Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Oriental Boulevard's pedestrian-activated stoplight at Ocean Avenue is designed to slow down cars, but it's also bringing religious Jews trying to cross the Manhattan Beach thoroughfare to a complete halt on the Sabbath, residents claim.
Manhattan Beach residents say religious Jews who go to synagogue each weekend are forbidden by Jewish law to press the button that would turn the flashing yellow signal to a red light — leaving them with only two options: crossing the street against the light or going four blocks out of their way for a stoplight that turns red at regular intervals.
"There are quite a few religious Jews who live in Manhattan Beach who wouldn't have to desecrate the Sabbath if the light was automatic," said Rabbi Abrohom Winner of the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in Manhattan Beach, who said that lighting a spark — which also means flipping a switch — is forbidden during the sabbath, according to Jewish law "By turning on a light switch, we're creating a current flow of electricity, which is considered a fire," Rabbi Winner said. "So it's forbidden."
This paper asked the Department of Transportation if the agency considers religious laws, Jewish or otherwise, when deciding what type of street lights are installed in a neighborhood. The Department of Transportation responded, but wouldn't address the issue of religion.
"The Department of Transportation is currently re-evaluating this intersection to see if it meets the criteria for a traffic signal," an agency spokesman said. "That study is expected to be completed next month."
The agency said it has not received any complaints against the pedestrian-activated streetlight since it was installed in 2005. The Department of Transportation also went over the button's operation with community members prior to its installation, but no concerns were raised, according to the Department of Transportation spokesman.
But community leaders dispute the city's claims.
"Saying that this problem has been never discussed is not true," said Community Board 15 chairwoman Teresa Scavo. "We were in the commissioner's office several months ago and it was discussed again."
Scavo says CB15 routinely demand traffic signal studies to see if the intersection warrants a traditional signal. The Board, she said, was led to understand that the flashing light could be removed if residents didn't like it.
"It was supposed to be a test, and if the community didn't think it was good, we were under the impression that it would be turned into a traditional traffic light, but that never happened," Scavo said.
Even local legislators are calling for a traditional red, yellow, and green stoplight at the intersection.
"The city must reexamine the boulevard to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to cross safely, without exception," said Chaim Deutsch, a spokesman for Councilman Michael Nelson (D–Sheepshead Bay). "Having the red light button is crucial for pedestrian safety, but it needs be replaced with a steady signal to allow people of the Jewish faith to travel safely, without having to desecrate the Sabbath."
Yet some say all the fuss is unwarranted since Oriental Boulevard is not Brooklyn's version of Queens Boulevard, where several people have been killed by speeding cars.
"It's not such a busy street," resident Stan Ulis said.
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