General Theory of Walkability forum at Setauket Neighborhood House
To have sidewalks or to not have sidewalks — that was the topic of debate for residents and town and county officials during a forum, The General Theory of Walkability, on Oct. 22 at the Setauket Neighborhood House.
Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), members of the Three Village Community Trust and residents gathered to listen to residents’ thoughts about establishing sidewalks along various roads and areas like the Three Village and suggestions about how to make the roads safer for pedestrians.
Former county Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher was among the members in the audience. Fisher, an avid walker, was shocked with how many people weren’t in favor of sidewalks after speaking to residents at the event. Fisher said many people didn’t want to take on the responsibility of having a sidewalk in front of their home, or they didn’t want to disturb the rural appeal of the area by introducing sidewalks.
A New York Metropolitan Transportation Council study from 1994 to 2004, referred to during the debate, indicated a 25 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities in New York state with the exception of Suffolk County. The county experienced a 104 percent increase in these fatalities in that 10-year-or-so period.
Sidewalks were introduced as an idea to combat the issue of pedestrian safety especially for children and those who enjoy walking or biking. According to Jenanne Hominick, who serves as a crossing guard under Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct, sidewalks are fine as long as they are established in an appropriate area.
“[Route] 25A [needs sidewalks] without a doubt. You got college students coming. They have no transportation. These guys are from Japan and all over the world,” Hominick said in an interview after the event.
She added that sidewalks in residential areas might not be necessary.
While sidewalks and were the main issue, panelist Ann Fangmann, director of programs at Sustainable Long Island, said sidewalks or complete streets, which includes sidewalks and a designated turning lane among other features, weren’t the only way to promote pedestrian safety.
“There’s so many different communities on Long Island and they each have their own character,” Fangmann said during the event. “They each have their own setup. It’s really about planning in a way that is inclusive of that community character and not take away from it.”
She suggested that designating a portion of the road for pedestrians is an option.
Others also suggested establishing sidewalks starting with schools to help keep children safe when its time to go home. Using speed bumps to help people slow down and adhere to the speed limit as well as stop signs was another suggestion. Elena Sadov of Setauket was one of the few members who pointed out that more advanced cars are part of the issue when it comes to pedestrian safety.
“When you look at historic pictures of our town, we were able to coexist with horse traffic,” Sadov said. “Because horses were slower we did not need sidewalks. Now the seed of travel has improved tremendously.”
Friends of the Greenway member, among others, Herb Mones added to the conversation saying that the current “car culture” is oriented toward “performance, acceleration and stunts.” He added that the people in the audience were also part of the issue.
“I can almost guarantee 70 percent of the people in this audience … will not come to a stop, you will not observe the speed limit, you will not be the good driver that you pretend to be,” Mones said. “But you will be when you turn onto your street.”
Although some residents disagreed with others Hahn said these debates help members in the community tackle problems like the issue of pedestrian safety.
“I think that when a community plans what the solutions are, you get solutions that are more acceptable to everyone — and it sounds like there are a lot of different options to make the roads safer,” Hahn said.