PARK SLOPE — Police will teach reckless drivers a lesson (for a week) and teachers will instruct students on crossing the street safely under initiatives the Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.
The NYPD will spend the next week cracking down citywide on speeding, double parking and blocking bike lanes outside schools as part of a back-to-school safety push, DOT and NYPD officials said at a press event at P.S. 124 on Fourth Avenue and 14th Street.
DOT officials also announced that the Department of Education will roll out new curriculum this year to help 9- to 11-year-olds sharpen their pedestrian IQs. The lessons will use a video called "Cross This Way" to teach kids about the dangers of staring at their phones while crossing the street and other risky behaviors.
The video was created in 2014 but until now it's only been shown at about 600 schools a year as part of DOT's education program. Now DOE has signed on as a full partner in the city's Vision Zero effort, DOT officials said, which will expand the video's reach to about 300,000 students citywide.
The curriculum is aimed specifically at fourth, fifth and sixth graders because they're the most vulnerable to cars — they're big enough to walk on their own but often too small for drivers to see, said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
"Every traffic death is tragic, but when it comes to children, we all grieve a little harder," said Trottenberg, who spoke over the sound of P.S. 124 students playing and Fourth Avenue's roaring traffic.
P.S. 124's community knows the toll of traffic crashes all too well, Trottenberg said. In 2004, fifth graders Juan Angel Estrada and Victor Flores were both hit and killed by a truck as they walked home from the school.
Local streets are safer now, Trottenberg said. In 2013, DOT completed the first phase of a series of safety upgrades on Fourth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and 15th Street that slashed pedestrian injuries by 68 percent, according to the DOT. Plans for even more changes on Fourth Avenue, including grassy areas on medians and curb extensions, are still in the works.
DOT has also installed two speed cameras in front of P.S. 124, though under state law, they can only operate during school hours, DOT officials said. Since the first camera was installed in July 2015, there's been a 64 percent decline in speeding violations in front of the school, Trottenberg said.
P.S. 124 is one of only 140 schools citywide that have speed cameras. State law prohibits more schools from having them, and advocacy groups such as Families for Safe Streets are fighting to install them at every city school.
Principal Annabell Burrell said the "Cross This Way" street safety curriculum would be a welcome addition at P.S. 124, where kids start walking alone to school in the fourth grade. Crossing guards only work at arrival and dismissal times, so children who stay for afterschool programs while their parents are working often walk home alone in the dark, Burrell said.
"They're crossing the street by themselves, they're leaving by themselves, so it's always a real concern," Burrell said.
Park Slope streets safety advocate Joanna Oltman Smith said education is a "critical component" of Vision Zero, but only goes so far. She glanced at the corner near where the DOT press conference was held and rattled off a series of upgrades that could make the crossing safer, such as a countdown clock and sidewalk extension.
“All these things are works in progress,” Oltman Smith said. “The fact that kids are going to be empowered in the classroom to make sure they’re aware when crossing the streets until we can get them fixed up in a proper manner can’t hurt.”
DOT's announcement came as Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing criticism from street safety advocates over an increase in cyclist deaths.
The advocacy groups Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are holding a mass bike ride Thursday night in Manhattan to protest the increase in cyclist deaths and fatal hit-and-runs.
"We welcome the DOT's new traffic safety curriculum and the NYPD's stepped up enforcement, which needs to target the most dangerous driving violations consistently all year round," said TransAlt spokesman Brian Zumhagen.
"Now Mayor de Blasio must take immediate action to make it safer for everyone to cross streets by investing to redesign the corridors and intersections that the city has already identified as the most dangerous in its Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Action Plans."
He added, "We also renew our call on Albany lawmakers to move this session to lift restrictions on automated enforcement, so that New York City can protect every school with lifesaving speed safety cameras, which have proven to reduce speeding by 60 percent in school zones where they have been installed, like the area around P.S. 124."