For years, residents around East Meadow High School have complained about speeding on their streets. On Monday, Erma Drive, Nottingham Road and Conti Square Boulevard became school safety zones. Fifteenmile-per-hour school speed zone signs were added to the East Meadow residential streets, which lead to the rear East Meadow High School parking lot.
The reason for the speed zone is to stop vehicles from blowing through stop signs and racing down Erma Drive, a quiet, tree-lined street; on Nottingham, it is to keep children safe at the school bus stop; and on Conti, to deter speeding.
The Town of Hempstead Board voted unanimously on Sept. 9 to approve Councilman Thomas Muscarella’s proposed school safety zone law in response to several complaints by residents living on Erma Drive, which were reported in a Herald series.
Nancy Widman and other residents said they had asked for help from police and East Meadow School District officials for more than a decade to stop dangerous conditions caused by reckless drivers who drive too fast and ignore stop signs.
“I’m thrilled,” Widman said. “The signs are welcome, but I won’t claim a victory yet because we have to see how it works. The signs are definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Herald spent two weeks, from April 15 to 29, observing traffic at the Erma-Nottingham intersection where there is a three-way stop sign. A number of drivers were seen maneuvering dangerously on the surrounding residential streets, driving fast and ignoring stop signs, with a number of near-accidents.
This reporter observed traffic again at the same location on Tuesday. Unlike in April, most drivers avoided the portion of Erma Drive after the intersection at Nottingham, turning right onto that street. Nearly all drivers coasted through the stop sign there.
The majority of cars that did travel down Erma drove fast, especially 10 minutes before 7:31, when first period begins at the high school.
Before the Town Board vote for the 15- mph speed limit, some residents told the Herald that it would be difficult to drive that slow. One referred to it as “coasting,” with another saying walking would be faster.
“I don’t think 15 miles per hour is too slow,” said Town Supervisor Don Clavin, who had worked closely with Muscarella to enact the school safety zone law. “People drive around buses — they don’t care. This is for safety”
The father of three young children, Clavin said he sees drivers speed down side streets near his home as well. “It’s not just students, it’s adults, too,” he said. “If the speed zone is 20, I’m doing 20. If someone can’t slow down for 15 miles per hour, they have other issues.”
Dr. Patrick Pizzo, East Meadow district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance, said the dangerous conditions on Erma could not be solved by “pointing a finger at one group”; the community, police and the district need to work together. “We are only as strong as our weakest link,” he said. “Everyone has a part to play.”
In order for EMHS students to obtain their parking permits, they must attend an assembly, which this year is scheduled for Sept. 24. Problem-Oriented Police officers will discuss the new speed limit, as well as the importance of stopping at stop signs on the roadways leading to the parking lot, Pizzo said. He said he was uncertain when the new speed limit would be enforced, but thought perhaps in October.
Jesse Cooper, a 3rd Precinct Nassau County POP officer, said students are not the only violators. Nine out of 10 people living in the community ignore the stop signs on Erma Drive, he said, noting school zones will be helpful as a deterrent.
He has met a number of times with East Meadow Schools Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Card Jr. to find a solution. Cooper said enforcement would begin on Tuesday. The Herald did not see police on Tuesday morning.
“We will have increased enforcement in the area,” Cooper said. “I was on Erma the first day of school [in a marked car], and everyone stopped for the stop sign and were not driving fast. People waved to me.”
Determination of the speed limit for a school zone depends on the street, Cooper said, but he added that he had never seen a school zone of 15mph.
Nassau County Legislator Tom McKevitt, a Republican from East Meadow, came up with the idea to create a school speed zone last spring. He often rides his bicycle on Erma Drive and saw firsthand the danger. But he could not introduce the idea to the Legislature because Erma, Conti and Nottingham are town roads. He shared his idea with Muscarella, Card and Pizzo. Meetings were arranged in late June and August at the school district with Dominick Colasanto, an assistant to Muscarella. The law was crafted by Muscarella and introduced to the Hempstead Town Board in September.
Cooper said he was unsure if drivers would receive a warning during the early stages of the new speed zone, adding that it would depend on the police officer. Pizzo thought warnings would be appropriate, at least in the beginning.
“I’m thinking police will wait for enforcement until after the assembly to give students fair warning, but I’m not sure,” Pizzo said. “The last thing you want is to be perceived as overly aggressive. You don’t want parents to push the other way.”
Cooper has suggested that the town consider changing the timing of the light leading into the high school on Carman Avenue. “The timing of that light causes people to use the backroads to get to the school,” he explained. “We are seeing more and more parents drive their children to school because they are concerned about catching Covid on the bus. It’s creating more traffic.”
Widman is hoping things will change, but enforcement will be the key, she said. “If this saves a life and brings a little peace to the neighborhood it’s worth it,” she said. “I have faith the police will enforce it.”