New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald testifies...

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald testifies before a joint legislative budget hearing on transportation in Albany, N.Y. (Jan. 26, 2012) Credit: AP

State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said Wednesday that she wants short-term safety fixes and long-term solutions to make Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County safer for pedestrians.

"Safety is our top priority," McDonald said in an interview. "We can always improve."

She ordered engineers in Albany and at the DOT's Region 10 headquarters in Hauppauge to consider specific short-term improvements for the entire 16-mile corridor in Nassau and report back in one to three months.

She said she also directed them, within the same time frame, to give her a range of options for long-term, big-ticket changes to make the road safer for pedestrians.

The action by the top transportation official came after Newsday published an investigation of pedestrian deaths and injuries on Hempstead Turnpike -- labeled the metropolitan area's deadliest road for pedestrians for four consecutive years by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group. The road, also known as State Route 24, is expected to remain at or near the top of this year's listing.

Thirty-two people were killed and at least 427 injured in 457 pedestrian accidents on the turnpike from 2005 through 2010, Newsday's analysis of police reports found. Another three pedestrians were killed through July 2011, and a 72-year-old man died Wednesday after he was struck Tuesday night in Elmont.

More than half of the pedestrians hit were struck in intersections, many of them by vehicles that were turning. Less than half were hit in stretches away from intersections or crosswalks; traffic engineers cited long stretches between traffic signals as encouraging people to jaywalk.

Newsday's analysis also found that Hempstead Turnpike, when compared with Nassau's other east-west state roads, has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities per vehicle-miles-traveled, or VMT, a statistic that takes traffic volume into account.

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), whose 6th District includes much of the turnpike, welcomed McDonald's announcement.

"That's the type of focus we need," Hannon said. "I do feel that there is the intelligence and capacity in the regional office to get the job done once there is direction, and usually there's funding to go with it."

Lisa Saunders of Seattle -- whose parents, Richard and Dorothy Costleigh, were killed in Franklin Square in 2006 when a truck hit them on the sidewalk alongside the turnpike -- commended McDonald.

"It is a start to a complex issue that requires thorough analysis, and a well-developed and funded plan," said Saunders, 43, adding that she hopes expert analysis yields a "comprehensive plan."

McDonald said any changes must be made in conjunction with beefed-up enforcement of traffic laws by police and a public education campaign about the dangers of midblock crossings and such distractions as cellphones.

Specific changes she wants engineers to consider would affect how drivers now use the road. McDonald said engineers should consider closing gaps in medians where vehicles now can turn, as well as restrictions on parking and addition of red-light cameras. She also suggested installation of crosswalk countdown signals at intersections that don't have them and high-visibility street signs.

"We've already identified intersections that don't have [countdown] signals," McDonald said.

McDonald didn't put a price tag on the improvements she wants considered. She said she realizes long-term changes "would involve higher costs" with money that must come from capital-program funds. Federal money is a possibility, she said."We would have to decide what the capital costs would be," McDonald said. "It goes without saying that the capital dollars are limited."

Some money could come from capital funds designated for projects elsewhere, she said. In a policy change she made last spring, McDonald said, DOT officials look at the entire capital program and target funds to projects with high-priority safety issues.

"We may have to defer some other project to make these improvements," McDonald said.

Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), whose district includes sections of the turnpike in Hempstead Village and near Hofstra University, also welcomed the news.

"We just need a better-quality road and we need better law enforcement," he said.Ryan Lynch, senior planner with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said he looks forward to working with McDonald "in finding solutions to the safety issues that are Hempstead Turnpike."



Hempstead Turnpike safety fixes


State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald ordered DOT engineers to report in one to three months on safety improvements for Hempstead Turnpike's 16 miles in Nassau County. She asked them to consider:


Continuous road medians, filling gaps where vehicles now are allowed to turn.

Turn-lane modifications.

Installation of red-light cameras.

On-street parking restrictions.

More crosswalk countdown signals.

Update 2009 DOT safety study for "Safe Seniors" program that focused on elderly pedestrians.



Present long-term options for safety improvements throughout the corridor.

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