Addressing A School Safety Hazard

Cars back up along Wakeman Road in Hampton Bays as students get dropped off before the first bell rings. Independent/Desirée Keegan

Stopping of any kind is no longer permitted on a portion of Wakeman Road, to protect Hampton Bays High School students.

Many motorists have been parking on both sides of the street along school property to drop off students, creating a safety hazard for kids and other motorists. There’s only about a three-foot shoulder, and the west side of the road is curved. The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved to amend the vehicles and traffic portion of the town code March 26 to place a no-stopping restriction on Wakeman Road from the intersection of Argonne Road East to a point 930 feet south to address the issue.

“We got a good dean of students who was marking kids tardy, so about 90 seconds before the bell rings, you’ll see kids jumping out of cars and sprinting to the building. It’s an unsafe situation, but they want to get to school on time,” Superintendent Lars Clemensen said. “This is a practical solution. We’re trying to get parents to come five, six minutes earlier.”

Getting the message to parents will be important, Clemensen said. High school administration is encouraging motorists to drop students off on school property along the school driveway off Argonne Road, which will take cars out to where the school busses queue. Gregor said there’s enough space for one-way traffic to get through, and it’s a one-way outlet anyway.

Additional on-campus parking has been created to help, Clemensen added, although there has been some spillover during major events.

Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said while Clemensen called the additional parking adequate, there is opportunity to expand hidden parking along Wakeman should the district need it in the future.

John Moran, director of school safety and transportation and a former Southampton Town Police officer, is also hoping to stop a traffic gridlock along Wakeman by promoting the entrance onto school grounds through the loop off Argonne.

“There’s also traffic along Argonne for that 15-minute drop-off period,” Moran said. “The infrastructure around all three schools was never built to accommodate 2000-plus students, and that’s the problem we’re dealing with now.”

He’s looking for police enforcement the week the code change takes effect. Police will be present for at least the first five days, which will be mentioned in a letter mailed to parents. Highway superintendent Alex Gregor said he spoke with Southampton Town Police Personnel Administration Lieutenant Michael Zarro and Special Operations Lieutenant James Kiernan a month ago about patrolling the area. He said they saw the logic behind it.

“Hopefully this is a very smooth transition,” Moran said.

Gregor added this is the first of multiple resolutions that will be asked for on the topic. He’s hoping for similar legislation on all town-owned roads along schools to create uniformity. The highway department will be reconstructing a long section of sidewalk on Central Avenue in East Quogue that’s been missing for years, he said, working on upping Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at the elementary school there. Signage will be added in Hampton Bays and at all future locations.

“This is all for safety — we just can’t have kids crossing the road at will, hurrying up; it can be chaotic,” Gregor said. “We want to make school roads safer.”

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