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Idling School Buses Spew Exhaust on 17th Street, Locals Say

By Mary Johnson | June 22, 2012 7:16am
Residents said they regularly see up to 20 or 30 buses on the block near Union Square.
Residents said they regularly see up to 20 or 30 buses on the block near Union Square.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

UNION SQUARE — Residents and businesses on West 17th Street are fed up with a fleet of school buses that they say are idling on the block in front of a special-education school, clogging traffic and spewing exhaust.

Locals asked police officers from the 13th Precinct for help with the “horrendous” problem between Fifth and Sixth avenues that they say has grown steadily worse, and presented a petition signed by 45 residents and businesses at a meeting this week.

“Sometimes there are 20 to 30 buses parked here at one time,” said Andrea Hegeman, a resident on the block.

“This block is being heavily burdened with traffic, noise, congestion and pollution,” she added. “We want the school to understand that this is a community of residents and businesses.”

Residents said the problem is the buses leave their engines running while they wait to pick up or drop off students from the Association for Metroarea Autistic Children, a nonprofit school for students with special needs, funded in part by the Department of Education and located at 25 W. 17th St.

Critics claim buses that serve the school have been choking the stretch of road near Union Square for years, starting early in the morning during drop-offs and returning at various points throughout the afternoon for pickups.

Deputy Inspector Ted Berntsen, commanding officer of the 13th Precinct, said officers have been assigned to the block every afternoon in recent weeks, writing summonses to scofflaw bus drivers.

Berntsen added that officers have been in touch with the school about the problem, but he did not say how many tickets had been issued or what the penalties are for repeat offenders.

Neighbors said the problem has only gotten worse.

“It’s completely uncoordinated, and the distribution of buses isn’t shared [between neighboring streets] at all,” said Marc Porter, who has lived on the block for eight years.

“It’s unreasonable that one institution, which is an important school, takes all the places and blocks every single spot on the entire street, except for three or four spots.”

Parking signs on the block prohibit standing between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., except for commercial vehicles, which means cars and buses are legally not allowed to stop on the street.

Officers said school buses have permission to be on the block for 30 minutes before drop-offs or pickups, but added that many buses repeatedly break the law.

Berntsen advised those with concerns to contact the Department of Education. The DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Several of the bus companies who serve the school either would not comment on the problem or said they had not received any complaints.

But a representative from Hoyt Transportation Corp., which is based in Brooklyn, said the company's drivers are kept informed of the rules on that street.

“My drivers are complying with what we ask them to do,” said the representative, who identified herself only as Ms. Sanchez. “We tell our drivers, 'If you stay there and get a ticket, you deserve it.'”

Sanchez said cops were out on the street in force Wednesday, issuing tickets to drivers.

“They keep calling the cops,” she said of the residents and businesses on the block. “This is a school with special-needs kids, and if you don’t like where the school is, you should harass the school — not the bus companies.”

Berntsen said he would continue working with those on the block to help improve the situation.

“After this meeting, we’ll set up a time, and we’ll work on this together,” Berntsen said.

“We tried to work with the school. We tried to work with the bus companies, and we tried to work with the neighborhood. Obviously it hasn’t worked,” he added. “So the only thing the police department can do is enforcement, and that’s what we’ll do.”

John Winkleman, a representative from the Association for Metroarea Autistic Children, said many of the school's students are unable to walk or take the subway to school, making the buses necessary for transportation.

But Winkleman said the school, which serves children ages 2 to 21, would gladly work with community members or police officers to address any concerns.

“We pride ourselves on being a good neighbor,” Winkleman said. “We do good work, so we don’t want to make anyone unhappy.”