A recent decision by the Merrick Board of Education to reopen a gate on Charles Street behind Levy-Lakeside Elementary School for vehicular traffic has raised concern among residents who live on the dead-end block, and who say they were notified of the decision after the fact.
A note on the district’s website states that the gate — which separates the end of Charles Street from the district’s administrative parking lot at Levy-Lakeside — will remain open during school days to ease congestion on Babylon Road, the main outlet by which students are dropped off and picked up.
“We anticipate that this entrance [on Charles Street] will be used by two grade levels of families during arrival and dismissal,” the note reads. “It will also help reduce the number of students entering through the front doors, a precaution during this pandemic. Throughout the rest of the day there may be incidental use of the entrance.”
According to Superintendent Dr. Dominick Palma, the board believed this year was “the perfect time” to reopen the Charles Street gate, since Levy-Lakeside underwent construction over the summer. In addition to new asphalt and sidewalks, its parking lots were redesigned to improve traffic flow during arrival and dismissal.
A guardrail that once stood behind the gate in the parking lot was also removed “to make it feasible for emergency vehicles to enter from Charles Street,” Palma said. “For a very long time, residents of Babylon Road have asked the district to relieve pressure there, and the board thought reopening the gate was a reasonable idea.”
More than 80 neighbors on Charles and surrounding streets are now petitioning to have the gate closed for good. They argue that keeping it open will cause “major safety issues” for residents and students. Some contend it was never open to vehicular traffic.
“We have a woman who’s lived here for 77 years who said they’ve never had cars going in and out of that gate,” said Tim Anderson, a homeowner on Charles Street. He added that during arrival and dismissal — when parents and guardians park on Charles among the neighbors’ cars — the block turns into a “parking lot zoo.”
“It’s just chaotic,” Anderson said. “There’s no crossing guards, nobody directing traffic — it’s a free-for-all.”
A video obtained by the Herald Life shows families, students and pedestrians walking in the middle of the street — some with baby carriages — as cars attempt to enter and exit the parking lot. It also depicts drivers making three-point turns in the parking lot and on Charles Street instead of driving out of Levy-Lakeside toward Merrick Road.
Palma said that district officials have been observing traffic flow at the Charles Street gate daily during arrival and dismissal to determine the viability of the entrance, or if modifications need to be made.
“We’re having the [Town of Hempstead] come out next week to take a look at the overall safety on that block and . . . the possibility of [adding] crosswalks or speed limit signs,” he said. “We’re still looking at whether it would make sense to make it an entrance only.”
Charles Street resident David Keller said that keeping the gate open is “a disaster waiting to happen.” “It’s created more confusion and chances of someone to get hurt,” he said, “and when the school goes to full capacity on [Sept. 21], that’s going to be a whole different nightmare.”