PLACARD CLASS WARFARE: Brooklyn ‘Play Street’ Scrapped So Teachers Can Park

Some play street! It's filled with teachers' cars. Photo: Doug Gordon
Some play street! It's filled with teachers' cars. Photo: Doug Gordon

Look out, kids — teacher’s gotta get to her parking space!

The Department of Transportation eliminated a “play street” cul-de-sac between a park and a middle school in Park Slope — and it’s become a parking lot for placard-possessing teachers. But don’t fully blame the DOT for this one — it’s the NYPD that’s not cracking down on this readin’, wrongin’ and ‘rithmetic.

Worse, the teachers at Brooklyn’s MS 51 — who among the 50,000 school employees who got parking privileges under this mayor — are some of the worst drivers in the city!

They seized paradise to put up a parking lot. Photo: Doug Gordon
They seized paradise to put up a parking lot. Photo: Doug Gordon

The saga of the MS51 play street is a disgraceful tale of shoddiness and indifference. As documented by Friend of Streetsblog Doug Gordon and confirmed by the DOT, the cul-de-sac portion of Fourth Street west of Fifth Avenue was named a “play street” almost a decade ago, when a sign went up declaring “No thru traffic/no parking” weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. — presumably a way to allow kids to move safely between the school and the renovated J.J. Byrne Park (now Washington Park).

At some point, however, the play street was commandeered by teachers at the popular Park Slope middle school (full disclosure: My daughter attended the school, but graduated in 2015, as writer John Tierney knows but conveniently ignores. I have no personal connection to the facility.). Every day, the roadway is filled with cars with Department of Education-issued placards on the windshield — though the placards do not list the street as one of the legal places for teachers to store their vehicles.

The placard does not list Fourth Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues as legal teacher parking. Yet teachers park there.
The placard does not list Fourth Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues as legal teacher parking. Yet teachers park there.

Both sides of the roadway feature signs reading “No standing school days.” There are no signs on the block indicating that the roadway is for Department of Education employees, as there are on other blocks.

Nonetheless, the NYPD has not discouraged the teachers’ illegal parking with a ticket blitz — though it is unlikely that cops will prioritize enforcement going forward because within the last month or so, the city removed the “play street” sign altogether. (The DOT said it removed the sign simply because the roadway was no longer needed as recreational space for the school because the park’s renovations had been completed.)

The whole thing enrages Gordon.

“In Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is campaigning for reelection on an ambitious plan to pedestrianize more of that city while here in New York we can’t hold on to one ‘play street’ on a dead-end street,” he said. “Everything under this administration seems to be moving in the wrong direction, especially in the last year. Something is fundamentally broken.”

Here’s what’s broken in this scenario:

  • The mayor believes that city employees deserve free parking, which only encourages driving.
  • The sign clearly indicates that the city doesn't want cars on this block in Park Slope — which is next to a park. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
    The sign clearly indicates that the city doesn’t want cars on this block in Park Slope — which is next to a park. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

    The city refuses to crack down on illegal placard parking, which would at the very least force legitimate placard possessors to demand legal spaces to exercise their perk.

  • But that never happens because those spots would likely have to be repurposed from existing “public” parking spaces — so instead teachers, cops, firefighters and other employees just seize public space that exists for pedestrians or cyclists rather than take on the real all-powerful lobby: car storers.
  • The Department of Education does not seem to assign teachers to schools based on any geographic consideration. If Vision Zero was truly a comprehensive approach to road safety, wouldn’t an agency with 50,000 teachers in cars want to have them driving the shortest possible distance — or eliminate their car commutes entirely by assigning them to schools near where they live or along their subway or bus route? (Full disclosure: We’ve asked the DOE about this repeatedly and never gotten an answer.)
  • MS 51 teachers are well aware that cars = death in Park Slope. During a 13-month period in 2014, three students from the school — Joie Sellers, Sammy Cohen Eckstein and Mohammad Uddin — were killed by drivers.
  • Teachers at MS51, it turns out, are horrific drivers!

Streetsblog has long investigated the driving records of city employees — mostly NYPD officials — who get free parking because the mayor wants them to drive to work. Our research has found that police officers drive so recklessly that de Blasio finally announced a crackdown on repeat offenders. Our investigation found that roughly 60 percent of police employees have gotten at least one serious moving violation issued by a camera, with 38 percent racking up at least two serious moving violations such as running a red light or speeding.

DOE full-totals

Teachers at MS51 in Park Slope are way worse than that!

We checked the plates of 26 cars that were parked illegally next to the school on Monday (in what used to be the play street) and found:

  • All 26 had been ticketed for something (100 percent).
  • 24 had at least one moving violation (92 percent)
  • 19 had multiple moving violations (73 percent).

Among the drivers with multiple moving violations, Streetsblog found one car that had been nabbed for 31 speeding tickets and 11 red light tickets since 2013 — and 12 of the dangerous moving violations in 2019 alone.

We also found that the dishonor role of illegally parked Department of Education employees included:

  • One car with seven speeding tickets since 2014.
  • One with five speeding tickets since November, 2018.
  • One with nine serious moving violations — including five since May, 2018.
  • One with eight red light tickets and four speeding tickets — four in the last two years.
  • One with nine serious moving violations — six since February, 2017.
  • One with eight serious moving violations going back to 2015.

Reckless driving by teachers is particularly unnerving because they are almost always driving to or from an institution filled with kids. At least three kids — Enzo Farachio, Cameron Brown, maybe Yisroel Schwartz — were killed last year by drivers in the hours between school dismissal and nightfall, a time when many kids are out playing in their neighborhoods (or would be if their parents weren’t afraid for their lives).

Streetsblog once asked Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza if he had ever asked Mayor de Blasio about banning cars around schools, at least during arrival and dismissal times, but he said he had never had such a conversation. We also reached out to MS51 Principal Lenore Berner, who did not get back to us.

We’ve reached out to the relevant agencies and will update this story if we hear back.

City & State NY is hosting a full day New York in Transit summit on Jan. 30 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. This summit will bring together experts to assess the current state of New York’s transportation systems, break down recent legislative actions, and look towards the future of all things coming and going in New York. Join Keynote Speaker Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, along with agency leaders, elected officials, and advocates. Use the code STREETSBLOG for a 25-percent discount when you RSVP here!

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