Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 10 December 2010 00:00
For those driving through the village of Garden City, all roads somehow lead to Franklin Avenue. The highly traveled thoroughfare was on the minds of several vocal residents, who say the road has become increasingly hazardous for drivers, as well as pedestrians. Former Garden City Mayor Richard Benack appeared at the most recent board of trustees meeting to raise awareness of the matter and ask the board to consider taking measures to control the pace of traffic.
Benack explained that the traffic situation was first addressed 12 years ago when the village and the business community got involved to rehabilitate Franklin Avenue “from a wide open raceway that people couldn’t cross and they didn’t walk along into the pretty place it is now.” Benack expressed that there is an attitude among the drivers that they are pressing and exceeding the speed limits. “I know the village has a problem in that it is a county road, but you have a strong voice to keep a control there so that our residents and the people that we invite into Garden City to spend their money here and their stores will be safe there and they are very hesitant in crossing the road now,” he added.
After more than a decade since those initial changes, Benack told the board that conditions are slowly changing back to where it might have been. He told the mayor, “You have the opportunity, and your successor has the opportunity, to do the same thing that was done 15, 20 years ago, to bring back control of the pace of traffic on Franklin Avenue so that our business community and our residents can cross it and drive along it.”
Mayor Robert J. Rothschild responded by telling the audience that he first worked on this issue 12 years ago as a member of a village committee that was formed to bring business back to Franklin Avenue, Seventh Street and the commercial district. “There were a lot of ideas that I can say were fought about for many years, some of them being parking, which is still an amazing problem still in this town,” the mayor said, adding that the committee recommended implementing parking on Franklin Avenue in order to calm traffic, which is in practice today. “I’m sure people in this room remember that really there was never any parking on Franklin Avenue and parking on Franklin Avenue was supposed to calm the traffic. It did, I think, for a while, but like anything else people get comfortable in situations. I think in many cases it’s also the residents, maybe myself included, who forget sometimes about the speed limit in town, and the civility of driving where you know people are walking around and crossing streets,” the mayor said.
The mayor agreed with Benack’s concerns. “I’ve sat at POA meetings and had people complain to me about ‘why don’t we do something about the people speeding down New Market Road, Nassau Boulevard, Clinton Road,’ all these streets. And the majority of times, I am sure it’s the residents. Now, I don’t know how to get people to slow down. The only thing I can say is we don’t want to have a problem. Commissioner Cipullo and the police department have received awards for the last couple of years because of what they have done in this village for traffic safety,” Mayor Rothschild told the audience.
The mayor said he will try to make improvements and has spoken to the county about the issue. He further emphasized the need for the village’s crosswalks to be repaired in order to make walking in the village safe. “I think the crosswalks have become where people don’t even see them because of the condition they’re in. I think they need to be fixed, they need to be prominent so people can see them and possibly slow down… get them relined with paint so people can see them,” he said. He pointed out that repairing crosswalks does cost money. “Those are the things that I think are important to this village, to get that feeling back in people’s minds that this is a great place to live. Let’s be civil about it and do the right thing whether it’s walking down the street or driving down the street,” he said.
Tom McCambridge, who serves on the board of directors of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce, agreed the problem still persists and “it’s serious.”
Deputy Mayor Donald Brudie added that since Franklin Avenue is a Nassau County road, it has been difficult to control the situation. “Another problem is that the county controls the lights on that road so even if we requested that they stagger the lights and slow the traffic down, which they will not do because it’ll do that very thing, slow the traffic down. Traffic would be backed up to Mineola, backed up to Hempstead. So they won’t cooperate in that respect. So it is a problem,” Brudie said.
Police Commissioner Ernest Cipullo explained to the board and the audience it is a safety issue. “You’re talking about speeding on Franklin Avenue and it gives the inference that the police department’s not doing anything. It is very difficult to enforce speeding on Franklin Avenue, especially north of Sixth Street up to Old Country Road. It becomes a real safety issue. There is no place to put the unmarked car to do the radar. There isn’t a safe place to pull people over,” Cipullo stated.
Cipullo went on to say that the volume of traffic on Franklin Avenue has increased tremendously. “In order to do speed enforcement, you are not only putting the officer in jeopardy, but you also put the public in jeopardy. Because if you start to pull over cars on Franklin Avenue where there is no real space to pull somebody over, the parking spots are all full so you can’t pull them into one of those parking spots, so you try to pull them around into Ninth, Tenth Street or what have you, you always increase that potential for problems,” he said.
According to Cipullo, deterrents such as using a traffic speed counter have been tested several times and while the machine slows drivers down slightly, drivers soon realize no officer is there to write tickets. “It’s difficult to try to do the speed enforcement. I just didn’t want the audience to think that we’re not doing anything. It’s a very difficult area to put speed enforcement, unmarked cars in there…the only time we get speeding violations on Franklin Avenue where we get tickets written, is if a police officer happens to clock somebody on Franklin [Avenue],” he said. “So, we didn’t forget about it, we know that it’s a problem and we are trying to do the best we can to try to slow it down,” Cipullo said.
The mayor said that one good thing is that most of the Franklin Avenue parking spaces are full for a good part of the day. “That was the purpose of the parking there, which was supposed to be a calming effect, just to have activity in the street. I think it did work for a while,” he added.
Garden City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Althea Robinson agreed with the dangerous driving conditions on Franklin Avenue. “It’s not just the speeding, but the danger about the people trying to cross the streets. I just would feel that anything that the village can do to hopefully to persuade the county to perhaps look at things that they might do,” she said. She also said that adding layby parking has helped. “I would say let’s keep looking at that because it seems to be the only thing at this particular point that we can do to slow up the traffic.”