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Train

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Police arrive after a man was allegedly hit by a train in Port Jefferson. Photo from the inside of train by Isobel Breheny

A bicyclist was allegedly struck by an oncoming train in Port Jefferson May 15, leaving commuters stranded on the train for more than an hour.

At approximately 6:20 p.m, the 4:19 p.m. train from Penn Station came into contact with a 50-year-old male bicyclist at the Main Street grade crossing in Port Jefferson, according to a MTA spokesperson.

The man was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the MTA said. The train was delayed 71 minutes. Long Island Railroad service was briefly suspended east of Stony Brook, and restored at 7:16 p.m.

Huntington commuters board train. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Donna Deedy

The New York State Senate passed April 1 legislation that will overhaul the Metropolitan Transit Authority and transform its operations. The legislation, included in the 2019-20 New York State budget, authorizes into law key changes to increase MTA transparency and reform its operations. This includes a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of MTA, improvements to long-term capital planning, and requires public reporting on MTA performance metrics.

New York State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) said that he aggressively lobbied for passage of these reforms and committed himself to their inclusion in the final state budget.  

“I am thrilled that this year’s budget will include a core component of the MTA Rail Act: a comprehensive, independent forensic audit of the MTA,” he said. “This, coupled with a $1 billion investment into the LIRR, are critical first steps toward making Long Island’s mass transit finally work for riders.”

The reforms were also supported by railroad watchdogs and public transit commuters, fed up by years of late trains, poor communication by the MTA and rising train fares.

“The biggest complaint I hear is overcrowding as a result of cars taken out of service,” said Larry Silverman, former chair of the LIRR Commuter Council. “Monies have already been allocated for the expansion projects such as East Side Access and Third Track Main Line, so I would expect that the railroad would use the funds to keep the system in a state of good repair.”

Larry Penner, former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs. The devil, he said, is in the missing details yet to be worked out concerning passage of congestion pricing and the MTA Rail Act. The promised MTA “forensic audit” in his view is a waste of time and money. 

“Another audit will not result in significant change,” Penner said. “How many internal MTA, MTA Office of the Inspector General, state comptroller, city controller, NYC Office of Management and Budget, Federal Transit Administration OIG and other audits have come and gone.”

The best bang for the buck, he said, is for the Long Island Rail Road to further electrify rail service for five branches: Port Jefferson, Oyster Bay, Montauk, Ronkonkoma and the central branch which runs between Hicksville, Bethpage and Babylon. Investing in a one-seat-ride service to Penn Station, and eventually Grand Central, would benefit the most people. 

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The Port Jefferson ferry. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Amanda Perelli

Using public transportation in downtown Port Jefferson is no easy task, especially for those with vision, hearing or mobility impairments.

On April 17, Stony Brook University occupational therapy students evaluated the accessibility of the Suffolk County bus line, Long Island Rail Road and The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company ferry in downtown Port Jeff, for their capstone project. Richard Brenza, Paulina Chrostowski, Shirley Lin, Puja Rai, Eric Wong and Wendy York were the students conducting the evaluation. Their goal was to see how difficult it would be for people with various impairments to navigate from the ferry to the train station a mile-and-a-half south on Main Street. They worked with five Suffolk Independent Living Organization volunteers — a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding the disabled live independently — with visual, hearing and or mobility impairments, and presented their report at Village Hall in a private meeting May 22, which included representatives from Suffolk County Transit. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo attended the meeting on behalf of the village.

Students from Stony Brook University evaluate the accessibility of transportation services from the ferry to the train station in Port Jeff for people with various impairments. Photo from SBU

“Port Jefferson village is right next to our campus, it’s basically a college town,” Lin said. “Being that it is a place where a lot of us hangout, it was appropriate for us to see how accessible it is for individuals, or our classmates, who may have vision, hearing — any mobility impairments.”

The students received help in executing the evaluation from Pamela Linden, clinical associate professor, and Karen DeChello, clinical assistant professor — both of the occupational therapy program at SBU — and Amy Menditto, SILO’s NY Connects director.

“Our service learning projects are benefiting organizations and communities, rather than clinical practice,” Linden said.

Justin Ainsworth, outreach advocate at SILO, participated in the project alongside the other volunteers. Ainsworth has a power wheelchair and said he has no prior experience trying to ride the bus and was surprised he could.

“The [village] is fairly accessible, but there are always things that’ll make it easier,” Ainsworth said.

Before the group attempted to get on the bus, they came across an unexpected problem and asked themselves, “How would the visually impaired members cross the street alone?”

“I am a blind person who goes all over and for me to actually cross the street I have to put my hand up, put my foot out on the street and say ‘stop’ — and pray that they would stop so I could get to the other side,” said Marilyn Tucci, outreach and advocacy coordinator at SILO and one of the visually impaired volunteers.

“People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

— Wendy York

The three-way intersection crossing from south to north on East Broadway adjacent to Main Street lacks a traffic stop light and audible walk signal, but the hurdles didn’t stop there.

The S61 Suffolk County Transit bus, which travels from the ferry dock to Patchogue railroad station and back, stopped down the street from its posted location, creating an added obstacle for the group of 11,
according to York.

“For us able bodies that are young, we can go to that bus that stops at a different place around the corner down the street,” York said. “People with mobility impairments or vision impairments or hearing impairments, it’s not as easy for them to run down the corner to where the bus was.”

The group arrived at the Port Jeff LIRR station, but struggled to board the train with ease as they had hoped, York said. They needed to track down the conductor and set up a ramp, which is the only way a person in a wheelchair can access the train.

“The gap that is in between the train car and the platform on the LIRR was, like, 8 inches and according to [Americans with Disabilities Act] standards it should be no more than 3,” York said. “I was with someone who was visually impaired so I helped her cross that gap, but she had told me previously — when she was alone — that there was a gap like that and her foot actually fell in between the car and she was stuck for a minute, which is obviously scary if the train were to move and no one knew. Luckily it didn’t.”

The students recommended small changes in consistency in their final report, like adding visual and audible traffic announcements for individuals to rely on.

“I think the most eye-opening part about it was seeing how many flaws there are in the system that still need to be worked out,” Brenza said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be, but there’s still a long way to go.”

Port Jefferson’s stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

The students got the chance to present their findings and interact with people from different transportation organizations at the meeting at Village Hall. Members of Suffolk County Transit told them the best way for something broken to get fixed is to call the company line directly and report it, according to Wong.

“They wanted to understand why the problem occurred and wanted to fix it, so it wouldn’t happen at another time,” Wong said. “We learned that it is not entirely Port Jeff’s responsibly to make all of the changes.”

The six students graduated June 22, earning master’s degrees in occupational therapy. The volunteers said they were grateful for the students efforts and both groups said they hoped the findings would make a lasting impact on the community.

“It’s a beautiful village and people with disabilities want to enjoy it, and it’s almost impossible to them to enjoy it unless they have sighted help,” Tucci said. “I hope the village and county and the town will really do something to put more lights there — and audible lights, especially by the ferry.”

D’Abramo said at a public meeting June 4 he told the students and SILO representatives he was eager to hear their findings, and reassured them the village would be an advocate in helping to deal with the transportation agencies involved.

“I tried to give them an idea of how many different agencies we were dealing with here — the MTA, the ferry, New York State Department of Transportation and Suffolk County busing,” he said.

The morning routine for all four of us was slightly off kilter. My daughter, who usually doesn’t have the energy to complain about starting her day, suggested that she really needed a day off. Sorry, but that wasn’t going to happen. Besides, she doesn’t generally want a day at home because she feels as if she would fall behind in her classes and would rather keep pace.

I dropped her off at school as she groaned something to the effect of, “Bye, have a good day, I hate this.”

I returned to pick up my wife and take her to the train. She was also slightly behind schedule. My son came “elephanting” down the stairs. It’s an expression we use that is exactly as it sounds. He throws his feet so heavily and loudly on the steps that the house shakes until he reaches the first floor, turns hard to his right twice and collapses into his chair.

My wife and I raced out of the house two minutes behind our usual departure time. Two minutes? How was I supposed to make it to a train that is only early when we’re late? It’s Murphy’s law of trains. Whatever can go wrong with the commute does go wrong and, often, in conjunction with other problems.

We came to the final light seconds before the train was scheduled to pull in.

We reached the traffic light just as it turned red, in that small window when all the lights are red at the same time. Despite the line to my left waiting for a green light, I made a right on red and pulled into the intersection behind another car waiting to make the immediate left into the train station.

Unfortunately, the cars on the other side of the street hadn’t left an opening for the frantic commuters to reach the station. When their light changed, the traffic immediately started moving, blocking us from making the turn.

My wife considered getting out, racing across the street and trot-running through the parking lot. The cars speeding by near her door made that impossible.

A car behind me honked, moved to our right and slowly passed. A woman in her 60s flipped us the bird.

