Sidewalk wars: Transit agency ignoring parents’ concerns over ‘death trap’ gas station, locals say

Death trap: Mom Arsenia Reilly called the Speedway gas station at Fourth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets a “death trap” for locals and children — including her son, Declan Reilly-Collins — due to its lack of pavement markings, sidewalk barriers, and signage designating the elementary school that’s only a block away.
Community News Group / Julianne McShane

Their absence added fuel to these parents’ ire.

City transit honchos were a no-show at a meeting about safety plans for the Fourth Avenue “death trap” gas station just a block from an elementary school in Sunset Park, and the Department of Transportation is keeping locals in the dark, said one parent at the Feb. 9 meeting at PS 172.

“It’s easy for the [Department of Transportation] to duck and hide when nobody’s holding them accountable and responsible to the parents,” said Arsenia Reilly-Collins, who lives on 31st Street. “We have no idea what their design plan is. How do they do that with no parent involvement?”

The agency didn’t send a representative to the meeting at PS 172, but called its principal Jack Spatola beforehand to tell him it was drafting a safety-design plan to prevent motorists from illegally driving and reversing onto the unmarked sidewalks in order to reach gas pumps at the Speedway station between 30th and 31st streets, according to Spatola.

Two other parents at the meeting echoed Reilly-Collins’ concerns while outlining the traffic dangers before Spatola, a Speedway attorney, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, two officers from the local police precinct, and a rep for Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park). But re-hashing their worries was useless without a rep from the transportation agency there to hear them, according to the parents and Ortiz, who also accused the city of deliberately ignoring the community in the planning process.

“We are being kept out of this,” he said.

In a story this newspaper’s sister publication, the Bay Ridge Courier, broke earlier this month, Reilly-Collins and other concerned parents called for permanent bollards, barriers, or at least clear pavement markings designating where the gas station lot ends and the sidewalk along Fourth Avenue begins. Spatola called for more “school zone” signs in a two-block radius around the learning house, as well as a crossing guard with extended hours and a second guard on 31st Street.

But the transportation agency did not even take the initiative to install temporary, stop-gap safety measures while formulating a longer-term plan for the station, attendees complained. Instead, the police department installed short-term plastic barriers after this reporter called with questions about the safety issues. But the parents said those barriers are too flimsy, and that they’ve even seen cars crash into and drag them.

“The police should be doing other things, but they have to focus on this, because the [transportation agency] is punting it around,” Reilly-Collins said.

A spokeswoman for the agency said a rep was not at the meeting due to last-minute schedule changes, and said that it is drafting design options for the gas station that officials will review with the facility’s owners. Speedway reps are working to set a meeting with the transportation agency for the near future, according to a company spokeswoman.

But the parents said they have no plans of backing down. Reilly-Collins started a Change.org petition calling for temporary stop-gap measures and a meeting with the Department of Transportation, which more than 420 people signed. And another parent said she will never give up fighting, because children’s lives are at risk.

“I’ve seen things that make your skin crawl — on a regular basis, people jumping out of the way with their children,” said Isabel Draves, a mother of three who lives on 32nd Street. “If something happens to a kid here, I will never let it drop.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

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