Replacing Steel Railings with Wood in Sag Harbor Was a Bad Idea

Wood guard rails at Long Beach
Wood guard rails at Long Beach, Photo: Oliver Peterson

After much lobbying, the citizens of Sag Harbor were able to get the Sag Harbor Village Board to remove the steel railings that run along the sides of Short Beach Road (the extension of Long Beach Road) and replace them with wood railings more appropriate to our community.

I wish they’d asked me about this. I’ve been writing this newspaper for 60 years, and every so often I read of a town doing something that proved to be a bad idea when done long ago.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the guardrails along the Montauk Parkway were wood, as they had been since Robert Moses built that parkway through the Hither Woods 30 years before. However, on July 14, 1958, a friend of mine, Timmy Gilmartin, was killed by one of the wooden guardrails.

Metal guardrails are safer than wood
Metal guardrails are safer than wood, Photo: rustycanuck/123RF

He and I were the same age at that time, about 19. He had an older brother, Tommy. He was the son of popular former Town Supervisor Richard Gilmartin, who, as a result of polio, was wheelchair bound.

Timmy apparently lost control of his car while driving down the parkway, veering off to slide along the wood guardrail. One of the wood railings popped off and up and came through the windshield to spear him.

The town was in mourning for some time after that. His father retired from public life and also closed his insurance business, going into seclusion with his wife, Winnie. He never fully recovered. I miss Timmy.

At that time, Montauk had a powerful public figure up in Albany, Perry B. Duryea, who was Speaker of the State Assembly. Within a month, the wooden guardrails along the entire parkway were removed and replaced with steel ones bolted to metal posts. They are there today.

During the run-up to this recent decision, proponents of it said that the Northern State Parkway has wooden guardrails. Well, it doesn’t anymore, most of it. They’ve been replaced with steel mounted onto wood posts. The steel, when hit, breaks the wooden posts and gives way and can act as a cradle for the car pushing it. But it doesn’t break. It’s the best and safest solution to have this hybrid situation this way.

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