Supporters, critics debate North High parking lot and traffic study

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Joseph Pecora, a traffic engineer with more than 40 years experience, explains the results of the traffic study. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Joseph Pecora, a traffic engineer with more than 40 years experience, explains the results of the traffic study. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Representatives presented a traffic study for a proposed Great Neck North High School parking lot on Thursday night, drawing more than 20 people to argue against and in favor of the development.

The Great Neck school board had approved an $8,700 traffic study to analyze the area around North High School and North Middle School to gauge the impact of a planned 97-unit parking lot for the corner of Beach Road and Polo Road.

The lot, geared toward North High School students, is estimated to cost $591,700 to build, while reconfiguring the Polo Road corner parking lot would be about $60,000. It’s one of a number of infrastructure and school upgrade projects in the $68.3 million bond package approved last year.

But it has also been a topic of debate for months, with some meetings featuring more than a dozen community members speaking about – and often questioning – the project’s necessity.

The traffic study, conducted by the engineering firm Nelson & Pope, analyzed six intersections during peak times – 7:40 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 2:30 to 3 p.m. – on May 24 and reviewed how the future parking plan could affect traffic flow.

Joseph Pecora, a traffic engineer with Nelson & Pope, said the study showed the proposed parking lot would improve traffic operation and safety, minimize conflicts between vehicles, and help reduce on-street parking along Beach Road.

The study, using state Transportation Department data, also found there were only 10 accidents over three years, which resulted in “minor” vehicular damage and no fatalities.

“Based on our review, we think that it will improve the traffic flow and pedestrian safety and we do not foresee any operation or safety issues with the current pick-up and drop-off procedures that you have at North High School,” Pecora said.

The study also recommended that buses should be prohibited from parking on Polo Road to improve sight distance and addressing the placement of handicap parking spaces.

Supporters of the lot said much thought went into deciding to keep the parking lot project on the bond, describing it as “really necessary” for students with jobs and internships, as well as providing “freedom with guidelines.”

They also said it’s “not about entitlement,” but safety, and would address a “hectic and chaotic reality” while encouraging students to not park on the streets.

A handful also expressed frustration that the discussion is still going on and implored trustees to move forward with the project, including Sarah Kane, a parent of two.

“Quite frankly, I don’t understand the objections at this point,” Kane said. “There’s not creating a situation that’s not here – it’s here, we need to deal with it and the reality is whether other people think it’s the best interest or not, this was a well thought out, well discussed issue, and we implore you not to listen to the voices of a few over the community which voted on this.”

Critics of the parking lot took issue with the traffic study, arguing that studying one day does not give a full picture of the traffic situation, the money could be used to benefit more than a small segment of students and that there should have been more solid data before the project was added.

They also expressed disappointment that the parking lot by Parkwood has not been considered, that the new lot is encroaching on the suburbs and said many of the lot’s supporters do not live by it, so they do not understand the possible firsthand effects.

“I just don’t see putting in another parking lot. If there was no option, I could understand it,” Elliot Rosenzweig, a Nirvana Avenue resident, told trustees. “The kids walk to the middle school. Why can’t the high school students walk to an existing parking lot? Every time you take a clump of trees away, you’re taking a little bit of the suburbs away.”

Administrators said the parking lot is based on necessity and many previously raised concerns have been incorporated into updated plans.

Superintendent of Schools Teresa Prendergast said those changes include a 30-foot treeline area surrounding the lot, a new drainage system, 60 new cypress trees around the perimeter and security guards patrolling at night.

Dan Holtsman said arguments focusing on the character of students at North High should not be part of the discussion.

“The parking lot is about safety and about fulfillment of a need, not a want. Securing vehicles all during the day will preclude students from using their cars where prohibited – Parkwood does not allow for this,” Holtsman said. “As of now, there’s limited control and ability to stop students from accessing their cars during the school day.”

Barbara Berkowitz, president of the Great Neck school board, said the issue of a parking lot for North High School goes back to 1991. It was at a board meeting that Lawrence Gross, a former trustee, said Parkwood was deemed “not suitable” because of its distance and winter hours bringing early darkness.

Remarks regarding the traffic study were limited to a maximum of three minutes each. Berkowitz also moved to limit questions in the interest of time and requested traffic engineers and others take further questions outside.

The next school board meeting will take place on Thursday, Nov. 29, and feature a presentation on the results of safety audits done for the school district in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida earlier this year.

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