Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
The new school year has brought more complaints to Watchdog's inbox about traffic cut-throughs -- the streets drivers use to avoid major intersections, especially ones with No Turn on Red signs. We're visiting some to get a handle on just how bad the traffic is and asking what measures, if any, can be taken to restore calm to the neighborhood. Here's the first report:
I live on West Hills Road in South Huntington, which drivers use as a cut-through from Jericho Turnpike to Route 110. It's a winding, hilly road with a 30 mph speed limit; a 15 mph sign for the approaching curve is directly in front of my house.
No one abides by the speed limit, and there have been many accidents. After one, I asked the police officer at the scene if she could stand in the street to slow traffic, and her answer was "Are you crazy? I don't want to get killed."
A few "speed humps" to slow traffic would make it much safer. I tried years ago to get some installed, but was unsuccessful.
-- Joe Albert,
First, here's some clarity for those of us who aren't steeped in traffic lingo: A speed hump is not the more common speed bump we see in parking lots.
Speed humps are shorter, typically 3 to 4 inches high, and can extend 12 to 14 feet. On roads where they've been used -- including some local streets in New York City -- they're spaced at intervals to deprive drivers the opportunity to gain speed. They've had another effect, according to studies cited by the Institute of Traffic Engineers: Many drivers choose another route.
Albert would be pleased with such a result on West Hills Road. But chances of getting speed humps appear slim.
"The Town of Huntington does not install these devices," Steve McGlooin, director of the Department of Transportation and Traffic Safety, said in a statement, citing "potential safety problems with increased response times for emergency vehicles and increased difficulty in road maintenance and snow removal."
That response doesn't address Albert's concerns, which are grounded in numbers: The 1.2-mile stretch of road had 22 traffic accidents in the 12-month period that ended July 31, according to Suffolk County police. In one hour on a recent morning, 281 vehicles were recorded passing Albert's house, 14 of them school buses. Some of the cars were decorated with insignia of the senior class at Walt Whitman High School, which sits at the end of the road.
At the busiest times, as many as 12 vehicles drove past in one minute. Occasionally three or four would be in a tight tailgating formation.
Speed humps have been tried in a few Long Island communities including Glen Cove, where two were installed about 10 years ago. Mayor Ralph Suozzi said the speed humps "do slow people down" on the road, which he described as a well-known cut-through. The speed humps have attracted the attention of other neighborhoods, he said, and the city has received many requests for more installations by residents who regard them as "a logical solution to an observed problem" on their streets.
But Suozzi said he doesn't expect the devices to have wide application. Instead, the city plans to rely on the customary "tools in the traffic arsenal" -- larger stop signs with reflective strips, crosswalks and warnings to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, flashing speed limit signs -- to address neighborhood traffic problems, he said.
Suozzi's reluctance comes down to the obstacles speed humps present to garbage trucks, snow plows and emergency vehicles -- the Institute of Transportation Engineers says each hump delays fire trucks by three to five seconds and ambulances by up to 10 seconds -- and cost. And each installation would require a traffic study, which Suozzi said can cost as much as $15,000.
"The ones on Franklin do a relatively good job, but they're not a cure-all," he said. "People learn to drive over them, or go to the side."
Back on West Hills Road, there's no lack of warning signs -- one has flashing lights -- advising drivers to slow to 15 or 20 mph as they approach curves.
Three intersections along the road have stop signs. But that leaves two winding stretches -- each close to a half-mile long -- that provide the opportunity to gather speed.
Watchdog asked about the possibility of adding a stop sign at one more location and whether that would help slow traffic.
The town's response: Such a request will be considered if residents submit it formally at Huntington@Your Service on the town's website.
For now, Suffolk police say the department's COPE officers will step up enforcement efforts there.
Drivers, consider yourselves warned.