Every morning on my walk to take my daughter to daycare, I pass Junior High School 51 on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. The sidewalks in front of the school are typically packed with kids waiting for their school day to start. The fact that schools are as much a piece of the fabric of the city as any business, home, or office is one of the things that I love about the neighborhood.
I’ve also biked down 5th Avenue and hope to do so with my daughter in a seat on the back of my bike when the weather gets warmer. But the chaotic scene on the streets in front of William Alexander Junior High School would make me think twice.
JH 51 has no drop-off zone for parents who need to drive their kids to school, so parents stop their cars in the bike lane instead. This practice forces people commuting by bike down 5th Avenue into traffic and in some ways makes cyclists less visible to car drivers and pedestrians, since they have to weave in and out of backed up traffic or wait behind or between stopped cars. With so many kids darting out from between double parked cars, it’s only a matter of time before a kid is hit by a bike or worse, a car.
This driver didn’t just stop and drop his child off, he actually hung out for a bit and read the paper. Maybe he was waiting for his kid to bring him back something from inside the school.
The SUV driver actually could have pulled into this empty space, but perhaps he didn’t want to get blocked in by a double-parked car. If the issue was simply that parents were pulling into the bike lane, dropping their kids off, and then leaving, perhaps I could get my head around just dealing with it. That’s city life, no? But these two cars idled in the bike lane for a while, too. In fact, with no traffic officer or school safety official directing cars, many feel free to linger as long as they want. The scene is sometimes worse in the afternoon when parents arrive early, double park, and then wait for their kids to come out at the end of the school day.
If you look between these two cars across the street, you’ll see a brown minivan with its blinkers on, parked in the other bike lane.
From the opposite side of the street, you’ll see that the driver of the maroon car has just pulled out from where she had been idling, slowing down the B63 bus. The driver of the Ford minivan was sitting there long enough that I was able to go into a Bagel shop on the corner, wait in line, get some coffee, and come back out to find him still sitting there.
Bike lane or not, this practice of double-parking is bad for everybody. Cars heading up or down 5th Avenue have to squeeze through a narrow space that can make it hard for two cars to pass in opposite directions at the same time. Bus passengers, which includes lots of kids going to this very school, are inconvenienced, made to wait until the bus can get to the nearby stop. Pedestrians are rendered invisible by double-parked cars, and even the two crossing guards on either side of the school can’t guarantee complete safety. And of course, you know, the bikes. The bikes.
The silly part about this is that there is non-metered parking on this stretch of 5th Avenue, about seven spots on each side. So, instead of having a loading zone right in front of the school so that parents can pull in and out of traffic, a grand total of seven people–fourteen if I apply a very generous carpooling rate of 100%–get the great privilege of parking their cars for hours at a time all the while inconveniencing hundreds of people each weekday morning and afternoon. (I know that some of these cars may belong to teachers, but there is a small parking lot behind the school. Fourth Street, which dead-ends next to JH-51 also has parking.)
Where is the NYPD enforcement on this? Will they spend their time giving out tickets in Central Park, or do something about a truly dangerous, or at least hugely inconvenient, situation?
The solution is easy: eliminate the parking in front of the school, turn it into a loading zone, and have a traffic officer direct cars in and out of the curb space. The city wouldn’t even have to eliminate the parking all the time; it could simply enact no parking hours in the time immediately before and immediately after school.
UPDATE 1/12/10: I checked this morning and there is a sign on the school side of 5th Avenue indicating that there is no parking on part of the block from 7 AM to 4 PM on school days, but this does not seem to be enforced at all.