CROWN HEIGHTS — The city removed pedestrian islands along Eastern Parkway ahead of this year's the West Indian Day Parade after spending tens of thousands of dollars to install them, despite concerns from officials about keeping the safety measures in place, internal documents show.
In a controversial move that cost taxpayers nearly $40,000, the Department of Transportation first removed the concrete medians at Brooklyn and Kingston avenues before last year’s festival to make room for floats and marchers, the documents obtained by DNAinfo show.
The pedestrian islands were replaced in early November with “reusable islands made with recycled rubber,” DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said. The rubber islands were removed ahead of this year’s parade, with crews working to reinstall them again on Friday. That process will continue before and after the Labor Day event each year moving forward, he said.
It’s unclear how much the removal and installation of the rubber islands costs, and Gastel said the work is being done using in-house labor.
The original removal of the islands — which had been installed in 2015 as part of a $1.7 million citywide initiative to make it easier for children to walk safely to school — cost taxpayers $39,881.94, according to DOT documents received by DNAinfo through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Parade organizers last year lobbied city officials for months to make the change, internal emails show. But after the medians were ripped out for the annual event, community members blasted the DOT for the move in emails, letters and 311 complaints, the documents show.
A staffer from Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s office told the DOT that members of Community Board 8 were “quite unpleased” with the islands’ removal. The chairman of Crown Heights' Community Board 9 also wrote to DOT Borough Commissioner Keith Bray saying the board was “particularly concerned that, after 10 years of planning for these safety measures, DOT is doing away with them without community input.”
Parade organizers appear to have begun lobbying the DOT about the pedestrian islands in December 2015, when the leaders of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) met with Bray and an official from the mayor’s office, according to an email.
Then, in January 2016, both Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna and a staff member from state Sen. Jesse Hamilton’s office wrote to DOT officials in separate emails, relaying complaints from constituents about the islands and their potential impact on the parade.
Rebecca Zack, director for Government Affairs for the DOT, defended the islands to Reyna in her reply, saying Eastern Parkway is a “priority corridor” in terms of pedestrian safety and that the NYPD was working on a plan to accommodate the parade while keeping the islands in place. She also added that the installation of the islands was “[by] no means… part of a plot to end the parade.”
In April of last year, a request to remove the islands to make room for parade floats and marchers reached the desk of Marco Carrion, community affairs commissioner for the mayor's office, the documents show.
It’s unclear how the decision to remove the pedestrian islands came about, as information in many of documents provided to DNAinfo by the DOT were blacked out or partially redacted.
But by August 2016, the DOT had decided to reverse course and made the call to remove the islands completely. In an Aug. 15 email, the DOT's acting chief operations officer, Margaret Forgione, told NYPD and DOT officials that "we have settled on a decision to remove the two islands and not put them back."
However, the two islands were eventually replaced with the rubber rigs by Nov. 2 of last year, the DOT said.
Gastel said the islands that were removed this year will be reinstalled on Eastern Parkway “by week’s end.”
On Friday morning, crews were installing the rubber island at Kingston Avenue and said they are scheduled to reinstall the second island at Brooklyn Avenue on Monday.