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Home Government Joe Sack: Why I Support the Stop Signs - MyRye.com Guest Column

Joe Sack: Why I Support the Stop Signs – MyRye.com Guest Column

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.


  1. First off, let me just say – Thank You Joe Sack for being honest and forthwith. We all know that posting or being a guest columnist on MyRye with your true identity can bring some harsh critics, I for one have been the victim of some very harsh comments directed at Jarrid, so I commend you Joe for putting yourself in this position.

    I pretty much agree with your entire statement.
    I want everyone to know that…

    Yes, I am rough around the edges, but that is part of my personality and there is not much I can do about it…

    You say I am “more than a little rough around the edges”…indeed, I buried a child, I asked for help, I was lied to, pushed around & forced into this! Since last weeks accident I have not been able to function without tears!

    The Otis Administration, including you Joe, along with the RPD never gave Jarrid’s Death the attention it warranted.
    Not to confuse you, when I say “including you” I am referring to the silence at most of the Council meetings from you,Paula and Catherine.

    Your Words;
    “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”.

    As I said, I was forced in this direction. It was NEVER my intentions for this to be drawn out over 4 years, that was some one elses doings!!! Do you think in June of 2006 when I publicly spoke for the 1st time since the accident that it was a personal crusade?
    I am not the one who threw the first stone! Otis,Connors,Verille,Pratt,Ball(sorry Andy) made this personal.
    Otis & Connors never so much as a phone call, Lt.Verille… as acting Commissioner when the call came in drove away to Brewster, Pratt & Ball with their empty promise…SO YES, it did become somewhat personal, NOT MY CHOICE!

    I told everyone over and over that this will happen again….GUESS WHAT…IT DID! I said repeatedly that I wanted NO ONE to have to feel my pain…GUESS WHAT…That family almost did!

    What most officials don’t know is that my wife had just had Breast Cancer Surgery and was home only 24hrs when that little boy was hit last Thursday. When I got to the scene and felt Maggie’s pain I did all I could to KEEP MYSELF FROM SNAPPING!!!

    I apologize for any embarrassment I might have caused my family & my community!


  2. Wow- this is truly refreshing. I hope the other council members will see Mr. Sack’s discourse with the community here as the positive that it is. Because of the wide arc of the analysis it seems impossible to agree or disagree with everything said – but the fact of his saying this in an online focused community forum and not solely from the high bench or to traditional media is a very positive step. Let’s congratulate Mr. Sack for this contribution to our collective understanding and encourage similar memorandums from all elected officials (especially those like Mr. Sack that have been with us prior to this recent election). Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant.

  3. As Doug French tries to employ more committees to deal with the issues, Joe Sack is trying to wrestle this issue away from the T&T committee. Why even form the committees if their input is going to be discarded? The Midland Ave. intersection is obviously a bad spot but the solution of a stop sign is a kluge or band aid when a more comprehensive solution would serve all of Rye. The real deal on the pedestrian issue in Rye is kids safety. If it has been determined that kids can’t be relied on to think logically when walking on Rye’s streets then logically it doesn’t matter where they are walking in Rye, they are in danger. The only comprehensive solution is to make sure they can’t put themselves into dangerous situations. While Joe thinks putting a stop sign on Midland may will keep everyone in Rye safe it is my opinion putting a stop sign at one isolated intersection in Rye is a laughable solution. If your gonna spend the time thinking up solutions, make sure the solution applies to all of Rye, not just one intersection. Would busing or mandatory drop off and pick up for all kids pre high school do the trick? Probably.

  4. Real Deal,
    I do not think Joe is trying to take the decision out of any hands anymore than I think the council is or will be discarding any thoughts from the T&TC.
    I think what Joe is implying is “NEW APPROACH”.
    Otis use to hide behind the T&TC and solely follow their advise rather than taking their advise “into consideration”.

    Who knows, maybe 1 Stop Sign isn’t enough. Maybe stop signs are a solution to many intersections.
    I don’t know about you, but I would rather try than to live with what the Amico’s live with!

