Emergency Services Officials Discuss Mutual Problems

Focus on hiking, biking and traffic 

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Highlands residents often note the distance, literally and figuratively, between Philipstown and Carmel, the Putnam County seat.

But when county emergency services officials attended a May 24 Town Board workshop, a meeting of the minds occurred on issues that know no geographic or other limits — hazardous traffic and bicyclist and hiker safety.

Philipstown Town Board members, backs to camera, joined by Amber Stickle, town recreation director, far left at table, confer with the Putnam County Emergency Services Safety Advisory Board at Town Hall. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Led by Bureau of Emergency Services Commissioner Anthony Sutton, the county delegation included members of the Emergency Services Safety Advisory Board, among them new recruit Amber Stickle, director of recreation and parks for the Philipstown Recreation Department.

The board, which includes community members and firefighting, emergency medical and law enforcement personnel, identifies and studies safety problems and recommends solutions.


Many topics the group discussed are familiar to Highlands residents. But another may be less so: the growing number of bicyclists and the threats they face from cars.

Sutton mentioned a 2016 accident on Route 301 in which a driver who was texting hit a cyclist and left him severely brain-damaged. Other cyclists are now campaigning for enhanced road safety, Sutton said, although they “didn’t get a real warm welcoming” at the state Department of Transportation. But they did get the attention of the county safety advisory board.

“We have bicyclists along 301 getting hurt, so we’re trying to help them and reduce the need for responses by our firefighters and EMS,” said Robert Lipton, deputy commissioner of emergency services for the county.

Putnam County Emergency Services Commissioner Anthony Sutton (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Sutton said the conversations produced a simple idea: keep roadside brush cut so it does not force cyclists into the center of narrow roads.

“That’s something that will have a big impact right away,” said Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea, who often rides along Route 9D. Shea also advised cyclists to ride in groups.

Stickle suggested that local governments work with Metro-North to create  tip sheets for visitors who bring their bikes aboard trains.


Inevitably, the talk turned to hiking — “always an issue here,” Councilor John Van Tassel commented. “There’s just no way of stopping the people” crowding the steep trails, and, sometimes, suffering mishaps.

Sutton pointed to an emergency services dilemma: which rescuers to dispatch. “It seems a lot of times we get sucked into sending the fire departments up the mountain” instead of park rangers and police, he said. Typically this is because firefighters are closer than park rangers, who may be up to an hour away, he said.

Shea mentioned another problem: graffiti on the rocks. “The toll on the mountain with people defacing the place is awful,” he said.

Route 9D

The town and county group likewise discussed the Route 9D speed limit, which for a stretch north of Cold Spring is 55 mph (despite the many pedestrians who use the road to reach trails), although it is 45 mph going south from Beacon and is also lower in Garrison.

“This discussion has been going on and on for years,” Shea observed. He said the state apparently won’t change the 55-mph sign until work concludes on the Fjord Trail, a planned path between Cold Spring and Beacon.

Councilor Nancy Montgomery suggested the county help pressure the state to act sooner. Sutton agreed. “Collectively we should all have our voices heard,” he said.

Weekend car and pedestrian traffic near the entrance of Little Stony Point. (File photo by M. Turton)

In Cold Spring, too, cars endanger pedestrians, even around the Haldane school campus, Shea added. Some drivers don’t stop for a crosswalk even when a crossing guard is present, he said.

Sutton and Lipton proposed measures such as flashing signs that inform drivers of their speed and remind them of the limit.

One thought on “Emergency Services Officials Discuss Mutual Problems

  1. These roads are increasingly crowded, more intensively used than in the past.

    Keeping roadside brush properly cut, generally, on narrow roads, is low-hanging fruit, so to speak. This should be done regularly. It as well improves visibility for drivers in terms of deer and pedestrians, and other vehicles, nearby, which are other potential causes of accidents.

    There is absolutely no excuse that Park Rangers (not them personally but the state and the management who budget for their numbers and their assignments) to be an hour away from any point in these most heavily used parks (or preserves) in the state. Absolutely no excuse.

    The speed limit in the narrow and ill-maintained, non-conforming tunnel on 9D, dating from 1932, including the sharp, blind right turn upon exiting northbound, should have been reduced from 55 mph a long time ago, independently of the status of the Fjord Trail. It’s not too late to make this change. Also, there probably should be another (small) bore for pedestrians, hikers, and bicyclists. If tunnels can be made during the days of FDR’s governorship, they can be made, and repaired, today.

    On the other hand, all this increased activity on roads and trails is an indication, perhaps, that local and regional management and stewardship has been doing some things right. Or that someone has been getting things right.