As requested by the Board, following our last public comment meeting in October, I have looked into the situation regarding the block of Littleworth Lane between the school and the school playground, between Hansen Place and Carpenter Ave. I have urgent findings.
Just last week I witnessed multiple near-miss accidents on that block of Littleworth, while it was open to traffic, and heard about several others. It is absolutely clear to me that this is a very dangerous situation.
Pursuant to the NYS Court of Appeals Case Turturro v. City of New York from December 2016, municipalities have tort liability for motor vehicle accidents on their roads where they have been notified by the public of inherent dangers on those roads, such as is the case with Littleworth Lane by the school.
The ruling in the Turturro Case, in which a 12 year old boy riding his bike was struck and seriously injured by a speeding car on a street which city officials knew was dangerous because public comments has been made stating such, makes clear the municipalities’ legal responsibility to — at the very least — conduct a reasonable study with an eye toward alleviating the danger. This is a quote from Judge Fahey writing for the majority:
“We do not suggest that a municipality has a proprietary duty to keep its roadways free from all unlawful or reckless driving behavior. Under the particular circumstances of this case, however, plaintiffs demonstrated that the City was made aware through repeated complaints of ongoing speeding along Gerritsen Avenue, that the City could have implemented roadway design changes in the form of traffic calming measures to deter speeding, and that the City failed to conduct a study of whether traffic calming measures were appropriate and therefore failed to implement any such measures…
We therefore conclude that the specific acts or omissions that plaintiffs claim caused the injury arose from the City’s failure to keep Gerritsen Avenue in a reasonably safe condition. Specifically, the City failed to conduct an adequate study of whether to implement roadway design changes that would have controlled speeding. As such, the City was acting in a proprietary capacity. Plaintiffs had no obligation to prove special duty, and the City cannot rely on the governmental function immunity defense.”
The village has tacitly conceded that this section of Littleworth is indeed dangerous by approving the road closure during school hours for so many years. In many past Board meetings, many residents have stood up and recounted near-miss accidents, described the dangers on that block and pleaded with the trustees and mayor to close the street. The street is dangerous not only during school hours but all the time, especially weekends and school holidays, when children use the playgrounds.
Additionally, NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law Article 39 1640 allows for a village to close a road temporarily or permanently for safety reasons. The Law (VTL 1640) says:
“The legislative body of any city or village, with respect to highways in such city or village may by local law, ordinance, order, rule or regulation:
8. Designate safety zones and
- Adopt such additional reasonable local laws, ordinances, orders, rules and regulations with respect to traffic as local conditions may require subject to the limitations contained in the various laws of this state.”
This section of NYS VTL provides for the legality of a local ordinance to close Littleworth Lane. Section 1604 of NYS VTL states that local ordinances are prohibited except as otherwise provided. Here, in section 1640 #s 8 and 16, is the provision for the legality of local ordinances, specifically for safety.
In light of these findings, I am requesting that our Board please take two actions tonight. We as a village are at risk every moment that road is open. We need to take precautions to limit our liability right now. The first action is to close that block of Littleworth Lane 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until a plan for the block is agreed on and enacted. The second is to begin the process of creating a plan by conducting a SEQRA* review of the permanent closure of this block.
At this time I think that it would be respectful and proper to alter the agenda and open the meeting to public comment, as I believe that there are many citizens here who came to comment on this topic. If the mayor does not wish to allow public comments at this time, then I would like to make two motions. Mr. Mayor, will you open the meeting to public comment at this time?
I make the motion that the Board closes Littleworth Lane between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week beginning immediately and until such time as a safe plan for that block is approved and implemented.
I make a motion that the Board approves a SEQRA review for the permanent closure of Littleworth Lane between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue to begin immediately.
The text below provides supporting information on NYS Court of Appeals, SEQRA, and the Turturro Case:
What is NYS Court of Appeals and do their rulings affect Sea Cliff? (below is from the NYS Court of Appeals website):
“The Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, is composed of a Chief Judge and six Associate Judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. New York’s highest appellate court was established to articulate statewide principles of law in the context of deciding particular lawsuits. The Court thus generally focuses on broad issues of law as distinguished from individual factual disputes. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties.”
*SEQRA stands for State Environmental Quality Review Act and is required by most projects proposed by local governments. The SEQRA decision-making process encourages communication among government agencies, project sponsors and the general public. The process examines ways to reduce or avoid adverse environmental impacts related to the proposed action and includes an analysis of all reasonable alternatives.
Press Coverage of the Turturro Ruling and video of NYS Court of Appeals: