According to East Meadow residents, conditions on Erma Drive and Nottingham Road have not changed. In fact, they have gotten worse. Motorists continue to drive fast and run stop signs on these streets, which lead to East Meadow High School’s rear parking lot entrance.
The Herald spent two weeks, from April 15 to 29, watching the traffic flow at the Erma/Nottingham intersection in East Meadow, to see if the complaints were warranted. We saw a number of drivers of all ages maneuvering dangerously on these residential streets, driving fast and ignoring the stop signs. We saw near-accidents, and children looking warily over their shoulders as they crossed the streets.
Sgt. Robert Johnston, of the Nassau County Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, had said that the issue would be addressed, but residents say they have not seen a police presence or cars being ticketed. A call to Johnston was not returned by press time.
Allison Reynolds, a mother of three, has lived on Erma Drive in East Meadow for 14 years. She and some of her neighbors said that the street is being used as a “cut-through.” Reynolds has complained to police for years, she said, about cars driving fast and running stop signs on Erma. Additionally, she has told police about the dangers children, including her son, are exposed to as they wait for the school bus at the corner of Erma and Nottingham Road.
Nancy Widman, who also lives on Erma, witnessed what Reynolds had always feared. On May 26, Widman saw two cars go around the bus that Reynolds’s oldest son, Kieran, a W.T. Clarke Middle School sixth-grader, was boarding. “Had Kieran been running late and crossed the street, there’s no way those drivers could have seen him,” Widman said. “They went around the bus, blew the stop sign and made a right to go to the parking lot. The drivers were kids.”
Dangerous driving is at its peak on Erma on weekdays from 7:10 until 7:30 a.m., and peaks again at 2:10 p.m., EMHS’s dismissal time, with drivers traveling to and from the back parking lot at the northern end of Erma. They ignore stop signs on Erma and on Nottingham. And if a driver does obey a stop sign, the vehicle behind it often tries to go around.
The East Meadow School Board held a meeting the day that Widman saw the cars go around the bus. She and Reynolds attended.
Stop arm cameras
Before the meeting began, Reynolds said she was disappointed that the Nassau County Legislature had not finalized its contract with American Traffic Solutions — the company it had chosen to install school bus cameras — at its May 24 meeting. “I wish they could put cameras on stop signs too,” she said. “It’s so dangerous.”
The “stop arm cameras” on school buses record images of vehicles that pass stopped buses picking up or dropping off students. The program, which school districts can choose to opt into, is scheduled to begin in September. Violators would be fined $250 for a first offense, $275 for a second within 18 months of the first, and $300 for third and subsequent offenses within the 18-month window after the first ticket.
Widman, a 1972 EMHS graduate, implored the school board to help her and her neighbors. “We all deserve the ability to live in safety and peace and enjoy the homes and properties we pay our taxes for,” she said. “We have been very good neighbors to the school. We are asking the school to be a good neighbor to us.”
The continual stream of cars makes it impossible for her to back out of her driveway to leave for work, she continued. “Nobody stops at the three-way stop at Nottingham and Erma. They just roll right through each one,” Widman said. “At times I’ve shouted, ‘Slow down!’ only to be met with expletives, nasty comments and middle fingers, and speeding even faster afterwards.”
District Superintendent Dr. Kenneth A. Card Jr. said that the problem is a community issue. “We accept our role as members of that community,” he said. “I think one of the areas that we need to work together on is addressing this as a law enforcement issue.”
Card said he planned to call the 3rd Precinct and the unit commander to arrange for a meeting.
Close the parking lot gate
Reynolds wants the school district to close the back entrance of the high school parking lot, as do the Widmans. But Card said that entrance can’t be closed, because if it were, drivers would line up on Carman Avenue to get into the parking lot from the front of the school, which would create a dangerous situation.
Phil Brookmeyer, who lives on Erma, said the district closed the gate to the back entrance roughly 30 years ago. He and his neighbor, Paul Smith, who has since moved, spoke to the principal, whose name Brookmeyer said he can’t remember, and voiced their concern about the fast driving and disregard for stop signs. Brookmeyer was raising three children at the time, and worried about their safety.
“He said he understood and locked the gate, but seven years later he retired,” Brookmeyer said. The gate was opened once again. “A lot of us organized a petition and went to a Board of Education meeting, but they were not empathetic.”
When the gate was closed, Brookmeyer said, he saw a marked difference in his neighborhood. It was once again a quiet residential area.
Trustees voice concern
There does appear to be some interest among school board members this time. Some at the May 26 meeting said they agreed with Widman. Alisa Baroukh, the board’s vice president, said she had had her own harrowing experience on Erma Drive just two days earlier when a driver went through a stop sign and nearly hit her daughter. The dangers are not only at 7 a.m., she said. “It is an issue at 2:15 at dismissal as well,” Baroukh said. “The intersection of Nottingham and Erma, in particular, tends to be scary, and it’s not just students. It’s parents, too.”
Johnston previously told the Herald that he planned to address the issues on Erma and Nottingham. “I will assign some cars over there to see if we can re-educate the drivers,” he said. “And we will assign officers there as often as we can. They can be there as long as they aren’t on calls.”
Reynolds said she has not seen any change, or any tickets being given out. But when she was asked if she thought there would be any change after the school board meeting she was hopeful.
“I think it’s now on the record with the school district, so if something does happen, we can say we had told them,” she said. “They can be held liable.”