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Residents and Town Board talk traffic at Town Hall

A look at the ongoing monitoring of St. Mary’s Road traffic through the years
COURTESY OF THE SHELTER ISLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT A look at the ongoing monitoring of St. Mary’s Road traffic through the years.

Reduce the speed limit, ban trucks from certain roads and call out the companies that employ truckers who speed and use Island roads illegally.

Those were some solutions from residents and Town Board members aired at the board’s Tuesday work session to stop what they see as tragic accidents waiting to happen on St. Mary’s Road and New York Avenue.

The issue of unsafe use of both roads has been the subject of discussion by the board in the past, most recently in August when Police Chief Jim Read presented data his department had collected of St. Mary’s Road.

Tuesday, he went back to that data and provided new statistics on both roads from radar surveys and accident reports taken over the last several years.

In 14 years, the chief’s research showed, there have been 20 accidents on New York Avenue. In the same period, there have been 14 accidents on St. Mary’s Road.

The latest data showed that from September 2016 to September 2017, the department had radar checkpoints set up on St. Mary’s Road 104 time and New York Avenue 132 times.

Looking at an August weekend this year, for example, 3,429 vehicles used St. Mary’s roads, with 3,076 of them doing the speed limit of 35 mph or below. Chief Read said that officers don’t stop vehicles doing five mph over the limit because of the vagaries of speedometers and tire pressure that might indicate to the driver that the speed limit is being obeyed.

On that weekend, the data showed 39 drivers using St. Mary’s Road were going 41 to 45 mph and 11 were higher than 45.

The chief, referring to statistics taken in 2000 on St. Mary’s Road, said efforts by his department are “ having an impact on speeding,” noting that 17 years ago 9.2 percent of vehicles were traveling more than 5 mph over the limit, but the August numbers show 2.1 percent were going 5 mph or more over the limit.

A traffic survey conducted on New York Avenue, where the speed limit is 25 mph, over a July weekend this year showed 5,058 vehicles used the thoroughfare, with 956 doing the limit or below, and 2,189 going 6 mph or more above the limit. As Councilman Jim Colligan pointed out, that comes out to about 40 percent of the vehicles on New York Avenue that weekend were speeding.

After the chief’s presentation, he cautioned that it was too early to draw any conclusions, that more data over a longer period of time is optimal before a decision is made. He pointed out that New York State’s position, in it’s transportation codes and regulations, says, “Speed limits should be established only where any engineering study indicates they are justified and reasonable … Experience has firmly established that posted speed limits have little effect on overall traffic speeds. However, realistic limits do provide a sound enforcement basis for citing those who drive at imprudent speeds.”

Dee Clark, who lives on St. Mary’s Road and has been actively campaigning for a lower speed limit and banning trucks, thanked the chief and his department for listening to residents’ concerns and acting to remedy the situation. But she said more needs to be done to protect children and others from unsafe conditions.

Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis said that New York Avenue “has gotten somewhat better” since efforts by the department and her organization have focused on the issue, noting that the Reporter’s police blotter shows that “every week someone is ticketed for speeding.”

Trucks, however, are “the biggest issue,” Ms. Lagudis added. Not only are they speeding, but trucks over the stated weight limit are ignoring the signs and barreling through New York Avenue.

She said she’s written to 10 companies that their trucks were overweight and speeding, and asked the board “if it would be helpful to write letters to a P.C. Richards or other companies asking their dispatchers to speak to their drivers.”

The board had no immediate reaction.

Marie Eiffel said she was worried about trucks delivering to her business on Bridge Street and had contacted companies, but was told they can’t control the actions of their drivers.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams asked why reducing the speed limit is, in the words of the state, “unrealistic,” and Councilwoman Chris Lewis asked if “there is a compelling reason” to allow trucks on St. Mary’s Road only for local deliveries?

Councilman Paul Shepherd said he was “uncomfortable routing truck traffic though a school zone,” meaning that if trucks don’t use St. Mary’s Road they would be forced to use Route 114 through the Center and past the school.

But Ms. Clark noted that 114 is a state road for truck traffic and that the school has a crossing guard and students are in the building most of the day.

Ms. Lewis made a case of lowering the town’s speed limit. “Why not 30 mph?” she asked. “What do we have to lose except 5 mph?”

Chief Read responded by asking residents to “drive around at 30, get a feel for it.

Then go up to 35 to see if there’s a difference.”

The board agreed that the topic was not closed and would be revisited.