Pedestrian fatality spurs calls to fix road crossing
In the days after a fatal pedestrian accident in South Farmingdale last month, the first of many phone calls and letters arrived.
'We live in a senior complex, right on Main Street," said Ronald Atkins. "Two days ago one of our residents was killed crossing the street."
The victim was Vincenza Bottazzi, a resident of the 55-and-over Farmingdale Villas apartment complex. She was struck by a pickup truck as she was crossing Main Street.
Pedestrian crossings are a regular occurrence near the complex, which opened in 1999 with 266 units. This email from resident Harold Wetzel explains why:
"Truth is, 80 percent of the people living here are over the age of 75 and many are in their 80s and 90s," Wetzel wrote. "The problem is, we are located on the east side of the street, while all the stores we need to shop at are on the west side.
"Most of the more senior residents do not drive any more and therefore are forced to make the daily Main St. crossing for groceries and prescription medications on foot, using their walkers for stability.
"Because there are no stop signs, traffic lights, pedestrian walkways, caution lights of any kinds, these people are left to their own devices to cross this very busy roadway."
Bottazzi was 88. On June 11 she was doing errands with a close friend, a woman who has experienced vision loss. Neighbors said Bottazzi was the eyes of the duo.
The friend continues to recover from injuries. No charges were filed against the driver.
Farmingdale Villas is positioned on Main Street between Route 110 and Carmans Road. Property manager Sonya Alonso said it's common for drivers to rush from one of those intersections to the next, a distance of about a third of a mile, presumably in an effort to beat the next red light.
This isn't the community's first attempt on behalf of pedestrian safety -- this wasn't the first accident they've seen near the complex -- but much of their time was spent trying to figure out who's responsible for the road.
There is plenty of reason for confusion.
The complex has a Farmingdale address. But it is outside the village boundaries. It's also outside of Oyster Bay Town, Alonso learned when she contacted officials there.
The apartment units are actually in Suffolk County, and the complex pays taxes to the county and to Babylon Town. But those two jurisdictions told residents they couldn't help.
That's because the section of roadway in front of the apartments is in Nassau County; the county line crosses Main Street just east of the apartments. So though residents live on the Suffolk side of the line, entry into the complex is in Nassau.
Residents remember discussions with Nassau years ago, but say those talks left them the impression that nothing could be done.
Here's Wetzel's recollection: "They don't install lights at private roads." The entrance to the apartments, Genova Court, is a private road maintained by the complex.
But traffic control of some type -- a crosswalk, a sign, even a signal that pedestrians could activate -- apparently isn't out of the question. When we asked Nassau about the prospects, we got this response:
"Nassau County traffic engineers are eager to work with the owners of the property and investigate the installation of a traffic signal at the location to ensure the safety of the residents," Public Works Department Michael Martino said in an emailed statement.
Still, the private-road issue does come into play. And that means the issue involves something else: money. If the county decides that a traffic-control device is appropriate, the location -- at the entrance to a private road -- means the county won't pay for the installation.
Alonso said the Farmingdale Villas ownership would determine how to proceed. And if the cost is considered prohibitive? It doesn't seem out of the question to ask other businesses along the road, including the stores where the residents shop, to share the cost.
We can report that crossing that stretch of Main Street is not for the faint of heart; to be honest, we were struck by the determination of residents willing to undertake it. Lulls in traffic do occur, though they're spaced several minutes apart.
Several residents told us they aren't afraid to head out on foot for shopping errands. "What else are we going to do?" asked Carl Nigro, who said he no longer drives.
Alonso has managed to get "No Parking" signs installed on Main Street near the entrance to the apartments so parked cars don't block pedestrians' views of oncoming traffic. And when she sees someone waiting to make the crossing, she heads to the road to assist.
Pedestrians typically band together in twos and threes, Wetzel said: "They try to help each other out." The June tragedy, he said, "was something everyone was fearing."