Do we still do that? Do we still raise our middle finger to strangers? I do it to my computer when it’s frozen and to my phone when it’s not allowing me to respond to an email or text, or when it adds an error to one of my emails because it retyped a name into something potentially problematic.

But this woman, with her tight lips, curled and dyed hair, and menacing eyes, slowly rolled past me, extending the curse finger just in front of her left shoulder. That raised digit was so stiff, long and rigid that it looked it could have just as easily have been a weapon as a gesture.

I was stunned to react immediately. Then a few responses ricocheted around my head as my wife raced out of the car: “Sorry? Right back at you, sweetheart.” … “You know what you can do with that finger.”

It’s possible her day had, or was expected to have, much bigger problems than mine. I am sorry I upset her so much that she needed to express her outrage.

Or maybe I gave her a chance to be angry at something other than herself, her family, her boss or the people who work for her. Could I have done her a favor, providing a target for her anger?

I don’t know her story, but I do know that my day suddenly seemed less problematic.

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Everyone knows about the doctor who was forcibly removed from his place on a United Airlines plane when no one volunteered to give up seats to accommodate a flight crew traveling to another airport. Fortunately for the doctor, another passenger videoed the event, and the video went viral. The public outrage that followed is prompting congressional hearings, new rules within the airline industry and new laws regarding removal by police of an unwilling passenger.

I think it is fair to say that the reaction to the incident is one of total disbelief that such an act could happen here in the United States. The callousness and utter disregard for the safety of the man, incidentally a paying customer, are astonishing.

Yet here is another story, closer to home and less violent, of insensitivity to customers. I was riding the Long Island Rail Road home from Penn Station on a weekday afternoon, expecting the usual change at Huntington for Port Jefferson, when an announcement over the public address system advised us that the connecting train was arriving across the tracks on the south side of the station. We were told to use the stairs to cross over if we wanted to continue east.

It seemed a bit of an inconvenience until we walked down the platform to the stairway and found the entrance blocked. Turning around to find the next closest stairway over the tracks, I saw that some of the passengers behind me were using walkers or canes. As they saw the locked gate to the stairs, they became frantic. The next crossover was a half block down the platform. Did you ever witness people with walkers and canes trying to run? The sight is pathetic. And the rest of us didn’t look too graceful, huffing and puffing our way to try and catch the waiting train.

The stairs were steep to the top of the overpass, and the passages on the south side leading back down to the platform and to the parking lot were confusing. We ran by an elevator, and some of us pressed the button, but it took what seemed like forever to arrive. Once inside, we were confronted with different buttons that were labeled, each with an ambiguous letter. We pushed the wrong button and wound up on the ground floor. Breathless at this point, we rushed back up the stairs to the platform just in time to see the train pulling away. Those with the walkers and canes, as well as those of us too slow to navigate in time, perhaps a dozen in total, were left to wait the hour and a half until the next train. The moans were loud.

There is, of course, pressure on the engineers and conductors to keep to a schedule. A regular report grades the on-time performance of the LIRR, and there is much disgruntlement when the trains are habitually late. So there was reason for the train to pull away before all the passengers had crossed the tracks. But where was the caring? Some of the passengers were lame. Some were old. Some were just out of shape for a sudden dash up, around and down the granite stairways. It would have taken perhaps another two minutes for the rest of the group to reach the train.

Where was the respect for the paying customer?

Perhaps this sort of disregard is inevitable in a monopolistic situation. There is no other train line to use. There aren’t that many different airlines left in our country after the assorted mergers. Or is it something else, something having to do with our society as a whole? Yes, in many ways we have become more tolerant over the past century, more accepting of differences. We have also become more relaxed, less formal in our dealings with each other — and not in a negative way. But there are some aspects of previous generations that are sadly scarce. I could name a few: politeness, honor, civility, patience, respect. We rush around a lot, but I’m not sure we always get where we want to be. And if we don’t rush, we get left behind.

Residents and Brookhaven officials will address ways to improve Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station, above, in the first phase of the study. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After decades of waiting, Brookhaven officials said they were taking legitimate steps toward giving Route 25A a face-lift — starting with Stony Brook.

The town board approved a resolution on Thursday, Jan. 14, to conduct land use studies for Route 25A in Three Village and Port Jefferson Station. The town said it would be holding several meetings over the coming months at which residents can suggest ways to improve the de facto Main Street, especially near the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road station and where Route 25A meets Nicolls Road.

