Dan Rattiner's Stories

Bridgehampton in the Dark: Safety Plans Don’t Include More Streetlights

One of the most prominent and beloved women in the Hamptons was Anna Pump, the founder of Loaves and Fishes who, last autumn, was hit by a car and killed while crossing Main Street in Bridgehampton near the Bridgehampton Post Office.

The community deeply mourned her loss. Everyone had an Anna Pump story. Her shop near the corner of Sagg Main Street and Montauk Highway, became legendary for the quality of the goods, the freshness of the breads and the most beautiful desserts. Fishermen brought her their fresh fish at dawn. She made her own lobster salad. Loaves & Fishes was one of the first of these prepared food shops, and that it was there was one of the worst kept secrets in town.

Her death was not the first pedestrian death. And is not likely to be the last. Just before Memorial Day, 52-year-old Michael McCrum was hit by a car while crossing Main Street in front of Starbucks and had to be airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.

With Anna’s death, all manner of people who are concerned about Bridgehampton began talking about what to do about this dangerous situation on Main Street. It’s a state road, but the Town takes care of the marking of pedestrian crossings. Recently, several crossings along this four-block stretch have been equipped with in-street flashing lights to warn motorists to give way. And that has helped.

However, little has been done about the lighting of the street, particularly at night. Tom Neeley, who is the Executive Director of the Transportation Commission for the Town of Southampton, has guided the hamlet through the flashing-light situation and is looking to work with the power company to see that no foliage is blocking the lights erected on the poles that line this road. He’s also talked to me about possibly seeing if newer bulbs that would give a better light could be used, although he is aware of the Night Sky issues that come with brighter lights.

What seems to be entirely overlooked, however, is the fact that the hamlet of Bridgehampton does not have the proper number of streetlights for a community of this size. The community grew. Other communities, such as East Hampton, Amagansett, Southampton and Sag Harbor grew, and if you look at how the streetlights are spaced in those communities, you see them quite close to one another. Between these communities, which are between three and six miles apart from one another, the streetlights are spaced about 100 yards apart. In the other communities I mention here they are 50 yards apart, and whatever light bulbs they use in them, they provide double the lighting that 100-yard spacing provides.

Bridgehampton just missed out on that. And the result is that when you drive along the four-block Main Street of commercial Bridgehampton, you sit forward in the driver’s seat and slow down because you just can’t see what you can see with the better 50-yard spacing.

I’m not sure whether the Town or some other governing body put in 50-yard spaced-apart streetlights in the other towns. But I do know what happened in Montauk.

Around 1985, Montauk residents felt the Main Street there should have better illumination. Montauk is part of East Hampton Township, which has numerous hamlets within its borders, and it would have been unseemly back then for the Town to install more streetlights in only one hamlet.

And so, at that time, a private corporation formed called the Downtown Association. The three leaders of it were Brad and Claudia Dickinson, who had a souvenir and art shop on the east end of Main Street next to the Shagwong in those years, and John Keeshan, the prominent realtor of the town, with a shop down at the western end of Main Street. They got together and got a quote for the creation of 60 new antique reproduction lighting stands like you see in East Hampton and Southampton Village. The cost, John told me, was $2,000 for a stanchion with a single light and fixture on it, and $3,000 for a stanchion with two of them.

The trio, and several others, then went knocking door-to-door at the shop of every merchant on Main Street asking for the appropriate donation for one streetlight. A small brass plate would be on the stanchion, indicating who donated it. It wasn’t long before all 60 were purchased, as that was about the number of stores that were on Montauk Main Street at that time. The three then went to East Hampton Town Hall and met with Town Supervisor Tony Bullock, who said if they paid for the lights, he would have his highway department install them. And so he did.

“The lights came from a New Jersey manufacturing company that also made and sold cannons,” John Keeshan told me. “Our lights were similar to the lights that had been put up in Central Park, although some changes were made.” Today, in that company’s catalogue, they list the Montauk light as the “Blue Montauk Light.” You can buy the same kind that were put up in Montauk all those years ago.

I’m not recommending that for Bridgehampton. Bridgehampton has its own history and will come up with its own lighting stanchions if and when the time comes.

But I hope it comes soon. With or without the crosswalk blinking lights, Main Street Bridgehampton remains a tragedy waiting to happen until they make a switch from a between-the-towns light spacing to the full lighting—like that found in Montauk—along Main Street.

I might note that stanchions such as these are easily adaptable for flag holsters to display flags along Main Street during Memorial Day, Flag Day and Veteran’s Day.

There is also the famous story about Westhampton Beach, which was falling under the sway of the disco-motorcycle-wet-T-shirt crowd about 25 years ago. The village leaders there met to see what they could do to discourage this crowd, and came up with the idea of hanging huge baskets of beautiful flowers on every light stanchion up and down Main Street. And so, when the motorcycle gangs came through town that first Saturday morning of what might have been another raucous all-night weekend of drinking, they encountered a community festooned with flowers.

“The hell with this,” the leader said, and they turned around and roared back the way they had come in.

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