Dan Rattiner's Stories

Bridgehampton’s Crosswalk Stays on 24 Hours a Day Awaiting Pedestrians

Lights flashing, nobody around.

Some day, aliens from outer space are going to stumble upon the elaborate contraptions that humans now have in place to allow other humans to cross the street. They will marvel at the thick white lines crossing the road, the embedded lights in the street that flash when you push the button on the post and the yellow, metal sign with the black lettering on it.

The aliens might try to talk to it, or, failing that, yell at it. Getting no response, they might write to their home planet, describing it. It could be the subject of an academic article in an alien planet scientific journal.

Personally, I am at least partially responsible for having crosswalk contraptions brought into general use in the Hamptons. About 10 years ago, I came upon one such contraption in downtown Palo Alto, California. Southampton was looking for something to assist people crossing the street. I took a short video of it and sent it back to then Mayor Mark Epley in Southampton.

Such contraptions are now in general use in many of the old colonial villages here in the Hamptons. One downtown recently got its first one. It’s in Bridgehampton, crossing Main Street right in front of the library.

The Bridgehampton crosswalk
The Bridgehampton crosswalk, Photo: Tom Ratcliffe

It looks like the run-of-the-mill contraption. But there is something odd about it. I frequently drive down Bridgehampton’s Main Street. One morning I saw the lights embedded in the road flashing as I went by. I slowed and looked around for people crossing, but there weren’t any.

You know, once you press the button it stays on for a good 40 seconds or so, long enough for even dawdler pedestrians to cross. That means a fast person might be long across and the lights seem to flash on and on for no reason. Anyway, I didn’t think anything of it.

Later that afternoon, I saw the same thing. Lights flashing, nobody around.

It took about four days for me to realize that the lights in this particular crosswalk are always on. Furthermore, they have them as a line of flashing on all four borders of the yellow sign by both sides of the road all the time.

At first, I thought the contraption was broken, or perhaps installed improperly. But as the days went by, I realized they must have been deliberately left on. The people installing the system must have told the authorities, “Well there’s a setting for how long they stay on, so what would you like? Most people go so and so, what about you here?”

There’s something spooky about having them on all the time. It occurs to you as you slow down, look both ways and see nobody, that there might be ghosts or apparitions crossing the road. You could hit them. But where are they?

Another thought that crossed my mind was that it might be a good thing to INVITE people to cross the road here. Give it something to do. Here it is, flashing and blinking. Let’s give this puppy a reason to live, what do you say? Come on, everybody, let’s get down here and cross the road.

Maybe the people who are in charge of this figured, well, if having it flash with people in the crosswalk is good, then having it flash when people were not in the crosswalk would be even better. It would give frequent drivers such as myself the knowledge that there is a reason to stop coming up ahead, because that’s what you do when the crosswalk is flashing. It’s the law. But then you get there and there’s nobody, so you creep through. Hmm.

Why don’t they just have a STOP sign there, if that’s what they want? Be on the lookout for all those people carrying books crossing by the library.

And there’s at least four things wrong about having the crosswalk on all the time, from an environmental perspective. One is that with it flashing 24 hours a day, it’s consuming electricity by the bushel. Another is that something flashing like that in an old English Colonial town is illegal.

They give out tickets if you have a sign on Main Street doing that. Then there’s the issue of disturbing the neighborhood and the people living in the apartments over the stores, with the lights flashing on and off all night. And it’s in violation of the dark skies regulations, which forbid lights shining unnecessarily all night, particularly up.

And then there is this about the lights embedded in the road. Unlike at other crosswalks, which flash admirably on the ground when someone presses the button (or disturbs the invisible light laser by walking between the two low white posts in more recent versions), these lights are embedded so low as to be little more than slits to approaching motorists.

It’s as if there were an underground room beneath the hash lines and they left the flashing lights on down there, visible through these slits near the ceiling. It might be visible in the dead of night. During the day, though, you don’t notice them at all until you are right up to them, when it is too late to do anything about it. Uh, oh, you think. Then, Whew! Didn’t hit anybody.

I leave this article thinking that perhaps this situation is really about our Town Supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, letting these blinking lights on all day and night, saying, essentially, here I am and I’ve provided our village with the safety of blinking lights in the crosswalk even if you are just approaching the crosswalk or just thinking about approaching the crosswalk and you don’t even have to press a button. This is an extra special perk for Bridgehampton.

Well enough about the crosswalk. This is a lot about a crosswalk. I will conclude by noting that when the aliens figure it out, they will declare these crosswalks just one more proof about how stupid humans are here on earth. On their planet, everybody stops when a pedestrian starts across the street, so every life is saved. Their cars are driven by robots that are trained to stop. There is no pedestrian problem.

Maybe we should think about having self-drive cars like that.

We went down to the Bridgehampton crosswalk this morning to take its picture and the lights were off. Now what?

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