Pedestrian-Friendly Powwow

Residents highlighted safety concerns and possible improvements at a Sag Harbor Active Transport workshop Saturday. Carrie Ann Salvi

    A vision of Sag Harbor 10 years from now was imagined on Saturday afternoon by more than two dozen residents — lifers, newcomers, year-rounders, and weekenders — at a Sag Harbor Active Transport workshop held in the parish hall of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. Asked for one word describing how Sag Harbor could be, responses included safe, progressive, quiet, athletic, peaceful, visual, innovative, healthy, green, enlightened, accessible, slow, and sociable.
    Calling transportation and quality of life in Sag Harbor issues that were “near and dear” to him, Jonas Hagen, who grew up in the village, led the workshop. He said bike lanes were his initial idea, but coming up with a more comprehensive plan became the goal after he met with Susan Mead, Jon Shaka, and Mia Grosjean of Save Sag Harbor, which sponsored the event, and those who helped establish a Safe Routes to School program in Springs.
    Mr. Hagen’s urban planning expertise was evident during the structured, informative, hands-on program. He has a master’s degree in urban affairs from Hunter College and has worked for the United Nations and projects in New York City, Uruguay, Colombia, and Brazil. Mr. Hagen consults on large-scale infrastructure for various international organizations and municipalities through Despacio, a group based in Bogota, Colombia, that emphasizes the Slow Movement philosophy. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in urban planning at Columbia University.
    Also part of the group was Mr. Hagen’s father, Anton, who attended as a 33-year village resident and — not officially — as chairman of the village’s zoning board. Robby Stein, a member of the village board, also attended unofficially as an avid biker. A number of cyclists were in attendance, many of whom said they commute to work on their bicycles.
    “Speed makes you blind,” Jonas Hagen said, using statistics to back up his claim. Range of vision dramatically decreases when speed increases from 15 to 30 miles per hour, he said. Moving more slowly increases the chance of surviving a collision, he explained.
    When walking, he continued, trees, wildlife, and other details can be seen, heard, and smelled, he said. Studies have shown that people who travel in light traffic have more friends and acquaintances, he added.
    Tools to slow traffic were described with visuals from Mr. Hagen’s world travels — wider crosswalks, narrower streets, smaller cars, textured surfaces, and varied styles of bicycle lanes.
    “Using your body to get around is the most healthy thing we can do,” he said, recommending that people add activity into their daily routines — walking to work or school, for instance. The number of kids cycling and walking to school has decreased, he said, from 50 percent in the 1960s to less than 15 percent now. This results in more obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
    Walking is in the DNA of Sag Harbor, said Mr. Hagen. “It grew as a pedestrian village.”
    Mr. Hagen also suggested that the community think creatively when it comes to public spaces, which he defined as “anything that is not private property.” The design and implementation need not be costly or time-consuming, he said, showing examples of pop-up sidewalk cafes, medians with planters, and spaces for parking 12 bicycles instead of one car.
    With maps, markers, and Post-its, five teams highlighted areas they felt were working well, needed improvement, or were dangerous. They were asked to keep in mind those villagers who are elderly or not able-bodied.
    A need for more bike lanes, especially near the schools, was stressed, as were bike lanes on roads that connect parks.
    A traffic circle or traffic guard at the intersection of Long Wharf and Bay and Main Streets was deemed crucial. Cars are backed up to North Haven and the Bulova watchcase factory in the summer, and there is a constant flow of pedestrians then.
    All agreed that the entrance to Mashashimuet Park is a disaster and that Long Wharf, a focal point of the village, should be a park, rather than used for parking spaces. The village’s “most valuable piece of real estate is a parking lot, and now it belongs to us,” Ms. Grosjean said, referring to the impending county handover.
    Eric Cohen, who spoke on his own behalf and not for the John Jermain Memorial Library, where he works, said he has drafted a plan for increased public space, ways to slow traffic, and a way to make the historic district near the library more of a central part of the village.
    “A group of engaged residents can move this forward,” said Mr. Hagen.
    Elizabeth Mendelman of Springs offered an example. She worked with many others to get a Safe Routes to School grant, a federal program whereby the access to schools are improved for child pedestrians and cyclists. What she called “a tough road,” which required municipal support, data collection, car counts, and much more, resulted in a $554,000 grant that will now help Springs School students from kindergarten through eighth grade walk safely to school.
    The group ended with a brainstorming session of short, medium, and long-term ideas. More involvement is sought. Mr. Stein said that residents who serve on boards and run for office can “make a huge difference.”