Solutions for Hempstead Tpke. woes offered

Pedestrians cross at the intersection of Franklin Avenue Pedestrians cross at the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike in Franklin Square. (July 27, 2011) Photo Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

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Federal money targeted at roads with numerous pedestrian crashes, a beefed-up law enforcement effort and a public education campaign aimed at encouraging walkers to avoid crossing mid-block were offered Thursday as ways to make Hempstead Turnpike safer.

The efforts announced Thursday came after New York State's Secretary of Transportation Joan McDonald said that she wanted state engineers to come up with short-term fixes and long-term solutions to Hempstead Turnpike pedestrian safety issues.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy group, has identified Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County as the most dangerous road for pedestrians in the region for three years in a row.

Sen. Charles Schumer said Thursday that he would add an amendment to a transportation funding bill that requires state officials to target federal highway money to roads like Hempstead Turnpike -- highways with a track record of being dangerous for pedestrians.

The total funding pot of the Surface Transportation Bill is proposed to increase from $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2011 to $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2013. It would include a $65 million increase for the New York State Department of Transportation.

"Hempstead Turnpike is a dangerous road for anyone who tries to cross it, and it's past time to do something about it," Schumer said.

Schumer made the announcement about the legislation amendment days after Newsday published an investigation of pedestrian deaths and injuries on Hempstead Turnpike.

Thirty-two people were killed and at least 427 were injured in 457 pedestrian crashes on the turnpike from 2005 through 2010, Newsday's analysis found.

Another three pedestrians were killed through July 2011, and a 72-year-old man from Jamaica, Queens, died Wednesday after he was hit by a car Tuesday night in Elmont.

At the time of the collision, the man, whose identity wasn't released Thursday, had been walking southbound when hit by a westbound vehicle.

One of Newsday's findings was that more than half of the pedestrians hit on the turnpike were struck in intersections, many by turning vehicles. Less than half occurred away from intersections, and transportation experts said long distances between crosswalk signals encouraged people to cross the highway in the middle of the block.

Thursday, Nassau County Police Deputy Chief Frank Kirby said police will be increasing their patrols along Hempstead Turnpike when the weather gets better and more people are traversing on foot.

Officers will also be looking at crash statistics for areas where collisions between cars and people frequently happen. Police will look for red light violations and unsafe left turns.

"We'll try to specifically target these knockdown zones and these dangerous intersections and see if we can impact it there," said Kirby, of the department's chief of patrol office.

Nassau County also is planning to shift state grant money it holds from other programs to help make pedestrians safer on Hempstead Turnpike, said Chris Mistron, Nassau County's traffic safety educator.

"Within the last day alone, the county has been able to identify sources that will allow us to begin the education program," Mistron said. "The real message that we want to get out there: that drivers must recognize that they must share the road, yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk."

With Matthew Chayes

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