Play street proposal splits community

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A motion to approve play streets outside three schools in the northwest Bronx was thought to be a formality, but it caused a split at a recent Community Board 8 meeting, prompting the panel to postpone making a decision.

The board’s Land Use Committee was reviewing petitions by the Horace Mann School, Luisa Pineiro Fuentes School of Science and Discovery (P.S. 307) and St. Margaret of Cortona to close off parts of their streets to traffic for a few hours on school days, so that students could play outside.

The July 21 meeting ended with the committee voting 14-10 to postpone a decision until September. The panel said the delay would allow more time for the community to discuss the issue.

After the panel announced its decision, P.S. 307 assistant principal Debra Springsteen made an emotional appeal to the board.

“We are desperate to find a place for our students to go out and to be able to run around and just have some exercise,” Ms. Springsteen said. “There’s 150 kids in the lunchroom. They’re screaming at each other in the lunch- room because they just don’t get a chance to be outside. So, that’s why we’re imploring.”

A review by the www.inside- schools.org website of P.S. 307 described the school’s building – a former synagogue – as a jumble of “cramped, window- less classrooms, narrow hall- ways and no playground.”

“Instead of going out to play for recess, children watch videos in the cafeteria,” the 2013 review read.

Yet, the school already uses its own barriers to demarcate a play street. It seeks now to formalize the situation. The other two schools also have de facto play streets in place, according to police Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, the commanding officer of the 50th Precinct.

The NYPD wants to formalize the three play streets’ existence – an issue that Capt. O’Toole said gained urgency after a student narrowly escaped being hit by a car in front of another school in the northwest Bronx, the Visitation School, located at 171 W. 239th St. The community board responded by approving the Visitation School’s application for a play street in June.

In another incident, a third-grader at P.S.307, Rylee Ramos, was killed when a car struck her outside the school on Eames Street on Oct. 24, 2014, pinning her to the pole of a “No Parking” sign, according to police. Nine other children and women were injured in the accident.

Rylee’s death prompted police to place barricades on the street to block it off during drop-off and dismissal times.

In the absence of an officially designated play street,determining fault in an accident becomes complicated, Capt. O’Toole said in an email to The Press.

“By formalizing this process and enforcing it, responsibility for an accident would land squarely on the shoulders of the driver,” he said.

P.S. 307 is the only school asking for a play street designation to last throughout the school day. It is seeking to close off Eames Place between Webb and Claflin avenues in Kings- bridge on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

St. Margaret of Cortona School wants to close West 260th Street between Riverdale Avenue and Delafield Avenue on school days for two one-hour periods in the morning and afternoon.

Horace Mann wants to close the portion of Tibbett Avenue between 246th Street and 250th Street an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon – both times “associated with our middle- and upper-division drop off and pick up bus routines,” according to head of school Thomas Kelly.

The Horace Mann request ran into objections by some local residents.

“They are kind of fudging the issue,” said Martha Nochimson, who attended the board meeting. “They are not going to play there ... The school already has a gymnasium and does not need a play street.”

Closing off Tibbet Avenue would also complicate truck deliveries to the neighbor- hood, she argued. It could also mean that families living on the closed-of f section of the street would not be able to drive to or from their homes during play- street times, Ms. Nochimson’s husband, Richard, said.

Horace Mann’s Mr. Kelly said the school was trying to work out a way to allow local residents to drive to and from homes.

But Mr. Nochimson said there is no need to restrict traffic. The “danger comes from the [school] buses” that drive too fast down the street, he said, adding that in a typical hour, only two or three cars pass through the street.

The vote on the three schools’ applications – which the board decided to review as a single item when it reconvenes this fall – will go before the Traffic and Transportation Committee in September, and then before the entire community board in October, the board’s chairman Daniel Padernacht told The Press.

“As an individual board member, I will be supporting each of applications,” he said.

If the schools’ requests had been approved, they would have taken effect starting in the Fall 2016 semester, Capt. O’Toole said. The delay of the vote means that the three play street designations are unlikely to be formalized until some time in January, according to Capt. O’Toole.

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