A number of local legislators and parents are fighting to keep a bus route, which more than 50 students who live in the Big Six Towers in Woodside use to get to school, from being cancelled.
Recently, a number of elected officials joined parents of students who attend P.S. 229 to protest the proposed cut of a bus route that officials say would force students to walk almost one mile, including crossing dangerous intersections to get to school.
Students in grades 3-6 must live more than a mile away from the school they attend to be eligible for free transportation, according to state guidelines. So when the city’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) measured the walking route for Big Six students at .801 miles, it decided to cancel the bus route.
“This is a situation of bureaucratic regulations trumping common sense,” said City Councilmember Eric Gioia. “People from the neighborhood know how dangerous this route is for young kids. Getting rid of this bus route will force parents to find another way to get their kids to school. Times are tough, but jeopardizing our children’s safety is not the answer.”
Local officials and parents believe these conditions are present at the busy intersection at Laurel Hill Boulevard as well as an exit ramp from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. OPT denied parents requests for the waiver when they filed earlier this year.
Michelle Kates, whose son, Joseph, will be affected by the route cancellation, said that no safety analysis has been done, and even though budget cuts have affected city and state education departments it was shameful that it “is willing to put the lives of our children in serious danger."
Earlier this month, Transportation Alternatives (TA) released a report detailing how, after a survey of more than 15,000 vehicles, TA staff members found that 39 percent of drivers were speeding. Vehicles were even found to be traveling at “fatal speeds of 60 mph and higher in school zones and other high-traffic pedestrian areas.”
According to TA, in order for the route to be truly safe, the Department of Transportation would need to install better traffic controls at the intersection of 61st Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard. These traffic controls would include wider curbs, traffic lights timed exclusively for pedestrians and better-positioned crosswalks.
Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Education (DOE) said it would continue to provide bus service to the students through the end of the year.
“These students never were eligible but were given a variance, which is an exception, dating back to at least 2001, because of a dangerous crosswalk,” said a DOE spokesperson. “We have now found a safe crossing at 61st under the BQE. We will be meeting with parents about the bus service we will have for next school year. Bus service will continue for students in grades K-2.”