As Malverne resident Frank Otto pulled out of the driveway to his home, located on Hempstead Avenue, he peered over his shoulder to check for any cars approaching in the southbound lane. "All clear," he thought to himself. Then, as he made a right turn into the traffic lane he saw the front of another vehicle heading directly toward him. Both drivers slammed on their brakes just in time.
"After 14 months, I've almost had two head-on collisions," an infuriated Otto told the Malverne Village Board of Trustees at its November meeting. Both near-misses occurred right outside Otto's home on Hempstead Avenue, a street he says has become "a safety issue" in recent months.
The problems started occurring over a year ago, after Nassau County replaced the traffic signals on the busy street. The new signals are equipped with sensors that can monitor traffic conditions and adjust the timing of the lights accordingly. These were implemented to mitigate congestion, but Otto, a 28-year resident of the village, said the new technology has only made traffic worse.
During rush hour, congestion is so bad, especially when a train is coming through the village, that drivers perform reckless maneuvers to avoid the intersections where the signals cause the worst delays.
"Traffic is backed up for three to four blocks, with 10 minute delays," Otto observed.
He has witnessed frustrated drivers darting through the small parking lot next to the Cork n'Board restaurant, speeding down Rider Ave and heading north in the southbound lane of Hempstead Avenue as they attempt to create detours around the traffic.
"When you find a car staring you in the face...someone, like me, is gonna be killed!" he added.
The idling cars backed up along Hempstead Avenue have caused another problem, according to Otto. During the peak traffic hours, the street is blanketed in a thick layer of smog.
"It's like being at the Triboro Bridge toll booth on Mother's Day," he said. "I can't stand to sit in front of my house."
For months, Otto expressed his discontent over these issues to village officials, who invited the Nassau County Commissioner of Public Works, Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, to Malverne to assess the conditions on Hempstead Avenue.
"I have been told that she sees no problem," Malverne Mayor Patricia Norris-McDonald said at the November meeting, but Otto was not satisfied with this response. He threatened to sue Nassau County if these issues were not fixed.
"I don't want to be the bad guy in Malverne," he told village officials. "But if that's what it takes, then I'll do it. I"ll sue the County."
He even stated that he would bring in the Environmental Protection Agency to take air quality samples outside of his home if the problems persisted.
In response to Otto's statements at the meeting, the Commissioner made another trip to Malverne. She stood on Hempstead Avenue on Nov. 12, next to Otto, Mayor Norris-McDonald, Malverne Police Chief John Aresta, Village Trustee Mike Bailey and other Nassau County officials, around 3p.m. as traffic started to pick up.
"We did encounter some of the problems Mr. Otto was speaking about," Mayor Norris-McDonald said. "There was some validity to what he was saying."
The County officials took notes and they are trying to get the situation under control, she added.
As for Otto, "he was happy the commissioner and other individuals from the county came," she said.
Maybe he won't need to sue the county after all. Only time will tell.