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Watchdog: Battling cut-throughs in Stony Brook

Richard Birnbaum at Olney Way and Stony Brook

Richard Birnbaum at Olney Way and Stony Brook Road. Residents of the neighborhood are asking the town to close Olney Way to eliminate cut-through traffic. Credit: Newsday/Judy Cartwright

One in an occasional report on once-quiet residential streets that have been discovered by drivers seeking a cut-through.

The O streets in Stony Brook -- Olney Way, Onyx Drive, Orbit Drive and Olympia Way -- were quiet when they were new, in the 1960s. Traffic was limited to vehicles headed to and from homes, recalls Richard Birnbaum, who moved into his home in 1968.

When commercial development boomed on nearby Route 347, so did traffic in the neighborhood, which lies between Hallock Road on the west and Stony Brook Road on the east. When Hallock was changed from a dead-end to a through street in the 1970s, drivers looking for a short cut discovered the O streets.

Brookhaven Town took moves to discourage the practice, designating two streets as one-ways to reduce the number of entrances to the neighborhood. But cut-through traffic continued to use the one remaining entrance for the shortcut from Hallock Road to Stony Brook Road.

In recent years Birnbaum and neighbors have urged the town to dead-end the one street, Olney Way, that exits to Stony Brook Road, eliminating the cut-through option.

They make the case that the street design isn't suitable for busy traffic: Roads curve -- one has a particularly sharp angle -- and there are no sidewalks for pedestrians or children at play.

Brookhaven has installed signs warning drivers to slow for curves and watch for children. It has also conducted traffic studies, the most recent in early June, and concluded from the findings that closing Olney Way is not warranted.

The town's findings:

As many as 575 vehicles use Olney Way daily.

Violations of the One Way/Do Not Enter signs were as many as 12 a day, which the town termed "minimal noncompliance."

Eighty-five percent of vehicles drove at 29 mph or less, with the occasional speeder going twice as fast. The speed limit is 30 mph.

No accidents have been reported on Olney Way "in our latest 3-year crash history."

With more than 40 years in the neighborhood, Birnbaum interprets the town's findings differently: That 15 percent of vehicles are speeding. That every day several drivers are violating the One Way/Do Not Enter signs. And that the town didn't factor in crashes on Stony Brook Road where cars enter from Olney Way. Suffolk Police say three accidents were reported on that stretch in the 12 months ending Sept. 21.

And he faults the June study because traffic to and from nearby Stony Brook University wasn't at its peak.

So Watchdog asked the town if it would take one more look during the school year.

We had no luck.

"Based on engineering standards and guidelines adopted into the Town of Brookhaven Traffic Management Policy it was concluded that a road closure is not warranted at this location," town spokesman Jack Krieger said in an email.

Birnbaum spoke of parents who have forbidden their children from playing in driveways. "This street was never built for this many cars coming around those turns," he said.

It's safe to say the once-quiet O streets are no longer a place for child's play. That's the one thing everyone can agree on.



Traffic signal's nest of trouble


Until recently, it was hard to see when the traffic signal was green at one intersection on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown. Pat Harwood, who lives nearby, notified us that the green lights had become obscured.

She thought the culprit might be birds' nests.

She was right. State traffic signal technicians found remains of nests on the louvers on green signals on two of the traffic lanes. The signal on the third lane was dark because it had burned out.

The crew replaced the burned-out signal and removed nest debris from the other two, state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said.

Here's why some lights have the nest-friendly louvers: They restrict a signal's visibility so a driver should see only the nearest signal, Peters said, and not be confused by another traffic signal a short distance ahead. At this intersection, at Hamlet Lane, another traffic signal is less than 200 feet away, at Ranch Lane.

"The louvers are there to keep someone at 'A' from being pulled through the Red light at 'A' because they saw the Green at 'B'," the department said in a statement with a photo diagram.

So if the signal at Ranch is red, and the one at Hamlet is green, a driver approaching Ranch should see only the red.

Peters said drivers can report birds nests and other malfunctioning signals to the department's 24-hour telephone line, 631-724-4040. Reports are addressed "as expeditiously as possible," she said.

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