In an unusual move, the Sea Cliff village board opened its monthly conference meeting on Monday night to allow public comment. Historically, conference meetings are closed work sessions.
The decision to change the format came after Trustee Deborah McDermott reminded Mayor Edward Lieberman that he had invited the public to comment on the Littleworth Lane situation at the next meeting. Some trustees had assumed they would discuss the matter among themselves on Monday.
“If the majority of the board wants to defer to public comment in the spirit of free speech, I will permit that,” Lieberman said.
Under a village ordinance, Littleworth Lane, which runs between an elementary school and its playground, between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue, is closed Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but not on weekends. Several residents have appealed to the village to close the stretch of road all the time for safety reasons, saying that children become accustomed to having the road closed during certain hours and thus are not as careful as they should be when it is open.
Trustee Dina Epstein assured attendees that the village board and the public were on the same page. “We should not approach this topic in an adversarial manner,” she said. “We all want the same thing, so we need to work together, and work toward the common good, but this issue is not going to be resolved tonight.”
After November’s public comment meeting resulted in almost two hours of back-and-forth discussion over Littleworth Lane, the board solicited input from the fire and police departments, school district, and the Traffic and Safety Committee to gather information on the legal and feasible options for the street.
Daniel Flanzig, the Traffic and Safety Committee chairman, shared recommendations to solve the Littleworth Lane problem at Monday’s meeting.
“The committee does not have any power to enact ordinances on that street,” said Flanzig, who is also a parent. “However, we can look at the issue, consider it and make recommendations to the board.”
He said the easiest option would be to close the street, but that “it’s not a viable option,” because state traffic law does not allow it.
“The three components that need to be implemented are enforcement, education and engineering,” he said. “Our goal is to pick a traffic-calming device that works in this situation.”
He had worked with his committee to assemble a list of measures that would provide a short-term solution to the problem. The suggestions included an increase in village signage to indicate the presence of a school or park. Currently, there is only one such sign in the area. He added that the existing signs and crosswalks are faded and need to be replaced or repainted to increase visibility. Another recommendation was to place concrete planters in the street, which would force vehicles to navigate around them, making the stretch of road difficult for cars to pass through, and thus safer for pedestrians.
Deputy Mayor Kevin McGilloway said that both the fire and police departments would be ammenable to the board's recommendations, so long as they could access the road in the event of an emergency.
Lieberman, who has met with North Shore Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo several times since the Nov. 13 meeting, said the board and the district are working together to formulate a joint, long-term action plan. They will consider specific safety concerns and issues surrounding Littleworth Lane.
Some trustees recommended the village enlist a traffic engineer to conduct a study of the street to better understand the problem, but others thought the time was not right for a study.
“It’s premature to engage an engineering study,” Epstein said. “We don’t have millions to spend on a study that will assess vehicle and pedestrian flow that will only give us two alternatives. We need to explore what our options are.”
Epstein recommended that the Traffic and Safety Committee “narrow the scope” of its research before taking the next steps, and “be prepared to take action” at the board’s next conference meeting in January.
The public’s reviews of the safety committee’s recommendations were mixed.
Roger Friedman, of Sea Cliff, said that although the traffic-calming measures are to be applauded, he believes a traffic study might be overkill.
Kristy Willis, a Sea Cliff resident who spoke at the Nov. 13 meeting, said the road should be safe for children “all the time.”
“[The board] is taking a simple thing and making it more complicated than it needs to be,” she said. “Our children are depending on us as their elders to ensure their safety, and that starts with stopping through traffic on that road.”
Ray Silka, who lives on Littleworth, said there are many residents who don’t want the street closed for a variety of reasons. He believes that the village should do a better job of enforcing the existing traffic laws. “There’s more in totality than a yes or no in the closure of that street,” he said.
Flanzig said he was confident that a solution would be forthcoming. “The one thing we do have is community interest on this issue,” he said.
The next public comment meeting will take place at Village Hall on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.