    You would probably be right in saying that putting a stop sign @ 1 intersection is laughable if it weren’t a fact that one child is dead and another could have been!

    I agree on the busing…WHY DID RYE DO AWAY WITH THAT?

  5. While I’ve never met Jim Amico, as a parent of two Midland students and one high school student I can only barely comprehend the depths of his frustration with the city.

    My daughter still wears her Jarrid shirt and I know we both still say a silent prayer every time we drive down Midland Ave.

    What this has become is an embarrassment, not just to the city but every concerned parent. That this poor man has had to erect signs on his own behalf after so much council discussion, makes me ashamed to be a member of this community.

    Again as a concerned parent, I say the temporary solution falls into our hands, and would gladly be a part of a voluntary parent traffic brigade, who would act as citizen crossing guards and help our children safely navigate Midland Avenue.

    If it truly takes the city this long to make a decision, then we as citizens should make one ourselves, take the reins in our hands, and safely help our children navigate Midland Avenue.

  6. I’d like to remind everyone that pedestrian AND child safety are more general problems than just one intersection. I think most of us realize this.
    I’d like to see the Midland problem fixed. I’d also like to see the Sonn Drive problem fixed, the Forest Ave. to Midland school problem fixed, the Playland Access crosswalk problem fixed, etc. Each of these situations are problems and potential risks for all pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.
    I am supportive of better signage, infrastructure changes, realistic and continuous enforcement of existing laws, etc. to improve safety for all of us and our children. However, spending an infinite amount of time and money on these issues will not “solve them” as people will continue to do dumb / convenient things that put them and others at risk. You know, crossing in the middle of Boston Post Road without looking, driving through a cross walk while people are in it, etc.
    So, by all means, let’s slow down traffic, put in stop signs and stop lights, bump out curbing, get realistic about enforcement of our laws, make sure sidewalks are present where needed and maintained. But let’s also remember that people, ultimately, have to be responsible for their own behavior and that’s going to be the hardest thing to change.

  7. Bob,Jim,Ted,Steve,all Council,

    I am on all of your sides and all of you make very valid points,suggestions,arguements,etc.

    Most important – I am on the side of safety!

    I’m curious about one thing that Bob said and that Jim always jumps on and for good reason….Enforcement?

    Not even Houdini himself could pull this off.
    For the most part we have a very UNCOOPERATIVE Police Dept. with obviously very poor leadership making extremely poor decisions and most of the Dept. seems to be on Auto Pilot to “Why Should We Care Land” carrying a chip on their shoulders with the message “we are above the law”.

    It is unfortunate that our Police Dept. is in this state, I’m sure that there are a handful of officers that are very passionate about their job and care about the residents and children of Rye.

    Other than Mayor French having a few tricks of his own up his sleeve I don’t see this ending anytime soon.

    As we all scramble to make improvements and changes I would be very surprised to see the RPD join in!

  8. Steve,

    I must say it’s incredibly refreshing to see a realistic solution proposed on these pages that doesn’t require any action by our local government.

    I would like to offer up another possible solution.

    When I was in grade school, we had “Patrol Boys” – 8th grade boys and girls whose took responsibility for being the crossing guards at all the various intersections around our school. We wore the orange safety belts and all received training at the beginning of school on how to safely help students across the street.

    Our middle school student get out of school at roughly 2:35pm. If we could deploy our young people in 8th grade to the intersections that need help to ensure our kids cross safely, we’d be solving a huge problem and also allowing the 8th graders to give back to their community – perhaps giving them Community Service credit.

    I’m sure there’s someone in Rye with law enforcement or first responder experience that would donate their time to train the kids how to properly help kids cross traffic and deal with the cars

    I’d be happy to donate any materials (stop signs, safetly belts, etc.) that this group needs and help any way I can.

    Maybe the time has come to take some of these issues of traffic safety that we can control into our own hands and get things done.

    Count me in.

    Steve Mochel

  9. Just asking.

    I can’t recall seeing student crossing guards in Rye for a while – do they still exist? I remember my morning and afternoon service on Hewlett Street in front of Milton School as a 6th grader. One of the first jobs of responsibility I held.

