In a 3 to 2 vote, the Town Board of North Hempstead repealed the Longview Road traffic restrictions which it had adopted in November of 1994. The traffic ordinance was designed to prevent motorists from using the road as a shortcut to points north via Port Washington Blvd. by prohibiting left and right hand turns onto Port Blvd. from Longview Road. (For many years, drivers heading west on Beacon Hill Rd. would make a right turn onto Longview Rd., thereby avoiding some of the traffic congestion at the intersection of Port Blvd. and Beacon Hill Road.)
As TONH May Newburger said prior to casting her vote (which took place at 1 o'clock in the morning), the arguments advanced, both for and against the restrictions, were the same ones that were given at the five public hearings held prior to the enactment of the traffic ordinance in 1994. Almost 70 audience members asked to address the board during the time alloted for public input. (Each person who signs up is allowed to speak for two minutes.)
Those opposed to rescinding the turn restrictions, who were mainly residents from Longview Road argued:
* their 18-foot narrow, winding street with poor sight lines and no sidewalks or shoulders, is not built to accommodate much traffic. Beacon Hill Rd., on the other hand, is much wider and has shoulders and sidewalks in front of many homes;
* with increased traffic, the safety of the road, which was once a cow path, is jeopardized;
* safety should not be sacrificed for convenience;
* putting Beacon Hill Road traffic onto Longview Road should not be part of the traffic solution for Beacon Hill Road, where serious problems exist that all agree need to be addressed effectively. Several Longview Road residents voiced concern over the traffic safety on Beacon Hill Rd., especially those with children who have to cross it regularly;
* for a need for more traffic lights and stop signs on Beacon Hill Rd. (Supervisor Newburger advised that this is within the purview of Nassau County, which has turned down previous requests from the Town for signage and traffic lights on Beacon Hill Rd. in the past.)
* the Town may now have liability problems if an accident occurs on Longview Road because now that it's a known hazardous condition, the town has been put on notice;
* in response to the presentation of a petition with 700 signatures calling for a repeal of the restrictions sent to Councilman Angelo Ferrara, one Longview Road resident implored the board to consider "the safety of the minority."
* the newly adopted ordinance banning tractor trailers and trucks in excess of 50 tons from Beacon Hill Road will improve safety, as well as decrease congestion;
Those in favor of rescinding the traffic restrictions argued:
* that with the specter of an increase in traffic generated from the soon-to-be-developed Morewood property, Beacon Hill Road traffic will be exacerbated, creating even more of a need for some relief. One speaker called for the creation of a townwide traffic improvement plan;
* that sidewalks could be installed on Longview Road to mitigate the hazards on that road;
* that Beacon Hill Road is a residential street also and should not have to assume the traffic burden for the area;
* against the characterization that Beacon Hill Road people were looking for convenience. Noting that many children live on Beacon Hill Rd., speakers said it's not about convenience, but about the safety of the children, whom they feel are placed in unnecessary danger because of speeding cars and excess traffic;
* that the police and fire department had been opposed to the restrictions in 1994.
An independent traffic expert spoke in favor of keeping the restrictions on Longview. Robert Eschbacher, of Eschbacher Traffic, stated that because of the volume of traffic in the area, the character of the road (i.e. winding, narrow), the types of vehicles that traverse the road and the way in which the road is designed (i.e. no shoulders, sidewalks), he recommends that the town limit the amount of traffic on it. He stressed that safety, not congestion, was his primary concern in making his recommendations. "Longview was not an appropriate road to take traffic," he said. I saw a distinct difference between Longview and Beacon Hill Road." He added, "This has not changed."
He also reviewed the results of the traffic studies he conducted for the Town on Beacon Hill Road. He stated that in June of '95, about seven months after the restrictions were implemented, the three day average in a 24-hour period was 11,245 cars counted on Beacon Hill Road. On June 14 of last week, the count for a 24-hour period was 12,882. He also called attention to a countywide survey conducted in 1990 that reported a count of 12,200 cars in a 24-hour period on Beacon Hill Road. And in June of '94, he reported that 16,748 cars were counted, again within a 24-hour period. He concluded that "essentially, very little has changed" since the implementation of the restrictions changed the traffic patterns. He reiterated, "I stand by my original recommendations."
As Councilman Angelo Ferrara originally requested that the public hearing on this matter be placed on the calendar, Supervisor Newburger asked him to lead off on the vote. (At that point, it was clarified that it only takes one councilperson to request that a public hearing be placed on the calendar, but that it's only done if at least three out of the five councilmembers agree to it. For this particular hearing, Councilmembers O'Connor and Banks voted yes; Supervisor Newburger and Councilman D'Urso voted against revisiting the issue.)
