By Tessa Raebeck
Upon leaving the Hampton Library Monday night, director Kelly Harris found herself at a standstill. Using the crosswalk nearest the Main Street, Bridgehampton library, she was quickly trapped in between lanes of passing cars, standing in the middle of Montauk Highway with nowhere to go.
This is a common obstacle to leaving work for Harris, who has been spearheading a community effort to increase safety measures at the crosswalk. The unlit crossing is in the center of Bridgehampton, just west of what is arguably the hamlet’s most trafficked intersection.
“There was a family stuck in the middle of the road because the cars would not stop,” Harris told members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) at their Monday meeting.
Harris first brought her concerns before the CAC in February, when members agreed that it was a pressing issue that the committee should address. Since that meeting, Harris, CAC Co-Chair Carey Millard and other Bridgehampton residents have written letters to the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), which is responsible for the crosswalk because Montauk Highway is a state road.
“I wrote to [DOT Commissioner] Joan McDonald in Hauppauge about four months ago,” said Millard. “I got a reply this week, but not from Joan. It came from Frank Pearson, who is the Regional Traffic Engineer. Basically, it told me that there was no problem. It was all in my imagination.”
Millard read an excerpt from the letter she received to the CAC.
“I did not find in the last three years any pedestrian related accidents in this location,” said Pearson in the letter.
“To say, ‘Well, nobody’s died there,’ is a bit unacceptable,” said Harris.
Following the earlier complaints from the CAC and Friends of the Hampton Library, the Town of Southampton put up signs indicating to drivers that there is in fact a crosswalk.
“They put up these great big yellow signs,” said Harris. “The problem of course is that it began to rain and now the trees have grown and the trees are now blocking the signs.”
Harris and the CAC have suggested several solutions to the DOT, such as the signs, lighting the road better and moving the crosswalk further from the busy entrance to the municipal parking lot. An ideal solution they hope the state will consider is installing illuminated crosswalks like those in East Hampton Village. When they wish to cross the road, pedestrians push a button and the crosswalk becomes illuminated with blinking, yellow lights.
The “smart” crosswalks – only the second set installed on Long Island – first lit up in the spring of 2012. The cost of the two, covered by a state grant, is estimated at $125,000. East Hampton Village pays for maintenance.
Frustrated by the DOT’s response to their suggestions, the CAC joked about taking matters into their own hands.
“When I had spoken about it in February, Fred [Cammann, member of the CAC] said we needed a volunteer to get hit in the crosswalk,” Harris recalled. “We all had a good laugh about it, but…something still needs to be done. The crosswalk is not safe.”
CAC Member Phyllis Macpherson joked putting an advertisement in the local papers “looking for volunteers who would like to be hit by a car” so the community could see some action by the DOT.
Still apprehensive to jump in front of a moving vehicle, Harris has explored other ways to temporarily minimize the danger.
The library director said that she calls the Southampton Town Police Department every week before the library’s “Fridays at Five” event to request that a Traffic Control Officer (TCO) be deployed to help attendants cross the street. “I call them every Friday and every Friday they say, ‘If we’re not too busy,’ and nobody comes,” said Harris, who has been running the event – and calling the police department – for three years.
“Let me speak to the chief,” replied Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who regularly attends CAC meetings.
Harris hopes Scalera’s influence will improve the prospects of getting a safe solution “short of me standing out there in an orange vest every time we have a library program.”