Most women spend their maternity leave recuperating from the physical trauma of giving birth and agonizing hours of labor. Amy Dennis, however, spent hers in court — fighting two traffic tickets she received after dropping off her young child at The Learning Experience on Riverdale Avenue just north of West 232nd Street.
The tickets were for double-parking, still quite illegal in New York City. But for Dennis and other parents dropping off their kids in what she describes as a high-traffic usually packed with other vehicles, parents say they have no other choice.
“I had my infant in my hand and I was juggling everything,” Dennis said she told the traffic officer responsible for her second ticket. “I said I was dropping my child off.”
Feet from her car, Dennis said she watched the officer write her up a $115 ticket. It’s a result of what parents describe as a complicated issue as old as the center itself, which has been at 3210 Riverdale Ave., since 2015. The owners — Saurabh Gupta and Surbhi Garg — have looked into several drop-off and pick-up options over the years, but the issue is complicated even more since Learning Experience is located within a residential building.
One idea was to let parents use the side door of the building, allowing them to avoid Riverdale Avenue, but the landlord rejected that because it would require key access, creating a potential safety issue for those who live there.
Gupta also looked into granting parents access to the building’s garage, but between the residents of the apartment building and the parents of the center, it proved again to be a safety risk.
A few years ago, Gupta said he went to the 50th Precinct for help, but there wasn’t much police could do. Last December, he and Dennis even attended a Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee meeting hoping to get designated pick-up and drop-off spaces in front of the center at specific times.
Although committee chair Dan Padernacht said he sympathized with Gupta and Dennis, he explained that if the community board granted the center special drop-off, it would have to consider it for everyone. The committee usually grants parking restriction requests for school buses for special hours. But in hindsight, Padernacht advised, Learning Experience should have considered traffic issues in front of the center before it opened.
The school is located near a Bx7 bus stop on a two-way street lined with both stores and residential buildings. Therefore, congestion can sometimes be a problem, especially between 8 and 9 a.m., and in the late afternoon. Parents could try to beat the crowd by coming earlier, but everyone’s schedule is different.
For parents who can’t make the safe window where parking is available, it’s a morning cat-and-mouse game with parking enforcement officers.
“I cried,” Laurie Stern said about receiving her third ticket. “I try so hard to not double-park and park in places where I won’t be blocking anyone from being able to get out of a spot, and I’m not there for long.”
The mother has received three tickets since she started taking her son to the center when he was just months old. Stern said she tries to be quick out of the car, but sometimes she has to talk with day care employees about her son’s food, sleeping schedule and diaper changes. Stern’s son is 3 now, and drop-off and pick-ups are slightly quicker. Yet, she still fears she’ll receive a ticket.
“It’s frustrating that in that five- to 10-minute window, I get penalized for not having a spot to park my car,” Stern said.
Some parents juggle strollers, car seats, diaper bags, snacks — and, of course, their child — when making their way to the center. Sometimes, to avoid the parkings issue completely, sometimes parents lug their little ones to the center instead of driving.
Sgt. Mark Giordano with the 50th Precinct is not completely versed on The Learning Experience’s parking issue, but said he intends to catch up on it.
“Our objective is to keep traffic flowing, however, that is not just done through a summons,” the officer said in an email. “We try to be there and educate people … we understand people have to drop their kids off and get to work. However, the individual stuck in traffic due to double-parking also has a right to get to work in a timely manner.”
Giordano has worked with schools like P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School and St. Margaret of Cortona, which in the past have faced similar issues. At times, he would send out neighborhood coordination officers to keep traffic moving. Giordano intends to reach out to The Learning Experience to see what he and his NCOs can do to help.
Although Dennis lost her battle in court over the tickets, she hasn’t given up. Her petition for designated parking in front of the day care during certain hours already has more than 100 signatures.
Learning Experience parents, Stern said, are asking for mercy.
“We’re parents trying to support a neighborhood business,” Stern said. “In the suburbs, they have parking lots, so of course it’s easy for families to run in and out.
“It would just be a big relief knowing that I wouldn’t have to see an ugly orange envelope on my car when I get back to it.”