This week, more than a million young New Yorkers who attend the city’s 1,840 public institutions go back to school. Last week, politicians asked for details on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway reconstruction plans. But how are NYC public schools and the BQE (and other major city roadways) related?
A new report by home search platform Localize.city found that hundreds of NYC public schools are located within 500 feet of major highways—including the BQE—which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), exposes them to high levels of pollution.
According to the EPA, people who live, work, or attend school near major roads have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, impaired lung development (in children), and other diseases, thanks to pollutants spewed from cars. Data from the Localize report shows that there are 244 public schools within 500 feet from major highways and that several schools have been recently built—or are currently being built—near these roads.
“When parents debate how to rank their child’s pre-K programs or elementary schools, they often pay attention to the quality of the teaching, what kinds of art and enrichment is available and whether there’s a nice outdoor playground,” Liat Halpern, urban planner at Localize, said in a statement. “They might not pay attention to hidden hazards of air quality, even though pollution could have a big impact on their children’s ability to learn.”
In Queens, for instance, P.S. 398, a new school in Jackson Heights, will open this week, just 200 feet from the BQE. In East Elmhurst, I.S. 419, slated to open in 2021, sits near the entrance to Grand Central Parkway. In Brooklyn, P.S./I.S. 746 in Sunset Park, expected to open in a year, will sit near the BQE, while P.S./I.S. 667 in East New York, will open near high traffic corridors.
In neighborhoods like Sunset Park, there are 14 schools located near heavy-traffic roads like the BQE, Third and Fourth avenues, and 39th and 65th streets. “Many of these are noisy truck routes where outdated diesel engines rumble along, spewing particularly noxious fumes,” the report reads.
As far as schools that are already built near major highways, there are 76 in the Bronx, 66 in Manhattan, 55 in Brooklyn, 41 in Queens, and 6 in Staten Island.
But there are some ways around this. According to the EPA, one of the things that cities can do is adding roadside green areas and cut sections; and, indoors, mitigating roadway pollution with air filtration systems. Localize also points to training school staff on indoor air quality issues and having students avoid “strenuous activities” during peak traffic times. Cities and states can also pass laws to prevent schools from being built near polluted roadways (as California did in 2003).