A petition drive is seeking to have new guardrails removed from a stretch of Short Beach and Long Beach roads, her Bay Point. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
By Stephen J. Kotz
Sagaponack has its bridge, East Hampton its utility poles, and now Bay Point has its guardrails.
Just as residents of Sagaponack have opposed plans to upgrade the old bridge over Sagg Pond and East Hampton residents are up in arms over PSEG’s replacement of utility poles with much larger ones, so too are some residents who say they want the Suffolk County Department of Public Works to remove new guardrails that were installed just two weeks ago along a stretch of Short Beach and Long Beach roads near Bay Point.
“When I heard they were putting up the guardrail, I was mortified,” said James Perry of Sag Harbor, who has collected more than 200 signatures on a petition drive on Change.org seeking to have them removed. “Almost unanimously everyone came back to me and said, ‘I can’t believe this. It’s horrendous.’”
“You couldn’t have a road that is more appropriate for recreational use,” he said of the stretch that is also known as Country Route 60. “It’s close to the village, very scenic, and it’s a flat road, which makes it good for rollerblading, running, cycling or whatever.”
“It’s particularly beautiful, one of the most beautiful spots on Long Island,” said the artist April Gornik, a resident of North Haven, who has been assisting Mr. Perry in his effort. “I hadn’t been on Long Beach for awhile when this happened or I would have gone ballistic.”
Mr. Perry and Ms. Gornik said they have taken their concerns to County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride and North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander.
But Bill Colavito, the director of highway design for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, said people should not be holding their breath for the guardrail’s removal.
“I’m not going to dismiss anyone who is upset, and I apologize to them if they don’t like the project, but I have to look out for the greater good of everybody using that road,” he said. “There’s no chance that guiderail is coming down.”
Mr. Perry said he objected to the guardrails because they both spoil the view and unintentionally make the road less safe for pedestrians and cyclists by encouraging motorists to drive faster and creating a barrier that could cause serious injury to a bicyclist or pedestrian if they were struck by a car and pushed against the guardrail.
“I’ve heard of separating pedestrians from traffic with a guardrail,” he said, “but the idea of trapping them on the same side is novel to me.”
William Hillman, the chief engineer for the county’s Department of Public Works, in an email to County Legislator Schneiderman said the county “does not share the same view, that the guardrail decreases safety to non-motorized users.”
Mr. Colavito said the county has been planning to install the guardrail since 2010. In planning such projects, he added, the county relies on the handbook of the American Association for State Highway Officials, which provides strict guidelines relating to average speed, curves and other factors like the location of hazards, such as water, when deciding where guardrails should go.
“When you factor all these things in, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.
But Ms. Gornik said the work “smacks of a make-work project” she could only find one record of a serious accident occurring on the road and that occurred last summer when a landscaping truck was driven off the road and onto rocks when the driver of an oncoming car veered into his lane. “There was no public hearing, no notice to the residents, ” she added.
“Nobody likes to see this sort of thing, but it is a county road there, and they have to do what they have to do to protect the public,” said Legislator Schneiderman, “and they undertook a whole series of tests to justify this project.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he doubted the county would be persuaded to remove the guardrails even though Ms. Gornik said opponents have offered to pay the cost of having them removed.
“I’m not getting overwhelmed with objections,” he said. “It’s not a riot like there was with the utility poles in East Hampton.”
Mr. Perry conceded that guardrail opponents were perhaps not that well organized—yet. “We have very strong community support,” he said, “but so far we are lacking a way for channeling that feeling into action.”
“It’s not the first time I’ve done something where people are upset. It’s nice to deal with people who care about their community,” said Mr. Colavito. “Over time—give it a couple of weeks—they’ll start looking past it.”