By Helen Klein
Special to the Eagle
“We don’t want to get killed.”
“Every single day, I’m out there with my kids, and I’m worried. All I want is to be able to walk across the street with my daughter and not worry.”
That was the message, repeated multiple times, during a contentious town hall meeting on pedestrian, cyclist and street safety in southwest Brooklyn, and co-hosted by State Senator Andrew Gounardes and Councilmember Justin Brannan at McKinley Intermediate School. The town hall was also livestreamed via Gounardes’ Facebook page.
While other issues came up – illegal truck parking in the vicinity of Dyker Beach Park; hotrodders gunning their vehicles down Shore Road and other local streets, loudly and at high speeds; the misuse of parking placards – it was the e-bikes and scooters, notorious for speeding down crowded sidewalks while making deliveries, that members of the crowd were most angry about.
Drivers are careless, they said, and some of them actually try to terrorize pedestrians, a couple of women contended. “They’re playing chicken,” one audience member said.
And, numerous attendees asserted, cops don’t do enough to stop them.
“I call 911 repeatedly,” one woman told the panel, which included Gounardes, Brannan, members of the NYPD and representatives of the city’s Department of Transportation, “and nothing is getting done.”
“I see the police drive by them,” another woman shouted, “and they do nothing.”
“There’s no enforcement in the neighborhood,” a third woman pronounced.
“That’s not true,” responded Captain Andrew Tolson, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, who said that the precinct had seen a “big increase in scooters,” and had mobilized to address the issue, confiscating about 100 during an operation last summer.
Officers are able to take away the scooters from their operators, he explained, if they are able to identify infractions such as the drivers not wearing helmets or speeding on the sidewalk, or if the scooters are unregistered and uninsured. This applies only to the gas-powered scooters, said Tolson, and not e-bikes, because of the way the law is written.
With reference to the e-bikes, he said, “I understand they go 30 mph, but they are legal,” as long as they are in the roadway, as opposed to on the sidewalk. A total of 75 summonses had been issued to e-bike operators over the last month, he said in answer to a question from the crowd.
But, Tolson stressed, if a cop attempts to pull over a scooter, and the driver takes off, “We’re not going to chase them and put lives in danger to get a summons from them.”
Both Gounardes and Brannan urged their listeners to call 311, get a case number, then call their offices and ask for follow-up. While many in the group seemed to feel that calling 311 was a waste of time, the two elected officials stressed that without a registered complaint, “There’s no way for us to do follow-up,” as Gounardes put it.
But, one woman rejoined, “We should not just have to go to your office to get some response.”
Gounardes noted that officials have been working with the groups representing the drivers in an effort to find a solution. “We have been talking about education; we have been working on trying to figure out a solution about sharing the roadway safely,” he told the group, noting that the danger is to the delivery workers as well, nine of whom lost their lives in 2021, he said.
The key, Brannan asserted, is mutual respect among the various people sharing the city’s streets. “We want them to be safe,” he told the crowd. “We want everyone to be safe. We want our kids and families to be safe. The scooters should not be driving on the sidewalk, but let’s remember, these scooters are delivering food and goods to our community. It’s about enforcing the law, but it’s about respect. Ultimately, the streets have to be protected for the most vulnerable, children, families and seniors. We are trying to find that balance where everyone is safe.”
McKinley Intermediate School is located at 7305 Fort Hamilton Parkway.
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Truck parking, drag racing, speed cameras among other issues discussed
- Truck parking – especially in the vicinity of Dyker Beach Park – drew the ire of the crowd. “Dyker Park is a disgrace,” one woman told the panel. Various agencies are working on the issue, said Captain Andrew Tolson, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct.
Among the possible solutions, he said, is implementing back-in angle parking in the areas where the trucks often park, to prevent them from leaving their trucks there. While the trucks are necessary for bringing goods into the city, the problem, said Tolson, is that it’s “cheaper to pay a $100 summons [or even several of them] than to get parking.” So, they’re going to chance it as a part of doing business.”
Signs have been changed on the Poly Place/VA side of the park, added Councilmember Justin Brannan, to prohibit parking at night, but they haven’t stopped the drivers from leaving their rigs there.
Keith Bray, Brooklyn borough commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said the agency is in talks with various entities about where truck parking can be created, such as at piers in industrial areas. “We’re trying to see if there’s a solution, working with industry,” he told the crowd.
- Drag racing and the use of illegal modified mufflers also came up during the town hall. It helps, said members of the panel, to target the areas where the racers hang out.
“It’s like machine guns,” contended one woman.
“If there are locales where you’re seeing this happening on a regular basis, call us,” said Brannan. “We can send the police out. If it’s a regular thing, it’s easy for us.”
There was an operation this past weekend, according to Tolson, with numerous summonses being written, for amplified mufflers as well as other issues, such as speeding.
Fines are now $1,000, noted State Senator Andrew Gounardes, thanks to the SLEEP Act, which he sponsored. The act, which also pulls the license from body shops that make three or more of the illegal modifications within 18 months, went into effect in April. “The city,” he added, “is also experimenting with a pilot program for stationary noise cameras.”
- Speed Cameras also came up, with a questioner asking whether they were really effective. “The data shows that speeding is reduced dramatically [72 percent, citywide] where speed cameras are installed,” said Gounardes.
And, Brannan noted, “The cameras work. I got a whole bunch of speeding tickets, and after I got them, I’ve become a better driver. I haven’t gotten a single ticket since. When you realize how fast you’re driving, and who you’re putting in danger, it makes you a better driver.”
According to Gounardes, legislation now awaiting the governor’s signature would change the hours of operation for speed cameras, now only working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on school days, to 24 hours a day, every day. This is called for, he contended, because “60 percent of the accidents involving injuries or fatalities in the last year occurred at times when the cameras are off.” Having the cameras always operational, he said, “will drive down reckless driving.”
- One man complained that his father had been cycling, with the right-of-way and wearing bright orange, when he was hit by a car. “The driver faced no consequences from the NYPD,” Konstantin Hatzis said.
Deputy Chief Norman Grandstaff, executive officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, said that “every pedestrian accident is investigated, and a summons is issued [when it’s warranted].” However, Gounardes stressed that “reckless driving laws are notoriously bad in New York State.”
As currently written, drivers must have committed two violations “before they are held to be criminally liable,” he said, noting that he had written legislation that would “correct” that. “You shouldn’t have to break multiple laws to be held accountable,” Gounardes contended.