bay Academy have decreased, those same numbers of students have had marvelous opportunities in District 22, also in gifted programs. I know it is very difficult to change from what people are familiar with. Change is difficult. However, we are seeing the results. We know that we have wonderful opportunities to offer the children in District 22.” The mayor said he was trying to build new schools as fast as he could. “We’ve converted office space, we’ve rented buildings, we’ve reduced the cost of construction by a third, but it still going to take awhile before I can look you in the eye and say to you we’re going to have enough seats to have smaller class sizes and schools every place you want them,” said. The mayor also said that there were “some great schools which unfortunately everybody wants to go to” and “some terrible schools which nobody wants to go to.” I’d love to pay the city’s 80,000 teachers more money,” he added. “I’m trying to find it for them.”

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