Councilman Ferrara deferred to Councilwoman Banks. She said that after listening to the safety concerns of Longview Road residents, which she listed, she deduced that "the conclusion is always the same, traffic must continue to be diverted onto Beacon Hill Road." Continuing, she said, "The argument is that Beacon Hill Road won't be burdened by this extra traffic. Beacon Hill Road has always been a thoroughfare, people knew what they were buying. Sidewalks can be added to Beacon Hill Road."
Councilwoman Banks also addressed the question of why she agreed to revisit the issue: "For me, a nearly fatal accident in March, which may be attributable to the changes in traffic patterns, was enough to revisit this issue."
She noted also that the people repeatedly asked her not to be emotional. Seeking to assess the safety situation, she asked the PWPD to furnish her with statistics on accidents in the area. "They gave me ten years of traffic accidents in the Beacon Hill area," she advised.
Her first question was which intersection or roadway is most dangerous. She was told, "The answer is Route 101, where it intersects with Beacon Hill Road, Beverly and Longview. About 50 percent of all accidents centered around these three intersections," she reported, adding, "For me, any traffic solutions should begin with the most severe problem."
Her next question was how do the accidents on Longview compare to Beacon Hill Road? She reported that there were about 93 accidents on Beacon Hill Road and about 36 on Longview, excluding the Port Washington Blvd. intersections.
She then said, "I asked myself, what type of accidents have been occurring on Longview Road and can we do anything to make it safer?"
Analyzing the accidents, Ms. Banks reported, "Approximately 40 percent of the accidents on Longview Road were due to rear end collisions. These accidents obviously happen anywhere and are not particularly due to the width of the road, but to people not paying attention to the driver directly in front of them."
She continued, "Approximately 25 percent of the accidents are attributable to drivers running into parked cars, or coming into or out of driveways, In my opinion, this is due to poor visibility. Landscaping on Longview frequently comes out to the road and obstructs a driver's line of vision." She suggests that landscaping on Longview be moved back on the property line to aid in visibility.
She also noted that parking on the street contributes to visibility problems and pointed out that on two other residential streets without sidewalks, Middle Neck Road in Flower Hill and Plandome Road North going from Manhasset to Port Washington, no parking is allowed.
Ms. Banks acknowledged that "these are not popular solutions," but stated that they are intended to solve the problems that exist on Longview Road.
She then voted to rescind the restrictions on Longview and encouraged "Longview Road residents to come up with alternatives to diverting traffic to Beacon Hill Rd. and examine ways to make their street safe for their children."
Councilman Ferrara then voted to rescind the restrictions. He mentioned again that he had a petition with 700 signatures on it asking the board to repeal the restrictions. Addressing the safety issue, he said that in his view,"You only need one car for an accident," he said, and said that sidewalks should be installed on Longview Road.
Councilman O'Connor, who also voted to rescind the restrictions, informed the audience that he had met with both sides of the issue. Essentially, he said, "The arguments were about safety."
He then proceeded to produce two letters: one from the PWFD dated May 17, 1998 and the other from the PWPD dated May 19, 1998, which both reiterated their opposition to the current restrictions.
Police Chief William Kilfoil stated in his letter: "Maintaining Longview Road as a limited access thoroughfare dramatically increases the traffic volume on Beacon Hill Road, and creates severe congestion at the intersection of Beacon Hill Road and Port Washington Blvd.
In response to the argument that he as a councilperson "shouldn't be driven by the majority," O'Connor noted that "We do live in a democracy."
Voting against the rescision of the ordinances were Supervisor Newburger and Councilman D'Urso.
Ms. Newburger stated emphatically that the original decision was based on "facts" and on "safety, pure and simple."
"It's an absurdity" to add traffic to an "18 foot wide" road that "remains the size of a cowpath," she asserted. "Longview Road was never meant to be a true thoroughfare," she said, adding that Beacon Hill Road had been designed to be a main one, "built by intention as an arterial road." She then asked, "How can you make a comparison between them?"
Commenting on the fire department's opposition to the current restrictions which stem from their contention that the 20 feet of one-way traffic at the intersection of Port Blvd. and Longview Road impedes their work, Ms. Newburger replied, "I don't follow their logic" explaining that no barriers prevent the trucks from getting onto Longview.
In response to the police department's opposition to the restrictions, Supervisor Newburger said that she wished they had supported the board's request to mitigate the problems on Beacon Hill Road by acting along with the board to get more stop signs and traffic lights on Beacon Hill Road from the county.
Councilman D'Urso voted against rescinding the traffic ordinances because he believes that nothing has changed since they were enacted. As far as increased traffic from the Morewood development is concerned, his feelings is "wait and see" what happens there.
Generally speaking, the meeting was emotionally charged with tempers flaring and pained looks on many faces in the audience. Afterwards, many bemoaned the further division of the small, one-time very close, community of Beacon Hill.