Gustavson Column: The answer’s staring us right in the face

10/03/2014 8:00 AM |


I’ve got an idea: Let’s reroute Route 48 to the south in order to avoid further pedestrian deaths near the Soundview. Or build a pedestrian bridge or tunnel across the highway. Better yet, let’s move the Soundview to the north, on pilings over the Sound, thus eliminating parking on the south side of the highway. 

Ridiculous? Certainly that last one is. But to a certain degree, so are those other alternatives. Not to mention expensive when measured against a fourth alternative that, in my opinion, would be much less expensive and just as effective.

Greenport resident Roger Stakey (coincidentally, a former employee of Times/Review Newspapers) called me at home the other day with a suggestion that I’d been mulling over ever since we received the sad news of Howard Meinke’s death. Roger asked: Why aren’t they talking about installing a pedestrian-activated stoplight?

Why not, indeed.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices states: “A pedestrian hybrid beacon as a special type of hybrid beacon used to warn and control traffic at an unsignalized location to assist pedestrians in crossing a street or highway at a marked crosswalk … may be considered for installation to facilitate pedestrian crossings at a location that does not meet traffic signal warrants [read: criteria].”

Isn’t that exactly what we’re talking about here?

In some jurisdictions, including one on the east coast of Florida where we’ve spent time in recent winters, such stoplights/hybrid beacons are as plentiful as, well, slow-footed elderly pedestrians. And these lights work, too. They’re programmed in such a manner that motorists aren’t unduly inconvenienced and pedestrians know they’ll have enough time to cross streets and even highways safely.

A friend who works in the traffic safety field tells me pedestrian-activated traffic lights can be purchased for as little as $20,000 and total costs, including installation, signage and road markings, shouldn’t add more than another $30,000.

What’s another life worth? $50,000? Surely, the lives of George Haase Sr., Thomas Keating and Howard Meinke were worth inestimably more than that.

So, while the town and county have had seven years to find a solution since Mr. Haase’s death in 2007, two more pedestrians have perished at this perilous location. Who else will die, or suffer serious injury, while a $50,000 remedy is staring us in the face?

Some may argue that the Soundview ought to bear some of the cost of dealing with this problem, but I am not among them. The danger exists because Suffolk County’s Route 48 bisects their property and the county allows vehicles to drive at a demonstrably unsafe speed of 50 mph on that highway. Would, for example, a local vineyard be asked to remedy a similar situation if its tasting room and vines happened to be on opposite sides of a highway? I don’t think so.