Fuming neighbors say an Upper East Side private school is abusing a City initiative started during the Covid-19 pandemic, turning their so-called ‘Open Street’ into a menace, bringing noise and danger to their quiet Lenox Hill block. To some residents living on a small stretch of East 78th Street, the Allen-Stevenson School– an all-boys private school with tuition costing nearly $57,000 — has become public enemy number one.
“What they’ve done basically, is steal the street to make it convenient for their drop offs, pickups, whatever they want,” said Dr. Pamela Lipkin, whose home and office are located on the closed block of East 78th Street.
“Half the time the street is closed off and they’re not even using it. There are real safety issues with what they have been allowed to do.”
Launched during the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in New York City in April 2020, the ‘Open Streets’ street closures originally gave New Yorkers space to walk or bike when they were asked to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.
In the case of private schools, like Allen-Stevenson, the program was originally intended to give them space for outdoor learning.
“They use the Covid excuse for two years, even though not one kid in that school was wearing a mask, nor were the teachers, so it was almost a sham, but I thought it would be over at some point. But, now for them to say that they need this as an ‘Open Street’ is is just ridiculous,” Dr. Lipkin added.
“The number of [my] patients that were injured by these kids with throwing balls was unbelievable.”
Neighbors say what’s been happening on East 78th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues has been anything but educational activities.
Several neighbors sounded off during a fiery meeting of Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee Wednesday night, saying the ritzy private school is closing the street for nine hours daily— from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm— to use as solely their private property, including having parents and nannies drop off and pick up students in cars, using it for bake sales and even for an event with yoga for parents.
“I’ve seen them have breakfast for parents and children, giving out cocktails, giving out snacks for parents. They use it for dropping off, they have no respect for the rights or for the needs of the community,” said neighbor Jacques Binbaum.
“It’s also the noise level is just incredible,” Binbaum added, “I need to work from home sometimes and it just becomes impossible.”
When Upper East Site visited the East 78th Street on Thursday, the block quickly went from pin drop quiet to overwhelmed with the noise of screaming tweens clad in khakis, button down shirts and neckties that could be heard clearly from inside multiple townhouses.
Another physician whose practice is on the block, Dr. Stephen Warren, put it like this “what seems unfair to me is that the Allen-Stevenson school is allowing the children who are privileged enough to attend that school access to 78th Street, whereas the disabled children that I treat are not allowed access to my medical office.”
“Some of the children have limited mobility and walking down or wheeling the children down the street to gain access to the office seems unfair when the Allen-Stevenson School has alternatives for recess that wouldn’t prevent us from conducting business and taking care of patients.”
“Besides limiting access… to a bike lane, electric [vehicle] charging station, and the reality that ambulances use the street to get to [Lenox Hill Hospital’s Emergency Department] which is on 77th Street, it creates a lot of congestion issues,” said Bryan Verona, a concerned neighbor and president of the East 78th Street block association.
“I would say that the school really is not using the space for outdoor learning, but rather almost exclusively for recess and Physical Education, which leads to a ton of noise and disruption,” Verona added.
“We think that the ‘Open Street’ is a taking of space from the community. I would prefer that it doesn’t exist.”
Somehow, this all came as a surprise to a representative from the DOT attending last night’s committee meeting, however, the agency had been previously alerted to issues with the Allen-Stevenson School’s ‘Open Street.’
In fact, Upper East Site had inquired to the Department of Transportation about Allen-Stevenson’s application and approval for an ‘Open Street’ last September, when we first noticed that DOT’s PlugNYC curbside electric vehicle chargers were located on an Upper East Side block that was off limits to cars for much of the day.
At the time, DOT told Upper East Site that cars were allowed to access the curbside chargers during the street closure, explaining that they had spoken to the school about allowing access by electric vehicles. However, since there is no signage, whether an EV is actually able to access to the charging station falls to the whims of the security guard.
After nearly an hour of hearing complaints from neighbors, Community Board 8’s Transportation Committee unanimously passed a resolution requesting the DOT look into concerns raised by neighbors and work with all stakeholders to make changes to address those concerns.
“We continually remind our faculty and staff of the proper guidelines to be adhered to regarding the Open Streets program,” Sarah Woods, Communications Director for Allen-Stevenson School, told Upper East Site in a statement, adding they “will continue to monitor the activity on 78th Street and ensure that we conduct ourselves within the DOT guidelines.”
“We also do our best to address any requests from neighbors, such as gaining vehicular access to 78th Street and any conditions involving our students and the Open Streets program.”