This three-phase study will start with the Smithtown line to Nicolls Road. The two other phases, including the Port Jefferson Station study, will follow. Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station is part of the first phase.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the town will use money from a contingency fund in its operating and capital budgets to fund the study. The town hasn’t established dates, times and location, but Romaine said meetings will begin once the weather gets warmer in March or April.

“It’s long overdue,” Romaine said about the study. “We will be sending letters to [the Department of Transportation]  and ask them to participate because a lot of the work we’re going to comment on are things [DOT has] to do, like additional sidewalks.”

Several civic leaders across the Three Village and greater North Shore community came out in full support of the land use study on Thursday with hopes of spurring the town board to expedite progress along 25A.

“The intersection of Nicolls Road and Route 25A is really the gateway to the communities of the Three Village community, and quite frankly it’s sort of a hodge-podge of commercial and retail buildings,” said George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association. “We also have a real problem with safety … because the corridor is really lacking crosswalks and sidewalks.”

The town also asked Stony Brook University to participate in this study. Similar land use studies and plans for Route 25A were conducted in 1963 and 1975 according to Robert de Zafra, former president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook. A third study was conducted around 20 years ago.

Current civic leaders like Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, have tried kick-starting revitalization efforts for Route 25A near the Stony Brook train station for several years. Nuzzo has often been at the forefront of all discussions relating to upgrading 25A and ushering in a new era of commercial and residential prosperity across the main road.

At Thursday’s town board meeting, Nuzzo said the town was finally taking a different approach when working with civic groups.

“There’s been a lot of false starts with this area because it was based in the past on this old top-down model, where the people at the top were going to tell the people at the bottom what they’re going to live with for the next 50 years,” Nuzzo said at Town Hall before Brookhaven passed the resolution. “But this model now with this corridor study and community visioning, this is a bottom-up model.”

Over the last several years, Stony Brook University students have worked with their professors to propose idealistic and practical ways to improve the area by the train station. The groups have been hosting events with residents at the Bates House in Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket and other locations, where they have pitched their plans based on various land studies of the 25A corridor.

Professor Marc Fasanella from Stony Brook University has been leading entire classes on the revisioning of Route 25A and challenging his students with finding realistic ways to make the corridor more appealing visually and logistically.

In a previous interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers, he said the crux of the challenge was to think outside the box, no matter how outlandish the plans might seem.

“We looked at this as a tremendous opportunity for our students and for the community moving forward,” Fasanella said. “Are we dreaming? Of course we’re dreaming.”

Nuzzo said the area by the train station has united people throughout the community, but the entire corridor, especially near the LIRR, can not only be safer but also more visually appealing to the community.

“This is an issue that transcends political lines,” he said. “This is an issue that has unified both the civic association and the Chamber of Commerce who have historically been at odds with one another. We’re in that redevelopment phase of this corridor and this is really a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a community vision to have something nice for 75 to 100 years.”

Phil Corso contributed to this report.

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Spaces to be closed beginning Monday

Roped off parking spaces on the fourth level of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road train station's south parking garage earlier this year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Portions of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station’s south parking garage will be closed beginning Monday, Aug. 17, due to a waterproofing project that is “the last phase of the garage’s rehabilitation,” according to a Huntington Town statement.

The entire roof level of the five-level garage will be closed for about 24 days. Work will then continue to the lower levels, one at a time. As work commences on the lower levels — also for an estimated 24 days each — three-fourths of the affected level will be closed.

“Commuters are advised that parking should be available in the surface parking lot on the west side of New York Avenue between Railroad and Church streets, but that they should allow some extra time to walk to the station,” according to the statement.

Earlier this year, the town closed off 228 spaces at the garage as part of an emergency repair project. The upcoming waterproofing work, which was anticipated and not an emergency repair, is necessary because it “helps preserve the concrete” at the garage, town spokesman A.J. Carter said.

Roped off parking spaces on the fourth level of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road train station's south parking garage earlier this year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town is slated this week to reopen more than half of the 228 parking spaces at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station’s south parking garage it closed off earlier this year.

The town will reopen 116 spaces on the fourth level of the garage on Wednesday, April 8, it announced in a Monday statement. The spaces were closed as part of an emergency repair project on the fifth level, where there are still currently 112 spaces out of commission.

Parking stalls on the fourth level were closed off “as a safety precaution” because they were located directly underneath work that included removing parking deck concrete in certain areas, repairing cables and structural reinforcement, according to the town.

“The project has reached a stage where the remaining work no longer presents a potential falling debris hazard to persons and vehicles on the fourth level, allowing for the spaces to reopen,” the town said in a statement.

Spaces on the fifth level are scheduled to reopen on April 20.