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Parents, Schools Worry About Future of Fourth Avenue Safety Upgrades

 Parents along Fourth Avenue say the DOT's safety upgrades are needed to protect kids.
Schools, Parents Worry About Future of Fourth Avenue Safety Upgrades
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PARK SLOPE — The scariest part of Doug Gordon's day is when he crosses Fourth Avenue with his 3-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son in tow.

He makes the harrowing trek across six lanes of traffic twice a day, and he was pleased when the Department of Transportation announced plans for a massive safety upgrade on the avenue.

Gordon and dozens of other parents along the Park Slope portion of the thoroughfare — where 53 people have been injured or killed since 2007 — thought they were finally putting the danger in the rear-view mirror.

Now, they're ending the school year on a down note,after Community Board 6's recent surprise rejection of the DOT's safety plan, which would have widened medians, eliminated some left turns and taken other measures designed to slow traffic.

"We have to cross that street every day, and it's the one part of my morning and afternoon that I dread the most," Gordon, a member of the board's transportation committee, said. "Even holding [my children] myself, it's scary."

He added, "It was definitely very disappointing to see this go down the way that it did," speaking of Community Board 6's rejection of the plan.

Instead of a summer looking forward to a safer 2013-14 school year, parents like Gordon are waiting to see how the DOT will respond to Community Board 6's vote to shoot down the plan. Though community boards play only an advisory role, the DOT may make changes as a result of the feedback.

He and dozens of other parents along Fourth Avenue are eager for the July 10 board meeting, where the DOT is expected to unveil its response to community criticism of the safety plan.

Asked whether the DOT will be changing the safety proposal in response to Community Board 6's rejection, an agency spokesman said simply, "Safety is DOT's top priority and this project reflects input by the local community to make a busy corridor safer for everyone. We look forward to discussing this further with the community."

Among other issues, Community Board 6 members said they didn't like the idea of eight left turns being eliminated. But for parents with kids in schools on Fourth Avenue, the issue is about the safety of children, not the convenience of a left turn.

The DOT met with six principals as it crafted the safety upgrade plan, and several of them made specific requests that they hoped would lessen the danger of Fourth Avenue for their students. Leaders at P.S. 124 asked for left turns to be eliminated on Fourth Avenue at 14th and 15th streets.

At M.S. 447, students even made a video asking the city to take action on the problem. As one student put it, "I would love to see the neighborhood I live in become...a place where I feel safe walking around."

One outraged parent has taken to Twitter under the name @FixFourthAvenue to keep attention focused on the issue. "Almost hit with my 2-year-old in a stroller! Driver almost killed us as we crossed the street! What will be done about 4th?" they tweeted Monday morning.

Dad Matthew Didner, whose child will be attending the new P.S. 118/Maurice Sendak School on Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street this fall, said he was disappointed by the board's vote.

"It seems that the community board is more interested in protecting the interests of a handful of businesses which routinely violate the law by blocking sidewalks with cars waiting to be repaired and delivery trucks, forcing pedestrians to walk into traffic lanes," said Didner, chair of P.S. 118's Founding Families.

He noted that the demands on the avenue show no signs of slowing, with new developments popping up faster than ever and attracting more families to the neighborhood.

In a rare split with the community board, City Council members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin called on the DOT recently to stick to its original plan, and to start work on the upgrades this summer. In a joint letter, the council members said the safety concerns were too severe to ignore.

"We have consistently heard concerns about unsafe pedestrian crossings from families sending children to the schools along this stretch of Fourth Avenue," the council members wrote. "[Given] the severity of the safety risks along Fourth Avenue, we respectfully but strongly disagree with CB6’s rejection of the proposal."