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Transportation officials: Consider 'road diet' approach

Nassau's project list features renovation of Grand Avenue in Baldwin, upgrade of an Atlantic Beach evacuation route and study of Elmont's traffic.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Get out and walk or bike, even fly a drone, and include users of wheelchairs when surveying dangerous intersections — and be sure to evaluate those road crossings during the day and at night, Long Island officials and transportation and other experts advised at a panel on Friday.

Dozens of projects to smooth traffic, prevent collisions between cars, pedestrians and bicyclists, and help turn downtowns back into magnets for people were discussed at a Long Island Complete Streets Coalition workshop at Molloy College’s Sustainability Institute. 

“The overall goal is to save lives … to make our downtowns more walkable, more vibrant, which is great for our economy,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told reporters. “It’s also about boosting bicycle-riding and walking.”

The state's 2011 “Complete Streets” law requires planners seeking state and federal funds to improve roads for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, noted Glenn Murrell, the state Department of Transportation's Long Island planning and program manager.

To reduce gridlock, create safer conditions and foster what is called "green transportation," planners can consider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pullouts, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic-calming measures, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s website.

Since superstorm Sandy in October 2012, reducing flooding and ponding also is an imperative, noted Patricia Bourne, economic development director for the City of Long Beach.

Jonathan Keyes, Suffolk County's director of downtown and transit-oriented development, outlined the coming bike-share program and called on the public to recommend gaps in its bikes and trails that the county might connect.

Nassau's project list featured renovating Grand Avenue in Baldwin, upgrading an Atlantic Beach evacuation route, starting the transformation of the historic Long Island Motor Parkway into a trail for walkers and bicyclists, and studying Elmont’s traffic, said Sean Sallie, deputy commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Public Works.

Long Island historically has been a vehicle-dominated culture and every community is unique, which means some “context-sensitivity” will be required, said the experts, advising as much public involvement as possible throughout projects to guard against any backlash.

Consider the “road diet” approach. That is a proposal for a section of Grand Avenue from Merrick Road to Sunrise Highway.

The number of lanes would be halved to two with a third lane, for turning, added in the middle — with the aim of reducing rear-end collisions.

“We’ve found that people just stop suddenly,” Curran said. “The goal is not to slow people down, but to have them drive in a smooth, safe way.”

Nassau Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport), emphasizing the need for outreach, said the "road diet" was the top issue troubling her constituents. “People just don’t understand,” she said.

The experts said the design might seem off-putting, at least initially, because drivers may believe removing lanes will slow them down, though avoiding motorists who are making turns or hunting for their destinations should be easier. 

Lindenhurst's possible fixes for a dangerous spot include adding a traffic island in the middle of the street, said Frank Wefering, director of sustainability for Greeman-Pedersen Inc., an engineering and construction services firm. A few people in a group of 25 who tested the current road, he said, could not make it across in time.

Planners also must cope with an abundance of paperwork with state and federal grants, and some requirements can drive up a project's cost, said Michael Levine, commissioner of planning for the Town of Hempstead.

Experts also advised that communities cooperate when overhauling roads or trails, so a lane or path does not end at a border.

Some of today’s traffic designers have inherited failed or outmoded designs. Said Daniel Winkelman, transportation systems team leader at VHB Engineering in Greenlawn, “What may work today may not tomorrow.”

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