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A courtesy comeback

Lines of cars stretched past the quaint shops along

Plandome Road, waiting to turn onto Bayview Avenue at one of Manhasset's

busiest intersections. Gingerly, Toni Malafronte stepped into the crosswalk,

heading toward Starbucks. Miraculously, a car stopped and let her cross.

In the three months since a local grassroots organization, Coalition for a

Safer Manhasset, launched a "Community Courtesy Campaign," some residents and

businesses have felt a definite change in the air.

"It's a good thing they started," said Malafronte, a homemaker and

eight-year resident of Manhasset. "The community is close-knit and everyone is

really nice. This makes a difference."

Some of the most prevalent problems along the tony suburb's main shopping

street include: drivers not allowing pedestrians the right of way, drivers

talking on their cell phones, drivers cutting off other drivers and shoppers

not holding doors open for other people.

"Some people hear about the courtesy campaign and say, 'Whatever,'" said

Sue Auriemma, one of the campaign's four co-directors. "We didn't think that

this campaign would be a magic fix, but it definitely has raised education and

awareness."

One of the main reasons the campaign developed was because of reckless

driving on Plandome Road, Auriemma said. The mother of co-director Seval

LaRocca suffered severe injuries when she was hit by a minivan while pushing

her granddaughter's stroller across the street in 1998. Another co-chair, Elise

Ledda, was hit by a car in 2004. And Nassau County police officer Peter

Chuchul was clipped by a car in April, Auriemma said.

After her mother's accident, LaRocca began lobbying the Town of North

Hempstead to add more crosswalks, widen sidewalks and increase police

surveillance on the road. Eventually, she formed the Coalition for a Safer

Manhasset with Auriemma, Ledda and Katie Miller.

Subsequently, the women started thinking about basic courtesies they

believed had disappeared in Manhasset. They tried to raise awareness by posting

banners and fliers, placing brochures in churches and synagogues, and reaching

out to the police, town administrators and religious figures. The group, which

has about 20 members, solicited and received donations from local business and

civic organizations and conducted a raffle to help fund the campaign.

The payoffs

The efforts have paid off in many ways. Since the advent of the courtesy

campaign, the police have become more aware of the problems and increased their

presence on Plandome Road, said Officer Robert Browne of Nassau's Sixth

Precinct Problem Oriented Policing unit.

The community has reacted positively, said Browne, who also has spoken to

students in the middle school about the issues.

"I let them know that this is your community, and you need to give people

courtesy," Browne said. "But if being nice isn't enough, we are going to be

sitting behind the stop sign with a radar gun."

Jon Kaiman, the North Hempstead town supervisor, said police have been more

active in issuing tickets, and people seem more aware, but the longer-term

issue is the root of the problem in the Plandome corridor: traffic.

The town of North Hempstead has been devising a plan for Plandome Road. A

traffic consultant recently completed a study, Auriemma said.

Kaiman said the coalition's concerns will influence the town's

decision-making process.

Still, some residents are not sure whether any of these measures can help

Manhasset become more courteous.

"Manhasset, for the longest time, was like a bubble of graciousness and

courtesy," said flower shop owner Lillian Lindergern, 64, a resident since

childhood.

"But for whatever reason, the bubble burst, and all of the sudden there are

fingers flying out of car windows, horns are honking constantly, U-turns are

the norm, grandmas are cursing out of windows," Lindergern said, referring to

an 85-year-old woman who yelled at her.

"People are really rude on Plandome street," said Mary Ellen Gately, a

lifelong resident and co-owner of the gift store Little Shop 'round the corner.

"I had two wreaths stolen off our door last Easter. That has never happened

before in 10 years of business."

However, Gately said she's glad people are starting to think about the

problems.

'Uphill battle'

Kathy Spagna, a lifelong resident and co-owner of Orlando's Deli, which

sits on a busy stretch of the famed road, said she has seen definite changes in

residents' attitudes since the courtesy campaign started.

"People seem to be more courteous," Spagna said. "No one is double-parking

anymore. Things seem to be moving along faster than they were before."

The Coalition for a Safer Manhasset plans to continue working to make the

area a safer and more courteous place, Auriemma said.

"It's a long uphill battle to change the attitude of the residents," she

said.

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