For pedestrians, Hempstead Turnpike has become a gauntlet, a shockingly dangerous road that is consistently the most deadly thoroughfare on Long Island.
According to stories by Newsday, in the six years from 2005 to 2010, 32 people were killed and at least 427 were injured in automobile accidents that involved pedestrians, a far worse rate per mile driven than comparable east-west Long Island roads like Northern Boulevard, Jericho Turnpike, Sunrise Highway and Hillside Avenue. Experts say distances of as much as 1,500 feet between crosswalks and frequent jaywalking contribute to the danger. In addition, many deaths occur at intersections, sometimes when turning drivers fail to yield to those walking across the turnpike.
Improvements have been made in recent years, most notably pedestrian countdown signals installed along most of Hempstead Turnpike with federal stimulus funds. However, traffic experts and walkers agree the danger is still severe. The state Department of Transportation, which has been getting complaints for decades but done little to improve the situation, says there is no money for big changes, like medians and fencing to prevent jaywalking. Pedestrian advocates counter that the DOT is always far more concerned about the flow of cars than the safety of those afoot.
Conditions need to be improved for walkers, but so do the behaviors that lead to fatalities.
People are dying because we've become so hurried, so frantic and so distracted. Drivers proceed at deadly speed, eyes and thoughts everywhere but on the road. Pedestrians can't be bothered to use a crosswalk, and gamble they can beat speeding cars.
Hempstead Turnpike needs more crosswalk signals, longer opportunities for walkers to cross safely at signals, medians where traversing both sides of the road in one attempt is now difficult and, perhaps, traffic-calming road designs to slow speeding drivers. But drivers and pedestrians alike also have to be educated and prodded to avoid the horrible behavior that causes so many deaths. More law enforcement to ticket jaywalkers and irresponsible drivers is needed. A public-relations campaign about the rights of pedestrians and the responsibilities of drivers also might help.
In nearly every fatal incident between a car and a walker, on Hempstead Turnpike and anywhere else, there is a driver or a pedestrian, or perhaps both, making a reckless decision. The roads should be addressed, but the recklessness should too.