Feb. 2, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
PS/IS 78 parents and local leaders are demanding a “play street” adjacent to the overcrowded elementary school at 48-09 Center Blvd. for students to play during recess—a request, despite multiple attempts, that has been shot down by the city.
The school’s PTA says in spite of three applications over the course of 18 months to the Department of Transportation’s play streets program, an initiative that closes streets to traffic for hours at a time to allow for children to play, the agency has returned a “no” answer every time, with the most recent response given last week.
The applications, which were approved by the 108th Precinct and Community Board 2 (as required by the DOT), ask for a play street on a portion of 48th Ave between Center Boulevard and 5th Street, flush against the school building, from 10:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Genevieve Bernier, co-president of the school’s PTA, says a play street would add a desperately needed space for children to play, as the current playground in front of the school can only fit 54 kids at a time while the school currently houses over 150 students from Pre-K to the first grade—more students than it can currently hold.
“More than half of our children are without a safe and convenience space to play,” Bernier said.
Bernier added that the proposed play street can easily hold all 150 students at once, and that the 108 Precinct has pledged to be on site with barricades to help keep the children safe.
Yet the DOT has given“inconsistent explanations” as to why it won’t accommodate a play street, ranging from its potential effects on parking, to loading docks, and to children jumping over the median, according to Bree Chambers, who is also co-president of the school’s PTA.
“Every time we come up with a fix to one of their problems, they come up with another one,” Chambers said.
In the meantime, the PTA has been paying an astounding $80,000 a year to a third party to make sure all students at the lower school and middle school get daily recess. Without the the third party, students would only get recess one to two times a week.
The DOT has suggested that the school take the students across the street to Hunters Point South Park in light of the rejected play street proposals, but the PTA and local leaders say Center Boulevard is dangerous for small children to cross, and that the large public park could pose other risks to the students.
“This is a very common sense, easy to do, low-cost, and low effort decision that could dramatically increase the well being and the health of the children in this community while also keeping them safe,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Long Island City).
Sheila Lewandowski, vice chair of CB2’s transportation committee, supports the school’s push.
“These young people need to be active for an hour and a half a day,” Lewandowski said. “A relatively quiet street just makes sense, and it will help provide a better education for our children.”
In a statement, the DOT said it denied a play street on 48th Avenue mid block to Center Boulevard due to safety concerns involving a nearby parking facility and commercial traffic making its way down the proposed area.
“Typically, DOT implements play streets on one-way streets due to the predictable nature of vehicular movements and clear sight lines,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
The DOT did not respond to questions about taking another look at the proposed play street after their last decision.
“This partial, temporary street closure would not negatively impact our community and would improve quality of life for the students and families of PS/IS 78.” Van Bramer said. “I don’t understand why the DOT has denied the play street application.”