Today Rye City Councilman Joe Sack tells MyRye.com readers why he supports the STOP signs. What do you think? Vote now in the MyRye.com poll and tell us if you think there should there be a STOP sign at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Palisade Road in Rye, NY. The poll will be open until this Friday, January 15th at 11:59pm.
By Joe Sack
First, while possibly titillating for your loyal readership, deciding the stop sign issue by Internet referendum is more of a bane than boon for the public policy debate, which should be based on studious consideration and not passing whim. Not to mention the fact that the results of your past polls have been wildly off-base (e.g., the November elections), and may be susceptible to a chronic and habitual few who “stuff the ballot box.” However, as always, I appreciate MyRye’s role in bringing issues to the fore.
Second, the City has indeed applied itself to the Midland Avenue corridor, and is currently in the process of implementing certain enhancements, including reduced street parking for greater sight lines, bump-outs and crosswalks – although admittedly this progress has not proceeded as expeditiously as we all might like. The fortuitous reason for why the Boston Post Road/Old Post Road center median and crosswalk were implemented relatively quickly after the accident there is because those improvements had already been in the works for some time. For good or for bad, government does not always move at lightning fast speed.
Having noted the above, since I will be called upon to formally weigh in on one particular aspect of the search for a solution on Midland , I wanted to offer up the reasoning behind my personal point of view.
One thing I noticed during my first two years on the Council was an ingrained retrenchment whenever an angry mob or vocal advocate demanded action. There was a palpable reluctance and even antagonism to buying into the outrage or acceding to the demand, on the general principle that the Council is not a body that should be or would allow itself to be yanked around by the neck like a dog on a chain. It’s the reflexive and ego-centric “who-in-the-heck-are-you-to tell-me-what to-do” aspect of human nature.
Add to this the remnants of an inherent conservative strain in town that bestows rank by virtue of successive generational longevity, thereby favoring the status quo. Throw in a perhaps archaic institutional notion that the Council is or should be a speed bump or serve as a brake (no puns intended) on emotional outbursts, and that after an issue of the moment dies down, the slow, steady and plodding hand of the Council would continue to steer us on our long and unmodulated historical trajectory.
I suppose there is some benefit to the approach of serving as an antidote to reactionary movements. But the flip side is that it can prevent the Council from being a good collective listener, and from being empathetic and responsive, on a timely basis, to issues that actually have merit, regardless of the provocative nature of the messenger. Mixed together, the elements identified above sometimes combine to form a noxious form of stonewalling.
By the time I came on the Council, the Schubert, Tartaglione and Amico conflagrations had already been waging for some time. I wondered at first whether I just hadn’t been around long enough to feel my colleagues’ burning impatience and indignance that these people kept coming back again and again.
But I came to believe that a big reason we had such persistent critics – love ‘em, hate ‘em or something in between – is that their requests never received a fulsome and open consideration. Each time they rose to the microphone, I imagine they sat down with an empty feeling, not just because their ideas were rejected, but because their ideas were rejected out of hand. They were rejected without the articulation of a convincing or fulfilling reason. Which is probably why they kept returning.
The discussions lost any focus, and devolved into character assassinations and negative recriminations on all fronts. It became a “Groundhogs Day” scenario with no exit, with everyone digging their heels in even deeper.
The changing of the guard with the new mayor is a good thing, in that it can break the deadlock and establish a clean break with the past. It provides the chance for a new beginning. And why not have that theory tested right away, at the administration’s outset.
There is no doubt that Jimmy Amico is more than a little rough around the edges. His signature brash mass e-mails are often impolitic, and probably cause more harm than good. But they are heartfelt.
I took the time to sit down with Jimmy a while back to delve beneath the one-dimensional caricature and whispered past. I decided that I liked Jim, not that that should really make any difference. More importantly, I decided that if I were in his shoes, I might be acting the same way.
But this isn’t about Jim, as much of a personal crusade as he’s made it. It’s about doing the right thing in spite of the hoopla, not because of it. Ironically, while Jim’s perseverance has kept the issue alive by sheer will, it’s the cloudy mix of man and issue that I hope does not now hinder progress.
With this past as prologue, in the latest round of the Midland Avenue debate, you will hear some participants demand the need to unquestioningly defer to the will of our previously constituted Traffic &Transportation committee. Just prior to last November’s election ( I am not suggesting that politics played a role, but the timing was unfortunate), T&T released a brief memo in which it expressed the opinion that stop signs at the Midland/Palisade intersection were not recommended.
The memo puts forth a view, amongst other measures for safety improvement, that the stop signs are not optimum for a couple of general traffic engineering reasons, which of course should be taken into account. But one thing such static concepts do not incorporate is common sense and instinct developed from local knowledge and experience.
One of my first votes on the Council was to join in a unanimous approval of a “stop sign policy.” This formulation was meant to put across-the-board standards in place to avoid an uneven situation where some neighborhood requests for stop signs might be unfairly favored over others. In my mind, then less practiced than it is now, I thought this rigid criteria was a good thing.
But having since become the veteran of scores of hours of public dialogue on various and sundry issues, I now know the fallacy of attempting to rely on such strictures, as easy and tempting as it may be to do so. Unique circumstances call for a special look.
In the first instance, I am not convinced that stop signs at the Midland/Palisade juncture are inconsistent with the policy. There may be some theoretical drawbacks to installing stop signs there. But on balance and overall at this point, nobody can tell me that we shouldn’t try something new or creative or promising to enhance driver and pedestrian awareness at this pivotal location.
Moreover, I think close and thoughtful observers will agree that there could be some distinct benefits to the plan as well. Two accidents represent more than a coincidence to be chalked up to bad luck. The “blame the kid” and “speed wasn’t a factor” short-hand arguments seem specious and crumble under the need to try something new that works. The stop signs are worth a try, at least on a test basis.
This issue, like other controversial Rye issues of the recent past, has been allowed to fester. It has not gone away from benign neglect, but has only gotten more intense. One astute political observer of this predicament has said that we should’ve just stuck a stop sign in the ground a long time ago, and been done with it, so we can move on. Instead the issue has become a classic standoff.
But this is not just a political puzzle to be solved. It is a real situation that calls out for clear, bold and straightforward action. The theoretical detriments to putting in stop signs are no more certain that the theoretical benefits to putting in stop signs. And at this crossroads, both literally and figuratively, I prefer action over inaction.