If you think June is much too soon to start thinking about Christmas, you haven’t met Josephine Beckmann or Fran Vella-Marrone.
Six months before the holiday season, Beckmann, the district manager of Community Board 10, and Vella-Marrone, the president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, are busy planning ahead for the Dyker Heights Christmas lights display, an extravaganza involving homeowners who erect elaborate decorations on their front lawns featuring giant Santas, two-story-tall figures from “The Nutcracker Suite,” realistic-looking reindeer, giant inflatable snow globes, thousands of twinkling lights and piped-in music.
The elaborate displays are found in the area bounded by 82nd and 86th streets, between 10th and 13th Avenues.
This year, Beckmann and Vella-Marrone are redoubling efforts they have made in the past to convince the city to flood the area with cops and create a comprehensive traffic safety plan.
To help prepare their argument, Beckmann and the community board decided to take the pulse of the neighborhood. They conducted a survey to find out how residents feel about the holiday extravaganza that unfolds on their streets. “We wanted direct feedback,” Beckmann told this newspaper.
The community board mailed out 975 surveys to Dyker Heights residents living in the holiday lights zone and got back 151 responses. A college intern working in the community board’s office read through the responses and organized them into a report.
Beckmann presented Vella-Marrone with a copy of the survey at a Dyker Heights Civic Association meeting on June 12 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Hall at 1072 80th St.
Thousands of tourists from around the country flock to Dyker Heights each year to take in the over-the-top sights.
While the tourists are welcome, the traffic congestion they bring isn’t, according to Vella-Marrone, who has lived in Dyker Heights nearly all of her life.
The streets of Dyker Heights become clogged with tour buses, commuter vans, food vendors and pedestrians crowd onto the sidewalks, Vella-Marrone said.
The community is having trouble handling the overflow, she said. “This isn’t Times Square,” she added.
Beckmann said it gets so bad that some homeowners can’t even get their cars out of their driveways because of the constant flow of tour buses coming down the street.
The Christmas lights season runs from the day after Thanksgiving until around Jan. 6. “But the peak period is the two weeks before Christmas,” Beckmann said.
The survey found that residents enjoy the fact that the Christmas lights display has made their neighborhood world famous, but they also feel that the city should be doing much more to solve the traffic problems.
“It was very interesting,” said Beckmann, who added that the responses mirrored concerns that had already been raised by the community board and by the civic association, including the lack of traffic control measures.
Vella-Marrone, who said she intends to post the survey on the civic association’s website, called on the city to assign more traffic control agents to the neighborhood and adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward street vendors.
Vella-Marrone said she sees the vendors as the main crux of the problem. “They cause a backlog in the flow of traffic. They create a choke point. And the exhaust from the truck fumes causes air pollution,” she said.
Another problem: many of the vendors sell food items, and the tourists throw food wrappers and other trash on the sidewalk. “It makes the place dirty. It leads to sanitation problems,” Vella-Marrone said.
Last year, Community Board 10 and Dyker Civic requested that the de Blasio administration issue a street activity permit to the community board to allow for stricter guidelines, including a traffic safety plan, to be put in place for the month-long event.
The request was denied. The 68th Precinct assigned additional officers to the area, but neighborhood officials were left on their own to figure things out.