The announcement that the bus would be cut by the end of the current school year took many parents by surprise. Approximately 60 children take the school bus back and forth between the Big Six residential towers at Laurel Hill Boulevard and 61st Street and P.S. 229 at 65th Place and 51st Road, a distance of a little less than a mile.
The decision to cut the bus service was made based on the short route, but parents say that crossing under the BQE and along its service roads is too dangerous for young, elementary school children, and that the only other alternate route, up past the towers and along Queens Boulevard, is much longer than a mile.
“Pedestrians don’t use this intersection,” said Michelle Kates, a concerned parent of two P.S. 229 students and a resident of the Big Six towers. “It’s a uniquely dangerous intersection due to its ten lanes, two exits from the BQE, and service roads that are clogged with traffic during rush hour. We’re scared for the safety of our children, and a lot of working parents will have to worry about their kids getting to school alright.”
“This change doesn’t make sense,” said Israel Martinez, a father of three P.S. 229 students. “It’s going to be a hardship for working parents, and it’s going to create more traffic and emissions around the school.”
Martinez also questioned the safety of letting students cross the intersection, saying that when he bikes to work, he dismounts and carefully walks across the very same intersection.
After filing hazard variances with the New York City Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), Kates and other P.S. 229 parents started asking the State Department of Education to investigate the intersection. The parents also circulated a petition asking several elected officials to keep the bus running, and Councilman Eric Gioia held a press conference at the intersection to demand that the bus service remain in place.
“The decision to cut off this bus route seems to have been made without anybody coming down here and actually seeing the intersection,” said Gioia. “This is a dangerous intersection. At 8 in the morning, it can look like the Indy 500 around here, and no bureaucratic agency should endanger our children’s safety like this. It scares me just to be standing her with all these young boys and girls, and I wouldn’t want my little girl to have to cross it by herself.”
Assemblywoman Marge Markey also issued a statement regarding the dangerous nature of the intersection, saying, “This area has been the scene of 16 documented accidents in the past year alone. The decision to limit eligibility for bus transportation to those who live less than one-half mile from the school may have been made by the Department of Education with the best of intentions, but the consequences for these children are severe.”