State begins building pedestrian islands on Hempstead Tpke.

Pedestrians cross Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, where

Pedestrians cross Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, where a damaged section of fence sits in the median. (February 25, 2013) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

State transportation department crews have started building new refuge islands in the middle of Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County as part of a program to make crossing the road safer for pedestrians.

Workers last week started cutting the blacktop in center sections of the highway, also known as Route 24, in Franklin Square, east of the intersection with New Hyde Park Road.

"Now we have work under way on 13 median islands," said Jennifer Post, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation in Albany. "Obviously we prefer pedestrians to cross at intersections, but we're installing these refuges at these locations where pedestrians frequently cross midblock."

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Raised islands at eight spots on the turnpike are scheduled to be completed next month, Post said. The islands give pedestrians a safer place to stand if they get caught in the middle of the roadway with traffic moving in both directions.

A Newsday investigation last year examined police accident reports from 2005 through 2010 and found that pedestrians were killed, on average, more than five times a year in collisions with cars on the road's 16 miles through Nassau. Thirty-two people were killed and at least 427 injured in 457 pedestrian accidents on the road over the six years.

Monday, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group, named Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau the most dangerous road for walkers for the fifth time since 2008.

Other work planned to make the highway safer includes five new crosswalks, new traffic signals at three locations, and modifying a traffic signal at a fourth intersection.

Once the new signals are installed, the state will work with Nassau to move six NICE bus stops closer to crosswalks. In Franklin Square, pedestrians often dart across the turnpike midblock to catch a connecting bus.

Last month, the state installed fencing along a median on the turnpike in East Meadow near Nassau University Medical Center. The 4-foot-high fencing is supposed to force pedestrians to cross at intersections with traffic and pedestrian signals.

"The fence . . . is forcing patients, employees and community residents to cross at the light instead of in the middle of the road with oncoming traffic, thus hopefully preventing pedestrian injuries," hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said.

A part of the 1,000-foot-long fence was bent recently, but repair work is scheduled, Post said.

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