As trucks were rumbling past behind Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and students from P.S. 229, he and parents explained why kids shouldn’t have to dodge those trucks to make it to school.
Last week, they were standing in front of the intersection at Laurel Hill Boulevard and 61st Street where vehicles were disembarking from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
The group was there to keep pressing the Department of Education(DOE).
Last month, the DOE promised to reassess a decision that took away bus service for students who must traverse that intersection between the Big Six Towers in Woodside and P.S. 229 in Maspeth.
The DOE previously provided bus service for those students to get them around the hazard, but two years ago, it was revoked.
A representative at the most recent Community Education Council 24 promised a walkthrough to reexamine that decision.
As of the press conference on March 8, though, there had been no walkthrough, scheduled. DOE officials contacted parents Tuesday saying they would examine the intersection the next day.
“We hadn’t heard a thing in a week,” said Tom Haggerty, a resident in the Big Six. He has a 9-year-old who goes to P.S. 229, and next year he will have a kindergartener at the school.
Kids in kindergarten are allowed to ride a bus that already stops near the Big Six Towers. But students as young as 8 years old are not allowed on that bus.
Haggerty knows the clock is ticking toward the time when the DOE expects his youngest child to walk the intersection.
So he and others ratcheted up the pressure.
“Asinine” was the latest description of the situation that Bill Kregler used. Kregler sits on Community Education Council 24 and lives in the Big Six Towers in Woodside.
Kregler said the DOE is making local powers fight for smaller issues like this to distract them from overarching issues such as fighting overcrowding in schools.
“It’s a divide and conquer attitude,” said Kregler, who came onto the CEC around the time when any local power it had was stripped and given to the DOE.
The inability to budge the bureaucracy frustrated him.
“We’re no better than making cupcakes and having a bull session,” he said. “What it takes is the parents to get involved and order this, demand this and maybe shut down the street for a day.”
Kregler and others said they routinely see accidents at the intersection, including two in the last week, and it’s ridiculous to ask kids to walk to school through the area.
Councilman Van Bramer spoke first at the event, calling it negligent to take away a “potentially life-saving bus.”
“Anybody who has been to this intersection more than five seconds knows that it’s dangerous. It’s one of the most heavily trafficked, confusing intersections in all of Queens,” he said. “To ask 7- and 8-year-old children to navigate this intersection just to get to school is dead wrong.”
Students who go to P.S. 229 from the Big Six Towers must walk because they live less than a mile away from the school and the DOE doesn’t provide buses for students who live so close.
For years, there was a variance that gave anyone who walked through the Laurel Hill and 61st Street intersection bus service so they didn’t have to cross the street there.
Two years ago, the DOE made each student apply individually for that variance and denied every one.
Now, the path kids must walk weaves under the BQE and past two exits from the expressway. Concrete walls block visibility, and residents say cars and trucks blow through at expressway speeds.
A spokesperson for the DOE previously said the intersection is safe enough for kids to walk through because it has traffic signals and sidewalks.
The walkthrough that was promised on Feb. 29 is set to begin on Thursday, March 15, at 1 p.m.
“We can not wait until a child is hurt,” Van Bramer said. “This bus needs to be reinstated tomorrow—at the earliest, possible time.”
By Jeremiah Dobruck