Hempstead Turnpike drive highlights dangers

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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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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

There are plentiful traffic lights and marked crosswalks to help pedestrians get across Hempstead Turnpike. But 7.6 miles into a round-trip drive along the roadway Wednesday, a chat with Kathleen McGoldrick, of Levittown, challenged that notion.

McGoldrick, 78, has no car. She likes to walk, sometimes once or twice a week to the local grocer or convenience store to get her husband's favorite Irish newspaper.

"I wait until the traffic is completely stopped so I don't have a problem," she said.

To cross the turnpike near the entrance of Wantagh State Parkway in Levittown, where she lives, is no small feat.

McGoldrick sometimes has to: 1) Step off the sidewalk and cross a narrow roadway to a small traffic island; 2) Cross two eastbound lanes of traffic to a large traffic island; 3) Cross two westbound lanes of traffic to another small traffic island; and 4) Walk across a second narrow roadway to the sidewalk.

Has she ever had to hurry? "Sometimes," McGoldrick said. "Although at my age, I don't feel like running anymore."

Standing alongside the roadway I can catch the rhythm of the traffic. Sometimes it screams. Sometimes it slows -- one car here, a car and a truck there. Nearby, a woman expertly quicksteps across, taking full advantage of those gaps.

Near Nassau University Medical Center, groups of pedestrians rushed across the turnpike, chasing a bus. None are in a crosswalk. But they make the bus -- because a red light has stopped us motorists.

At Hofstra University, a student named Dan was the last to hurry across. "It's not so bad," he said. Why not walk the 34 steps up and onto the nearby skyway? Wouldn't that be safer? Dan, joining a stream of fast-moving students, didn't stay long enough to consider the question.

In Hempstead Village the turnpike squeezed to a tendril. A speeding truck barely missed brushing a woman who'd just left her car. In West Hempstead, where it widened slightly, postal carrier Jimmy Tom pulled a mail cart across the turnpike. A few blocks away, Tom would have to pull it back across. "I haven't had a problem," he said as two big trucks and a bus roared past. "I cross with a careful eye."

In Elmont, Stacey Pommells stepped off a bus, to the curb and politely signaled a request for me to stop so she could cross. She'd traveled from Queens to get to work. "Sometimes you look and see the cars just coming at you. You have to watch it."

Nearby, a barbershop sign asked patrons to park across the turnpike, presenting a new challenge: The shop was directly across, but crosswalks were hundreds of feet away.

It would take 22.05 seconds to make a straight walk across; 31.79 seconds to make it back because of heavy traffic. I was almost to safety when a truck came barreling out of nowhere.

Back at the car, the radio -- I swear! -- played Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run." Which, for now, alas, seems a necessary skill for perambulating the metropolitan area's most dangerous road for pedestrians.

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