By Kathryn G. Menu
On a rainy evening a few weeks ago, while using the crosswalk closest to the Hampton Library, director Kelly Harris and a colleague found themselves trapped halfway across Main Street, Bridgehampton. Clutching a dark umbrella, it appeared to Harris that traffic was either unable to see them, or unwilling to slow down.
The moment underscores an ongoing concern Harris has had with the crosswalk most commonly used by patrons of the Hampton Library – its safety, particularly as it currently has no signage or lighting to alert drivers coming out of arguably Bridgehampton’s most congested intersection that there is, in fact, a crosswalk there.
On Monday night, at the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, Harris brought her concerns to that board. She noted for awhile there was a sign in the middle of the crosswalk alerting drivers to its presence, but after it was damaged it was never replaced by the Town of Southampton.
Weezie Quimby, the vice president of the Hampton Library board of trustees, drafted a letter to the town requesting a new sign. Harris was told not only was there no money in the budget available for the sign, but that this was an issue the library should be raising with the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) because Montauk Highway is a state, not town, road.
“We’re just worried someone is going to get killed in the crosswalk,” said Harris.
In a perfect world, she said, a lighted crosswalk would be ideal in that location, protecting both patrons and staff, but regardless of what the solution is, Harris said something must be done.
“Is the cost of a sign greater than the cost of a life,” she asked.
Frank Zappone, deputy supervisor under Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst noted that, while the DOT signs are maintained by the town highway department, it does become problematic because it is not budgeted for.
“The expense is minimal but they are short lived,” said Zappone.
Zappone suggested reaching out to New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. to see if funding is available for a lighted crosswalk.
Last spring, two illuminated crosswalks – only the second “smart” crosswalks to be installed on Long Island – were unveiled in East Hampton Village. While East Hampton Village is responsible for the crosswalk’s maintenance, its estimated $125,000 cost was covered by a state grant.
CAC member Leonard Davenport agreed the crosswalk was dangerous, and pointed to a second cross walk near the post office in Bridgehampton as another that is not well marked, and therefore, dangerous.
“I know it is a little intrusive, but clearly some kind of overhead light brings some effect,” he said, noting the crosswalk at the Candy Kitchen on Main Street is lit with a street light and much more visible.
Zappone cautioned that overhead lighting is not favored by the state, pointing to the town’s inability to get similar lighting green lit for County Road 39 in Southampton.
Given how busy the intersection is, Harris wondered if it wouldn’t make sense to simply move the crosswalk further down Main Street.
On Wednesday, Thiele said this crosswalk was on his radar, and was discussed this fall at a highway safety forum, coincidentally at the Hampton Library.
Thiele said a report with recommendations to make Montauk Highway safer is currently being drafted and he expects this will be one of the items addressed in the report. If the community is interested in an illuminated crosswalk, Thiele said that is something that can be explored.
“We are in the early stages, but this could be a lighted crosswalk,” he said. “It’s at least a potential candidate for that.”