The teenage girl was running along the sidewalk, her backpack thumping against her back. When she reached the three-way stop at Nottingham Road and Erma Drive, she darted out into the street, never stopping, even as her leg brushed an oncoming car.
The teenage boy in the car looked relieved when he realized he hadn’t hurt her. He had stopped at the stop sign roughly eight feet behind him at the intersection, so he hadn’t gained any speed yet, and managed to stop in time. He was on his way to the back parking lot at East Meadow High School, as were many other drivers, the majority of whom didn’t even pause at the stop sign.
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 complaints from residents about cars driving fast and running stop signs were warranted. We saw a number of drivers of all ages maneuvering dangerously on these residential, tree-lined streets, driving fast and ignoring the stop signs. We saw near-accidents, and children looking warily over their shoulders as they crossed the streets.
Dangerous driving is at its peak on Erma Drive on weekdays from 7:10 until
7: 30 a.m., and peaks again at 2:10 p.m., East Meadow High’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 often tries to go around.
“There are these two jeeps that go through the stop sign every day, but really, no one stops at the stop signs,” said Nancy Widman, who lives on Erma. “If they try, it’s like bumper cars. What concerns me most is we have elderly drivers here, and kids.”
Route to EMHS parking lot
There are a few ways to get to the EMHS parking lot. One is at the traffic light at the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Carman Avenue. Nassau University Medical Center is on the northeast corner, and East Meadow High is across the street, roughly a quarter-mile north of the hospital on Carman. This route isn’t preferable, because the wait at the traffic light is long, and cars are routinely lined up on Carman, waiting to get into the high school’s front entrance.
To avoid the wait, drivers headed east on Hempstead Turnpike use Conti Square Boulevard, a half-mile west of Carman Avenue, by the Colony Diner. At the end of Conti, they turn right onto Erma and make their way through the neighborhood to the school’s back parking lot.
Allison Reynolds said she always has trouble backing out of her driveway on Erma in the morning because teenage drivers are racing down the street, but on some days it’s even worse. “On garbage days, the cars back up behind the garbage truck, and they just stay behind the stopped truck and won’t let me out of my driveway,” Reynolds said.
Dr. Kenneth A. Card Jr., the East Meadow School District superintendent, said he was aware of the problems on Erma Drive. School monitors are stationed at the entrance to EMHS’s back parking lot during arrival and dismissal each day, Card said, to assist and monitor traffic flow.
Drivers put children at risk
But the danger lies on the route to the parking lot on Erma, residents said. There is a bus stop on the northeast corner of Erma and Nottingham. Widman said she often watches her neighbor’s son cross the street there and is always concerned, because she sees cars going through the stop sign across the street from the bus stop. “Accidents happen so quickly — these kids don’t have enough experience to handle the car,” Widman said. “Kids need to know what to do in a situation that flashes before their eyes. The car is a moving weapon.”
Card said he had tried to resolve the problem a number of times. “We have been in repeated contact with the Nassau County Police Department about this issue,” he said, “and will continue to advocate for a strict enforcement of all traffic safety laws for the safety of both our students and the residents who live in that area.”
Reynolds, a mother of three, has lived on Erma for 14 years. She said her children play outside often, and she worries about their safety. “I’m hoping if buses have the cameras, it will stop people from going around the bus, which happens on Nottingham,” Reynolds said. “People speed down Erma like it’s the Indy 500, and it’s not just when they’re going to school. Adults do it, too. I have people riding my tail at all hours of the day.”
When Reynolds complained to the Town of Hempstead, which has jurisdiction over the local streets eight years ago, a stop sign was added at the corner of Nottingham and Erma, joining two others on Erma. “They thought it would be helpful,” Reynolds said, “but it isn’t.”
Matthew Melnick, president of the East Meadow Board of Education, said that he, too, was aware of the problem of reckless driving on Erma and Nottingham. “The principal sends out reminders to students about proper driving techniques in and around school,” Melnick said. “Safety is our number one consideration, but once outside our gates, there’s little we can do.”
Jeff Widman, Linda’s husband, disagrees. He has gone to several school board meetings over the years and spoken to school administrators. He said his complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
“The kids race down my street, and there are little kids walking to the school bus, people collecting their recycling bins,” he said. “I don’t want to take away the kids’ cars. I had a car when I was a teenager.”
What can be done?
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.
Sgt. Robert Johnston, of the Nassau County Police Department’s 3rd Precinct, said 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.”
Jeanette Murphy, who has lived on the west side of Erma, at the intersection with Nottingham, for 55 years, still has vivid memories of a high school driver’s mishap on her property. Thirty years ago, she recounts: “A car drove into my six-month-old garage when kids didn’t stop at the stop sign. Their tires blew out, and they hopped the curb before plowing into my garage. The kids begged me not to call the police, but they needed to be looked after. This problem has been going on forever.”
To see a video of some of the drivers who disregard stops signs on Erma Drive, go to http://bit.ly/ErmaDrive