  10. Sorry folks…could you imagine the potential liability of allowing 8th graders to direct traffic and be responsible for crossing pedestrians? All it would take is one accident and you’d be up sh1t’s creek without a paddle.

  11. To AboveAgvCitizen, are you really saying that most of the RPD are not doing thier job and that most of the RPD have a chip on their shoulder? And finally, you say that only a handful of officers care about Rye residents?


  12. My informal focus group in our house – one 8th grader, two freshman (both classmates of Jarrid’s) – they’d all volunteer to be crossing guards if they could get community service credit.

    I also googled 8th grade Safety Patrol NY and found numerous schools here in NY that are utilizing our kids as crossing guards.

    I agree with tedc that it was a time in my youth when I genuinely felt responsibility for the first time.

    I’m going to explore the idea, so if anyone is interested, please email me @ steve@freshgreenlight.com.

    Steve Mochel

  13. Average Citizen,

    A few days ago children weren’t capable of crossing the street reliably, today we’re gonna make them crossing guards. I’d say the best solution would be to put a stop sign on Midland, put up a banner with “Mission Accomplished” written on it, all gather in front of the banner for a photo OP and call it a day.

  14. Steve Mochel & Steve Mandracchia,

    I think the older children crossing the younger ones is a great idea and worth exploring.

    I also think it should be Jarrid’s classmates that present this idea at the Council Meeting Jan.20th.

    Avg.Citizen does make a valid point, going forward with this idea it would need to be done in a very thorough manner!
    If other communities are doing it and it’s working, speaking with them would probably be the 1st step.

    There is one thing that concerns me;
    When I pick up Allye everyday I am amazed @ the amount of Mom’s chatting on their CELL PHONES!!!

    The ignorance & recklessness of putting other children along with their own in harms way FLOORS ME!

    I would be more than happy to host the 1st Volunteer Meeting(brainstorming) to get this going.

  15. I googled “8th grade crossing guard” and found no instances of any community doing such a thing. Personally, I have never seen it. These kids are barely at the age where they can be left home alone and we’re going to have them shoulder this responsibility? I thought adults take on these responsibilities? I am sure kids would be eager to volunteer for the job. The question is, what responsible adult would volunteer a kid to do an adult job?

  16. Real Deal,Avg.Citizen,

    Very valid and respectful points.
    The idea itself is commendable and I myself would not be too keen on a 13yr.old crossing my 11yr.old.

    This being said, 16-18yr.olds(juniors/seniors) in my opinion are worthy adversaries.

    There is also no reason we can’t put together a parent group of Volunteer Crossing Guards.

    The sadness in all of this is THAT WE HAVE TOO!

    With the taxes we all pay it blows my mind that we can’t afford crossing guards or the RPD doesn’t see a need for them.

    The Elementary School Crossing Guards are in place for arrival and dismissal, why is this not the case at the RHS/RMS???

    Real Deal,
    All though I see your attempt at humor with “Mission Accomplished” & “Photo Op” I don’t think that helps!
    No one is trying to Grand Stand and in spite of what some might think of me……………
    The safety of all of our children is at risk here. The Mission is not to just stick a Stop Sign up and call it a day.
    The mission is to make sure the children can Navigate the streets of Rye without sustaining injuries..educated or not!

  17. Here’s what I remember from Milton School.

    You could apply to be a student crossing guard in 5th grade. I didn’t apply until 6th grade and then I had to apprentice with another student for a one week period and pass a written test. We all got a black and white striped traffic guard vest and a hand held stop sign.

    The only crosswalk Milton students guarded was the one that is directly in front of the eastern face of the school – crossing kids from the school driveway across Hewlett Street to they could walk east (towards the LI Sound) on the northern sidewalk.

    Student crossing guards did not guard the much busier Milton Road and Hewlett Street intersection – that was always done by an adult (Mrs. Seaman in my day). Sometimes a student guard helped Mrs. Seaman but I never went down there to do it so I’m not sure how that worked.

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