Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 03 August 2012 00:00
The DOT held a public hearing on the morning of Wednesday, July 25, in the Oyster Bay Community Center regarding the town’s request to relocate the at-grade pedestrian crossing over the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) tracks to Audrey Avenue. In response to a request from the public, they want to move the crossing from Maxwell Avenue,120 feet east to Audrey Avenue. NYSDOT Acting Chief Administrative Law Judge Robert A. Rybak presided over the hearing.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Theodore Roosevelt Association (TRA) Executive Director Terry Brown read a statement from Tweed Roosevelt on the move. Mr. Brown said, “Tweed Roosevelt, president of the TRA, encourages all to cooperate to make this small change which will have a dramatic impact.” For himself, Mr. Brown added, “One of the missions of the TRA, as stated in 1919, ‘is to improve the land given to Oyster Bay to be a Roosevelt Memorial Park.’”
Judge Robert A. Rybak said the hearing was to establish a record and enable a determination as to whether relocating the crossing is in the best public interest. He said he had visited the site and was making a fact-finding report for the DOT executive committee to accept or reject. He said, “I don’t think this is a complicated matter.” The decision will be made in about three months, he said.
Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Leslie Maccarone said the Town of Oyster Bay requested the hearing because it is making improvements to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in several phases. As a part of those improvements, the town would like to relocate an at-grade pedestrian crossing to the northerly end of Audrey Avenue. This change would allow for a more direct access route to the park from the downtown Oyster Bay area and would complement proposed improvements to the historic Oyster Bay Train Station.
She said the town has talked to the LIRR to give them a scope of the work and they will decide on the necessary safety equipment as per railroad law. At the town’s March 21 preliminary meeting there were no objections to the move, she said. On April 7 the town asked the DOT about the issue so that they can proceed with their Phase II plans for the park. They will be crossing two tracks at that area and the LIRR will be in charge of the needed crossing materials. The crossing will be open from 7 a.m. to dusk, when the park gates close. It is for pedestrians only, although there will be removable bollards so that LIRR vehicles can get into the park. The town will pay about $95,000 for the crossing change for which they will go out to bid, with a projected finish date of June 2013.
Steven Diann of the LIRR said 36 train trips a day go through the Oyster Bay train station, of which 18 go on to their train yard. In other words, some stop at the station and head back, but about half go over the pedestrian crossing into the train yard. Trains passing the pedestrian area go from 5 to 10 mph. There are still some issues to be decided before the agreement is finalized, said Mr. Diann. There are some property line issues on who does what part of the concrete work.
Also, the agreement might have to be revisited in the future if the train traffic increases and, if it does, there may be a need for warning devices. The state is generally not in favor of relocating crossings, but this seems to be a small change, he said.
When the judge asked for comments, this reporter stated that it was important to mention an article printed in the Enterprise Pilot when this issue first came up several years ago. The former LIRR Oyster Bay branch manager said if someone darted out across the tracks from the west side of the stationhouse, the engineer would be prevented from seeing the person (by the station house) in time to stop the train. He said the present crossing location, further away, was better and should not be moved. Currently, he has not reiterated his comments, but is now a member of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum restoration committee.
The comment brought out responses from several people. Bill Burke, of the Main Street Association said in his past job with NYC schools, he had to identify dangerous parts of an area. He said the relocation will enhance safety. He said the current entrance is in a hidden area: it is off a small spur between Maxwell Avenue and Audrey Avenue. Cars driving through have to be very careful not to hit pedestrians or another car. He said the new location is out in the open and much safer. It is a business area with two museums, an art school, shops and a restaurant. He said the move will bring the entrance to a comfortable and safe area.
Boat owner Larry Weiss sees making access to the park a great concern for the marina. He said after hours it is filled with young people and there is a problem with vandalism on the boats. He was concerned about how a more visible entrance might increase the number of people coming through the gates, adding to the potential damage to the boats.
Mr. Weiss was also concerned about how the park has been changing and closing in on the remaining memorial area.
Additionally, boaters have said they find that their boats are used by people when they are not there. They find evidence in terms of refuse, as well as things missing and stolen.
Tina Mazzarella of Sweet Tomato said, “People from the city don’t know where the beach is. The opening is hard to find,” as a reason for the move.
John Bonifacio, Main Street Association president mentioned the safety issues of the spur, as did Ms. Mazzarella. He said the new entrance was being created for safety reasons.
Charles Doering suggested if the entrance were to be moved it would be better off the Firemen’s Field parking lot: move it more to the west, not the east.
The judge said the marina issues were not before him, only the discussion of moving the pedestrian crossing to the east.
Oyster Bay Railroad Museum President John Specce ran down the benefits: good economic impact, better pedestrian access, safety issues. “It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site Superintendent Thomas Ross said that moving the entrance further east, adjacent to the historic train station TR used during his lifetime, was a benefit.
He said, “We have been working with our partners in the TRA. We echo the TRA and think this makes a lot of sense to connect the hamlet to the park, and it will be safer.
“We provide walking tours and start them from the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum,” he said.
Walter Imperatore gave his approval of the move.
Peter Casparian, pastor of Christ Church said, “I jog through the park three times a week.” He said the new location would have more visibility and more openness, and allow for better use by the community.
The judge asked for photos of the area. He said his report would be done in 30 days and that an answer should be forthcoming by September. If you are interested in commenting on the issue, the NYSDOT case number for the request is 38624. You can contact NYSDOT’s Office of Proceedings (518-457-1182) for more information. You can also go to their website: NYSDOT.gov/divisions/legal-services.
A Wednesday, March 21 meeting on the crossing was also held in the Oyster Bay Community Center. It was chaired by Richard Betts, (TOB Commissioner of Department of Highways, who is currently overseeing the Department of Public Works) accompanied by Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Leslie Maccarone. She said those supporting the change believe it will give the public a view of the entrance from the Derby-Hall bandstand, down Audrey Avenue, to the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum plaza and beyond that, to the new entrance to the park.
Local stakeholder groups attended the meeting, as well as TRA members Joe Reilly, architect and Elizabeth Roosevelt, a cousin of President TR; as well as representatives from the LIRR who attended, but did not speak.
The purpose of the meeting was for the town to get a “vote of confidence” from the community to petition the LIRR to change the location of the pedestrian entrance to TR Park. Members of the stakeholder groups spoke eloquently of their wish to change the location for several reasons, including to make the northern end of Audrey Avenue a better retail venue for visitors.
Included in the reasons was that over the years there have been complaints about men loitering at the Maxwell Avenue entrance to the park, making people feel uncomfortable. Today’s loitering laws protect loiterers.
Mr. Betts took a show of hands to gauge the group’s interest in proceeding with the program. No one spoke in opposition to the entrance move.
Another consideration on maintaining the current entrance was that it was designed with a view, down an allee of trees to the American flag flying on the flagpole at the sea wall. Mr. Doering talked about how beautiful the park had been in the 1940s when workmen from the local estates took care of the flower beds and children were admonished not to walk on the grass.
Whatever the decision will be, it will be made by the NYS DOT.