They Say Tidy Neighborhood
Looks Like ‘Fire, Accident Scene’
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – How do you stop a stop sign?
About 25 neighbors expressed their opposition at Monday’s Village Board meeting to a flashing stop sign at the intersection of Fair and Lake streets, with Bernie Viek, owner of 10 Lake Boat & Lodging as the group’s unofficial leader.
The village installed the sign, rimmed with pulsing red lights, on August 28, four months after John Smirk, 75, of Cooperstown, drove down Lake Street into Otsego Lake and drowned.
“I applaud the sign’s safety and technology … but when I first saw it, I thought it was either a crime scene or an accident,” said Jim Howarth, 2 Lake, the first to speak.
Even though he’s a block away from the intersection and it wouldn’t affect his property value, he was concerned by the stop sign’s appearance as “a community citizen.”
“We have a vista, a beautiful lake, and now you have a strobe light blocking it,” said Carla MacMillan of 12 Main, two blocks away.
Chip Northrup, 17 River, spoke his mind on the sign while striding around the room.
“It’s the design of … a public road that terminates with a ramp and goes right into the lake,” he said. “That’s the fundamental problem.”
“There evidently was no Texas Aggie involved in that design,” Northrup quipped, who spends his winter in Dallas.
Most of the people speaking out against the sign offered ideas they thought would be more effective in preventing an event like the April 17 drowning.
“Our unfortunate resident who went through [the intersection] last spring would have gone through it no matter what,” MacMillan said.
Veronica Gil suggested putting a speedbump at the Lakefront Hotel’s parking lot entrance.
“It would slow people down and still make that view pretty,” she said.
Bill Weldon, 13 Main, spoke about “a gate with a kind of spring system that could be configured so it would open even if unattended and those wanting to launch boats could unhook it and reset it.
“I know that’s going to require some work, but I definitely think the blinking lights of the stop sign do more harm than good,” he said.
Viek waited to speak until near the end of the meeting’s public-comment period about his idea, putting two signs at the boat launch’s ramp.
“Putting a sawhorse across the ramp is an excellent idea, but since the ramp is so narrow, a sign on either side would make it difficult to drive right through to the lake,” he said. “If you leave 15 feet with a barrier on one side, people may still think they can go around it.”
“Hopefully we can come to a solution that everyone is happy with,” Viek added.
One audience member, Victor Carrascoso, offered a different viewpoint.
“I was there that night,” he said. “That man was driving on Pioneer Street … and swung around an ambulance that happened to be there, then drove over to Fair Street to go into the lake. It was no accident.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary to rewrite Cooperstown, putting barriers to lake,” Carrascoso added. “Those barriers wouldn’t have stopped him. If the stop sign was put there to do that, it’s kind of silly.”
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch said the village is trying to abide by state traffic law that made it “the duty of every municipality…whenever such street terminates in a dead end or at the embankment…of a lake…or other body of water to post and keep posted a sign readily visible by day and night.”
“But we have certainly heard you tonight and will consider some of the solutions,” she said.