Hempstead Turnpike gets safety improvements
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State crews have finished building 11 raised medians along Hempstead Turnpike, giving pedestrians a safer place to cross the busy thoroughfare in mid-block.
The medians, which rise a few inches above the road surface, give those on foot a clear place to stand if they get caught in the middle of the road. Construction of the last two medians is to be completed Monday, state officials said.
The project acknowledges that people will dart across the road mid-block, despite efforts to force pedestrians to use intersections.
"We know the reality is someone will cross at a shortcut," said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters. While the agency urges pedestrians to use marked crosswalks, Peters said, it won't "ignore reality."
"We identified where pedestrians cross mid-block, so they will provide a refuge for those who can't get across" the full width of the roadway, she said.
The medians are part of a broader agency effort to improve pedestrian safety along the 16-mile stretch of highway in Nassau County. Other initiatives include moving some bus stops closer to crosswalks, improving signs and markings and adding fences to keep people on foot from crossing some of the most dangerous areas.
A Newsday investigation last year found that from 2005 to 2010, pedestrians died an average of more than five times a year after being hit by cars. During that period, 32 people on foot were killed in 457 accidents.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy watchdog group, in February named Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau the region's most dangerous road for people on foot for the fifth time since 2008.
The medians, which cost about $40,000 each, were to be completed by the end of 2012, but superstorm Sandy delayed the work, Peters said.
In Franklin Square, pedestrians using the bus stop on Hempstead Turnpike near New Hyde Park Road said they use the median across from the stop because walking to the crosswalks at either end of the block would be out of the way.
"It's more convenient in day-to-day life," said Harry Singh, 23, of New Hyde Park, who crosses the road mid-block to go from the bus stop to his job at the AT&T store directly across the street. He acknowledged crossing at that spot is dangerous. "It's useful, but you have to be careful."
Other pedestrians said they would cross mid-block, and use the raised median, if going to the crosswalk takes them out of their way.
"If the traffic is clear, I'll cross at the median," said Rima Bell, 53, of Elmont, who was waiting for a bus in Franklin Square.
Some local business owners and employees along Hempstead Turnpike said the medians aren't helpful and pedestrians should just use crosswalks.
Mary Anne Bongiorno, manager of the Silver Star Diner at Claflin Boulevard, cited the height of the medians as a problem.
"They're so small, car tires will go over them," she said. "It's a waste of time and money."
Other improvements such as lights that allow longer crossing times at crosswalks have made it easier for pedestrians to negotiate the street, she said.
The state spent $1 million on Hempstead Turnpike improvements last year, Peters said.
The state Department of Transportation spent $1 million on Hempstead Turnpike pedestrian safety improvement projects last year, spokeswoman Eileen Peters said. In addition to constructing 13 raised medians, the state has:
-- Reprogrammed lights at 53 crosswalks to give pedestrians more time.
-- Put "no turn on red" signs at 232 locations so that pedestrians, who have the right of way, won't get hit by turning cars.
-- Installed a fence along the median in East Meadow near the Nassau University Medical Center to redirect pedestrians to the crosswalk.
Planned projects include:
-- Making crosswalks more visible and adding countdown timers.
-- Redesigning traffic signals to make adjustments such as adding left-turn signals
-- Moving bus stops closer to crosswalks at six locations