On October 5, 2015, Anna Pump, the beloved chef and founder of the Loaves & Fishes Foodstore, was struck and killed as she walked across Montauk Highway in front of the post office in Bridgehampton. I recall that within 48 hours, the entire downtown four blocks of that village were festooned with garlands of flowers on telephone poles, sidewalk furniture and store fronts as the community offered their condolences to Ms. Pump’s family.
At the time, it reminded me of the outpouring of public support shown in 1998 when Tiffane Walker, a student at the Bridgehampton School, was killed crossing Montauk Highway right in front of the school. Within hours, authorities quickly went into action. The police stationed a police car there and placed a temporary speed sign on the shoulder of the road to show motorists what speed they were going as they approached the school crosswalk, and what speed they should be going.
They also soon installed a temporary flashing yellow light sign by the side of the road, which instructed motorists to slow down. The school crosswalk was repainted. No student or anyone else was to be hit by a car crossing by the school, and since then, no one has been. Indeed, the speed signs and flashing lights, now in more permanent fixtures, remain up today, not just when school is in session, but all the time.
It is fair to say that on October 6, 2015 and the days that followed, it was expected the Town would quickly take the same sort of temporary action to immediately make the main street of Bridgehampton safe along that four-block stretch.
Ask anyone who has driven down those four blocks during the evening hours what it is like today. They will pause before answering. It is frightening. The spacing of the street lights remains as it was—300 feet between street lights, the same spacing you find on open stretches of the highway between the different villages. Along that four-block downtown Main Street of Bridgehampton there are seven restaurants doing steady business after the sun goes down. People are everywhere. And in the darkness, motorists look every which way as they proceed through.
Near-misses happen every night. Meanwhile, in two years and three months, nothing of any real use has happened to fix this situation. It is the Town of Southampton’s job to do something. They have not. And no one can say that they have not had the wherewithal to do it. Within 60 days of the accident, our local state representatives Fred Thiele and Ken LaValle secured $700,000 in state funding for the Town to use to make this traffic situation safe. The money sits, unused, two years and three months later.
Here are the most recent developments, or non-developments, in this situation during the last six months.
On August 3, 2017, a consulting firm named L.K. McLean Associates presented the plan they were hired to create to the Town Board. It suggested a wide range of improvements in pedestrian and traffic flow, including traffic islands, lighted crosswalks, a new traffic light and other things.
On August 9, 2017, Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told The Southampton Press that before proceeding further he wanted to get more input from the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., who helped secure the $700,000. After that there would be detailed cost estimates, a final summary report and then, presumably, they would move on to the bidding process. Estimated costs would consume $380,000 of the $700,000.
On January 10, 2018, the Southampton Town Director of Public Transportation and Traffic Safety Tom Neeley—what town this size has a Director of Public Transportation and Traffic Safety?—told The Sag Harbor Express that new traffic lights would be in place “as early as” next summer with new crosswalks coming soon thereafter.
In that same article in the Express, the chairwoman of the Bridgehampton Citizen’s Advisory Committee Pamela Harwood said, “I can assure everybody…that there is nothing happening.”
Oh, and this is a little out of sequence. On December 23, 2017, just four weeks ago, Cerene DeSilvia, 45, was struck by a car while crossing the Montauk Highway in the crosswalk closest to the Loaves & Fishes Cookshop. She is the innkeeper of the Bridgehampton Inn. The police came and reported on the accident. She was injured but declined to go to the hospital. “I was hit hard enough that I bounced from one side of it to the other,” she told the Express.
Indeed, between 2014 and 2016, there were 386 accidents in the Bridgehampton hamlet along Montauk Highway, 8 of which involved pedestrians. On average, 30,800 vehicles drive through the hamlet every day. We know this because, as part of the L.K. McLean Associates study of the hamlet, these counts were taken and recorded.
It is interesting to note that at the first anniversary of the death of Anna Pump, it was found that the Southampton Town had yet to even hire a consultant to study what should be done with the state’s gift of $700,000 to fix the problem. One should have been hired the month of the gift. Then, after that one year, it still took until March 8, 2017, nearly another six months, for the ink to dry on a contract with L.K. McLean.
The issue here, really, is that the Town has been delinquent in coming up with a short-term fix following the death of Anna Pump. The Town (and the police) moved quickly for a temporary solution to a dangerous situation after the death of Tiffane Walker in the 1990s. But in this case, they did not.
The Town’s failure to take any action resulted in efforts by a private citizen to do something. In December 2015, two months after Anna Pump was killed, according to the Southampton Press, local resident Dick Bruce spent $633 of his own money to purchase two green pedestrian crossing signs. He put them up himself. He had them up at the crosswalks by the post office and at a crosswalk at Thayer’s Hardware & Patio down the street. A few months later he put up another after one went missing.
Did the Town lift a finger? Nope. They were all caught up with the State Department of Transportation, the Concerned Citizens of Bridgehampton, the Town’s Director of Public Transportation and Traffic Safety, the McLean study, the New York Power Authority, the Towns Parks and Recreation Department (who examined the trees blocking the street lights in the fall of 2015), the public who need to have their say and other pieces of the grand symphony that will make up what will eventually, someday, be an agreement about the changes needed to make downtown Bridgehampton safe. Maybe.
Here are a few obvious things that should have been done immediately after Anna Pump’s death: Install floodlights high up on telephone poles or on commercial buildings nearby to highlight the crosswalks. Bring in and post temporary speed signs and blinking lights by the side of the road. Put signs on cones that read YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS in the center of the crosswalks. Put SLOW DOWN signs on the sides of the road entering the town. Put brighter light bulbs in the existing streetlights.
The main street is unsafe TODAY and even more unsafe TONIGHT.
On January 10, 2018, Southampton Town’s Director of Public Transportation and Traffic Safety told the Sag Harbor Express “to qualify for the [$700,000] funding, you need a budget that has to be based on a plan.”
That is coming SOON.