Construction within tangle of intersections spark continued concernBy Daniel Fitzsimmons
Parents of Spruce Street School students continue to speak out against what they believe are unsafe conditions around the school, more a year after this newspaper chronicled how construction, traffic and other obstacles must be navigated by parents and students walking to the building every morning.
Since September, major construction at Pace University has brought congestion in and around the dense knot of narrow streets that make up that area of the Financial District. Pedestrians have also had to share the sidewalk with union members picketing the university’s use of non-union labor. In an article last February, the school’s PTA president, Ashley Duncan, suggested that it’s not a matter of if someone gets hurt, but when.
In April of this year, a woman seeking to circumvent traffic near the school drove up on the sidewalk and struck Heather Hensl, 37, causing Hensl serious injuries. The accident happened during morning drop-off for Spruce Street School students, and galvanized the school community into pressuring the local precinct and community board for increased safety at the intersection of Ann and Williams Streets, one of the more dangerous intersections in the area.
The parents were also instrumental in pushing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to bring charges against the driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, according to traffic analyst Charles Komanoff. Murdaugh, 34, is facing second-degree assault, a charge that is unusual in reckless driving cases that don’t involve alcohol or drugs.
“It’s pretty rare for someone to be charged in a vehicular assault,” Komanoff told the Downtown Express earlier this month. “I have no doubt that community mobilization forced Cy Vance’s hand and forced the N.Y.P.D.’s hand.”
In 2012, a UPS worker was killed after being struck by an SUV that jumped the curb on Beekman Street. The police found no criminality in that incident, according to the Express.
Alessandra Medigo, a parent of Spruce Street School students who spoke to this newspaper about the problem last February, said recently that parents mobilized after Hensl was hit on the sidewalk, and because conditions will likely worsen when a parking garage near the entrance of the school opens.
“A group of us attended the monthly police precinct meeting after the accident and before (Murdaugh) was arrested,” said Medigo. “We shared our concerns over the safety at the intersections of Ann and Williams, the traffic right in front of the school and the proposed parking garage that is going to open right at our school entrance. It’s hectic now but when that parking garage opens it will be total chaos.”
Medigo said parents have asked for additional lights, crossing guards and a police presence at intersections around the school.
“The police were very sympathetic with our concerns but said that they are dealing with cuts to their department and that a lot of these concerns really need to be addressed with the Department of Transportation,” he said. “Nothing has changed. If anything, the situation will get worse as our school is now growing into a middle school as well as elementary school, which means more foot traffic and kids, and then this garage is set to open at our entrance. Frankly, it’s all a recipe for disaster.”