A Plan With a Dream: To Walk to School … Safely

Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire goes over a traffic safety plan with Calogero Sferrazza. Michael Heller photos.

It may have been borne out of a personal desire to be able to walk to school by himself or with his friends, but a traffic safety plan developed by Calogero Sferrazza, a student at Sag Harbor Elementary School, has caught the attention of both Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and Police Chief Austin J. McGuire.

On a tour of village streets with Calogero earlier this month, both public officials said many of the fifth grade student’s ideas held a lot of weight, with the Mayor vowing to take a look at traffic safety projects around the schools in Sag Harbor, explore grants and partnerships and, in general, work at making the village a more pedestrian-friendly place for children and adults alike.

And it all started with a teacher, an idea and, eventually, a letter.

Sag Harbor Village Police Chief A.J. McGuire discusses Sag Harbor Elementary School fifth-grader Callogero Sferrazza’s new plan for crosswalks near the schools as his parents Charles and Kim and Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy look on during a walking tour of the area on December 12

Inspired by a school visit Ms. Mulcahy made to the fifth-grade science class, where students discussed drainage and water quality with the first-term mayor, fifth grade teacher Kim Sloane created an extra credit enrichment project for her class. The mission: design a civic minded project that could be presented to local officials. About half of her class participated, many drafting ideas that tackled pollution and water quality issues in Sag Harbor.

“A lot of them tackled small things — like needing more garbage cans in the village — and it showed them that small things matter and that we can actually accomplish things,” said Ms. Sloane in an interview while walking around the elementary school, Pierson Middle-High School and the small neighborhood to the southwest that was the focus of Calogero’s project.

The plan looks at available crosswalks and sidewalks, north to south, from Jermain Avenue to Middle Line Highway, and east to west from Division to Madison Street, recommending several blocks of sidewalks, a handful of crosswalks and two stop signs.

“There are at least 20 kids that walk to school, but there are no sidewalks or crosswalks from Forrest Street to Pierson High School,” wrote Calogero in a letter to Ms. Mulcahy in mid-November, formally presenting his plan in writing. “I think it would be great if the village could put in more crosswalks and sidewalks. I think we should do this so more kids can walk to school, get exercise and get to school safely.”

Ms. Mulcahy promptly set up a site visit for December 12, asking Chief McGuire to walk the streets in Calogero’s traffic plan with the student. With Calogero’s parents, Kim and Chris, in tow, along with Sag Harbor Elementary Principal Matt Malone, Ms. Sloane and Ms. Mulcahy, he walked the group, in detail through his plan. Huddled together often during the walk, the Chief McGuire and Calogero hashed out issues with crosswalk installation — “One of the problems,” Chief McGuire said, “is we need to have a sidewalk installed to put in a crosswalk. We don’t do crosswalks without a sidewalk.”

“One of the things we are looking at it ensuring sidewalks are installed on every road within a mile and a half radius of the village — at least on one side of the road,” Ms. Mulcahy said.

“One of the reasons I really, really, wanted to do this is because when we moved out here about seven years ago, we started walking in the village all the time and the cars are always driving so fast,” said Calogero. “Now that I am older, I want to walk to school but there are no crosswalks, so I can’t.”

Ms. Mulachy recently surveyed the school district population and discovered one-third live in the village, a surprise, she said, but a statistic that reinforces the idea of creating ways for children to traverse to school, or simply around their neighborhoods, for both the freedom that older children like Calogero desire and for the wellness that comes with being active.

As Calogero noted, he belives his small pilot plan for his neighborhood could easily be brought to others if successful and that it would not just benefit children, but also the adults that are drawn to Sag Harbor Village because it is a walking community.

“There are a lot of people in Sag Harbor, especially in the summer, who just like to walk,” he said, marching down a portion of Madison Street devoid of sidewalks. “This could be for them too.”