Too often, because of my education in urban planning, Hauppauge is the focus of my planning fantasies.
At times, I see the potential incorporation of Suffolk County's first city due to the confluence of residential, industrial and commercial uses being straddled between two separate towns. At times, envisioning a hub of new bus rapid transit routes along 454, 347, and 111, making public transit in Suffolk clean, efficient, and appealing - very much a different creature than what it is presently. I recognize that these events may only be the product of the most distant of futures.
Small improvements can still be made which would make our community a more appealing, greener and healthier place in a reasonable time period. The saga of the Smithtown school district's busing referendum is revealing about the fabric of our community, as well as Smithtown's.
The retraction of busing became a discussion dominated by claims of compromising student safety and suspicions that teachers were failing to yield enough concessions. Few people used the retraction of busing as an opportunity to question why it was unsafe in their community for a high school student to spend 20 minutes walking to school, or 10 minutes for an elementary school student.
It should not be hazardous to walk in Hauppauge. Our community should never have come to the point where it became hazardous to walk from our homes to the post office, bagel shop, supermarket, bank or Branchinelli's at will. Many who read this may initially rebel at the notion, because we only know the Hauppauge of the present or past 30 years - bisected by major highways at high speed where only the occasional eccentric or unfortunate individual has to walk or bicycle. Pleasant walking environments are reserved for cute downtowns like Babylon, Huntington or Port Jeff. Hauppauge is purely business, you may say, and business means automobile traffic.
I say that the casual observer I just described is wrong. Our community is unique amongst suburban locales, in that when taken as a whole, it is geographically centered on the intersection of Townline Road and Route 111 (Our hamlet center). The post office, library, bagel shop, hardware store, supermarket, pizza place and scores of other shops are none too far from this intersection. To boot, some 1,000 households are within one mile or a 15-minute walk of this intersection in Hauppauge.
So I say, that when you're able to move one of us from driving to walking or cycling regularly within town, you move a portion of our expenses from filling up our gas tank to filling up our own tanks with food and drink our local restaurants and supermarkets are happy to provide. There is no reason why the traditional, "downtown" communities should remain the only one's with pleasant public spaces and walkable commercials areas.
There are basic barriers to enjoying our hamlet center as pedestrians. Sidewalk construction in our area is linked to development of land, a practice which is thankfully not reflected in the construction of our roads (As it would likely mean that roadways in front of undeveloped property would be made of dirt). In terms of sidewalks, this means that unusable parcels such as the small piece of land immediately North of the western split of Route 111 and Townline are unlikely to acquire sidewalks except as part of a wider roadway reconstruction effort, whenever the town, county, or state deems it feasible.
Hence, we Hauppauguians are left with an incomplete network of sidewalks, lack of pedestrian signals and crosswalks at intersections which all contribute to deterring us from using our own two legs and giving our community the vibrancy of seeing people out on the street, bumping into people at random, or granting us a small and enjoyable portion of independence from our automobiles. I know that, at present, Hauppauge is a wonderful, albeit sequestered community.
All of that wonder occurs within the many bubbles of our lives, whether they be our homes, cars, workplaces or classrooms. There is truly limited space where our community reveals a public version of itself in as random and free a forum as the sidewalk in front of Starbucks, and I would like to challenge us to think about what our community could be if we moved toward enriching our public spaces. Thank you for this opportunity Hauppauge.