Neighbors, parents seek end to W. 256th traffic nightmare

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Thursday morning was the usual scene of controlled chaos on West 256th Street between Riverdale and Mosholu avenues.

A glut of hurried parents dropping children off at P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School — both in vehicles and on foot — carefully navigated around each other. Lines of cars from both directions waited through several green light cycles to turn. Through traffic disregarded the no-turn signs on Mosholu, heading the wrong way through a line of double-parked vehicles.

“The traffic is terrible,” said Doris Neron, who lives just across the street from P.S. 81 on the Riverdale Avenue side. “I can’t back out of my own driveway. I have to take that spot right there,” pointing to the first parking space at the very top of the street. 

“If I don’t, the parents triple-park along the street to drop off their kids, and I can’t get out.”

It’s a chronic problem that Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee hopes will soon become obsolete, recently approving recommendations to the city’s transportation department they believe could solve the street’s decades-long traffic woes.

If approved by the full CB8 board next month, the resolution asks DOT to enact several changes, beginning with making the southern end of West 256th between Delafield and Mosholu avenues a no-parking zone between 7 and 9 a.m., to give parents an area to pull over to drop off children.

The committee also recommends installing left turn signals at the intersection of Riverdale Avenue at West 256th they hope would allow more traffic through during each light cycle. Prominent, lighted or flashing signs at and approaching the Mosholu side warning drivers there is no turn onto West 256th on weekday mornings could also cut down on wrong-way traffic. Installing “chirping” signals at the West 256th and Mosholu intersection could improve pedestrian safety.

It’s a renewed push for solving a long-standing traffic problem fueling tensions between parents and West 256th Street residents, traffic and transportation chair Dan Padernacht said.

In the 17 years Ross Freeman has lived on West 256th, traffic has gone from awful to unbearable, he said. Vehicles on his street are sideswiped regularly. Heated arguments erupt between parents parked in front of driveways and the blocked-in residents several times each school year.

Last year, Freeman hired a recent high school graduate to sit at the end of his driveway to prevent parents from parking there. This year he’s taken to blocking his own driveway to ensure he can leave for work in the morning.

“But that just makes parents think they can park there when I leave,” Freeman said. “I’ve even had people signal to take the spot as I’m pulling out.”

Back in February, a parent blocked Freeman’s driveway, but his car stalled. Freeman’s wife couldn’t get out to drive their daughter to school. She and the driver had words, Freeman recalled, and he told her he’d throw a rock through her head and into the house’s front window. Freeman reported the incident to the school, police and as many civic leaders as he could.

Upon hearing what happened, Padernacht and education committee chair Sylvia Alexander sat down with school leaders, police, parents, residents and DOT officials to try and hash out a resolution. It was from those discussions the current proposals were born.

While most parents are courteous when dropping off and picking up students, the school can’t control all parents, P.S. 81 principal Anne Kirrane told the traffic and transportation committee last week. There will be those who flout the rules at least a few times throughout the school year.

The chronic traffic headache has plagued the street for years, but Kirrane said every time the troops mobilize to enact remedies, not much happens on DOT’s end.

Since 50th Precinct officers began observing the school situation five months ago, they have issued more than a hundred traffic tickets, commanding officer Emilio Melendez said. There could have been more if only Melendez could have spared more officers each day. But such an approach would only make an enemy of the parents, he said, not solve the underlying traffic problem.

Bronx transportation commissioner Nivardo Lopez told the committee DOT is conducting a study of the Riverdale Avenue-West 256th Street intersection and will use the findings to determine the best course of action.

The committee resolution — which is only advisory — is expected to earn a full board vote in April. No matter how that vote goes, however, any traffic changes in front of P.S. 81 would be at the full discretion of the city’s transportation department.

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