That the South Fork is cursed with heavy traffic on an almost year-round basis seemed a given to the approximately 40 people who gathered in the Bridgehampton School gymnasium on Monday afternoon. But most who attended a discussion with Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki sponsored by the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee wanted to know what could be done to get drivers to slow down, stop at stop signs, yield to pedestrians and bicyclists, and put their cellphones down.
If they were looking for a sweeping solution, they were bound to be disappointed, but the chief pledged that his department would try its hardest to put a dent in the problem, while encouraging residents to work with police to come up with new solutions.
The first problem, the chief said, is that the police department has limited resources. Currently, at any time, Bridgehampton is served by a single squad car that it shares with Water Mill, although backups are readily available from neighboring sectors in the event of an emergency. The department is also able to send out two or three Community Response Unit officers each day to target problem areas in a town that stretches from Eastport to Sagaponack and from the ocean to Northampton.
Although there has been an uptick in crime over the past year, Chief Skrynecki said officers on the beat were doing a good job at deterring crime even though they were forced to spend most of their time responding to unfounded burglar alarms, car accidents, and other incidental concerns.
But that said, that leaves them limited time to sit by the side of the road, waiting to snare speeders or catch the occasional driver who runs a stop sign, he told the audience.
The chief added — although few seemed to agree — that the problem of speeding, at least, may not be as bad as people may think. The chief pointed to eight speed-check signs on Ocean Road, Sagaponack Road, Newlight, Paul’s, and Lumber lanes. On average, he said, 85 percent of the drivers adhere to the speed limit, while the average over-the-limit speed is about 6 miles per hour.
Still, the chief said he would send his CRU cars to the sites with the highest percentage of speeders for targeted enforcement. “I can’t tell you I’m going to leave them here,” he said. “I can’t do that. I only have limited resources.”
The chief said he would like to have another sector car in Bridgehampton, but said to do so would require hiring five officers, so staffing would be available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. He said the Southampton Town Board has been receptive to his requests for additional officers in the past and that he would request permission to hire two more next year.
Some asked if the town could put red light cameras at stop lights to catch those who run red lights, but the chief said Suffolk County, which oversees the program, only distributes those cameras to the western portion of the county. One audience member asked if the town could put up speed cameras that record a vehicle’s speed and takes a photo of its license if the driver breaks the speed limit by a set amount. The chief said he would love to have the equipment, but that the county has not authorized its use.
Still others in the audience called for some kind of public service campaign, perhaps with a banner placed across Montauk Highway at Bridgehampton Commons informing motorists that speeding is not tolerated in Bridgehampton, or lawn signs like the “Drive Like Your Children Lived Here” signs that have cropped up in recent years.
CAC chairwoman Pamela Harwood said her committee would continue to investigate the issue and hold additional meetings to discuss it. She said she didn’t hold out much hope for a reduction in traffic. “I believe the answer to our problem is we need more enforcement,” she said.