By Kathryn G. Menu
As a child living in a house on Main Street, Jonas Hagen remembers practically growing up on the streets of Sag Harbor with his friends.
“We would literally just walk around all day,” said Hagen, an urban planner living in Manhattan who still visits his family in Sag Harbor on a regular basis.
Now, says Hagen, the idea of his sister’s children – who live in the village — making their way from Main Street or the local schools to Mashashimuet Park by themselves does raise red flags.
“Sag Harbor grew as a pedestrian village, so it is inherently pretty easy to get around, but I think in recent years with the increase in automobile traffic it has become more difficult to get around,” he said, “particularly for the more vulnerable populations – children and the elderly.”
It is for this very reason that Hagen has been tapped to lead a community workshop organized by the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor this Saturday. The Sag Harbor Active Transport Workshop will be held in the parish hall behind St. Andrew’s Catholic Church on Division Street from 1 to 4 p.m.
The workshop is open to the public and aimed at discussing both the problems, as well as creative solutions, to address traffic calming and transportation needs in the village. Topics will include traffic calming, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, Safe Routes to School programs, parking, public transportation, the use of public and green space and any other related issues residents want to discuss.
“The idea is to get people together and hear about the concerns they have about getting around our village,” said Hagen.
Elizabeth Mendelman, a member of the Springs School District Board of Education, will also speak at the meeting at 3 p.m. That district just secured over $580,000 in Safe Routes to School funding for sidewalks and other improvements.
Championing initiatives in Sag Harbor like Safe Routes to School and others that promote walking and biking, and help reduce the amount of traffic in village is hardly new.
In 2007 and 2008, parent Ken Dorph spearheaded a movement to persuade Sag Harbor Village, and later Southampton Town, to seek out Safe Routes to School funding. The program would have provided for improvements to make biking and walking to Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School easier — and safer — for students.
However, both initiatives failed to find funding support from local municipalities, which was required in order to apply for the grant.
Locally, in addition to the Springs School District, which was awarded funding through an application made by East Hampton Town in January, Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have also been the recipients of Safe Routes to School funding.
Safe Routes to School is a national grant program launched in 2005 by Congress. In New York State, the Department of Transportation administers the program, which has provided over $1.15 billion in funding nationally.
Safe Routes to School, however, will not be the only topic on the agenda during Saturday’s brainstorming session. According to Save Sag Harbor board member Susan Mead — who worked with fellow board member John Shaka on organizing Saturday’s event — the organization views the meeting as the first part of a serious initiative to develop a comprehensive traffic calming and transportation plan for Sag Harbor.
“John and I both live on busy streets — Hampton and Main — and we noticed the increase in traffic this last summer,” said Mead. “We really want to focus on issue identification. Different streets have different issues, and of course the walk to school program is something we also have to take a look at because it is important we take an integrated approach to slowing down cars, while also aiding pedestrians and cyclists.”
Mead said for Save Sag Harbor, taking a serious look at traffic and transportation issues in the village was a natural progression from its focus on the business district and development.
“Our goal is keeping Sag Harbor in a healthy balance,” she said. “And addressing transportation and traffic issues is a part of keeping the village functional.”