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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

More pedestrian safety fixes needed on Hempstead Turnpike

A pedestrian trying to cross Hempstead Turnpike pushes

A pedestrian trying to cross Hempstead Turnpike pushes a button to change the signal at the interection with Plainfield Road in Elmont on Sept. 13, 2012. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The fact that eight people have been struck and killed since fixes to Hempstead Turnpike began shows that the problem of pedestrian accidents along one of the region's most dangerous roads for pedestrians is far from being solved.

That's not to say that the state Department of Transportation's $2.2-million effort to boost safety along the roadway is a failure.

Portions of the roadway, which begins at the Nassau-Queens line and ends near the Suffolk County line, now sport new or widened sidewalks, no-left-turn signs, audible crosswalk signals, raised medians and other changes that allow pedestrians more time to get from one side of the road to the other.

But the work is not done.

The department says it will continue to assess and make other improvements along the roadway where necessary. It's a promise the agency must keep -- sooner rather than later.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a watchdog transportation agency group, has said the state hasn't done enough.

Yes, Hempstead Turnpike has dropped to second from what seemed to be a perennial first place on Tri-State Transportation's "Most Dangerous" list for pedestrian fatalities between 2010 and 2012.

During that period, twelve pedestrians were killed on the road.

But eight more deaths since the state began improvements in 2012 is unacceptable, too.

Three pedestrians died in 2012 and three more in 2013. This year, an alleged drunken driver struck and killed an 81-year-old man after he got off a bus and was crossing the roadway.

The most recent death came two weeks ago, when Bryanna Soplin, 13, who relatives said had Down syndrome, was struck as she crossed Hempstead Turnpike at Gardiners Avenue in Levittown.

A retired NYPD officer, Michael Elardo, 48, turned himself in to police two days later and has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Police are still investigating.

All of which means that Hempstead Turnpike, even with the state's improvements, remains dangerous for pedestrians, be they seniors or teens.

What happens now?

It will take a sustained combination of efforts to make the roadway significantly safer.

The primary responsibility, of course, rests with pedestrians and motorists.

It requires sustained attention and skill to navigate most portions of the roadway, which stretches, straight and wide through most of Nassau -- except in Hempstead Village, where it unexpectedly narrows and twists.

Education and tougher enforcement will help too, especially since there are now so many no-left-turn signs and new medians geared toward slowing traffic flow.

It takes time to adapt to change. And a more visible police presence at trouble spots, along with aggressive attention to dangerous drivers should help too.

But the state transportation department will continue to have an essential role, too. Its $2.2-million Hempstead Turnpike improvement project certainly was necessary -- but with eight deaths since 2012, the job is incomplete.

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