Nassau County is taking its first step toward reducing the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries along Hempstead Turnpike, the region's most dangerous road for people on foot.
The county plans to blanket communities along Hempstead Turnpike with 5,000 fliers and posters as part of a campaign to remind walkers of the dangers of crossing the 16-mile highway without the aid of pedestrian signals and crosswalks.
Walk Safe Nassau County is the start of a broader initiative that will include engineering changes and tougher traffic-law enforcement, said Chris Mistron, the county's Traffic Safety Committee educator. "It's just the beginning," he said.
The county's effort comes after the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy group, in March released a report that found Hempstead Turnpike had more fatal pedestrian crashes between 2008 and 2010 than any other road in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It's the fourth time the turnpike topped the ranking since 2008.
Pedestrian fatalities have continued to plague the highway this year. On April 5, a 16-year-old boy died after being struck by a car in Levittown. A 72-year-old man died after being hit by a van in Elmont on Feb. 14.
Average of 5 killed yearly
A Newsday investigation in February found that, on average, five Hempstead Turnpike pedestrians were killed a year between 2005 and 2010.
"I have ordered the implementation of an aggressive countywide educational campaign, coupled with increased enforcement by the Nassau County Police Department to make the Hempstead Turnpike corridor, and every Nassau County roadway, as safe as possible for all pedestrians," County Executive Edward Mangano said.
The fliers and posters, which offer safety reminders to drivers and pedestrians, will be displayed at businesses and shops along the turnpike, and at bus stations, senior centers and schools. They should be ready for display by the end of the month, Mistron said.
The county, which maintains a section of the state highway in Hempstead Village, is using state money targeted for aggressive driving to print the materials, and applying for a $15,000 state grant to continue the education campaign, Mistron said.
Ryan Lynch, of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, praised the effort but said it wasn't a solution. "Education is a good first step," he said. "The real impact is when you design a road that supports walkable communities."
Mistron said the campaign is based on research that shows most of the pedestrian crashes occurred midblock, or when people on foot crossed without help from a pedestrian signal or marked crosswalk.
For pedestrians, the posters and fliers encourage paying attention and using crosswalks. Drivers are reminded to stop for pedestrians in intersections, not block crosswalks, and to never run red lights.
"The motorist doesn't expect the pedestrian to be there and the pedestrians aren't crossing safely," Mistron said. "Responsibility is going to be key -- pedestrians have the responsibility to try to keep themselves safe."
Walking while impaired
That responsibility includes being sober enough to cross the highway safely, he said.
County officials' research found that pedestrians in 8 of 17 fatalities on Hempstead Turnpike between 2008 and 2011 were impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Mistron said the pedestrian signals and crosswalks on the turnpike are sufficient for a sober person to cross.
But Lynch, of the transportation advocacy group, said redesigning the road so cars travel at lower speeds would mean pedestrians -- even intoxicated ones -- might "have a fighting chance" to survive if hit by a car.
Research shows the speed of cars plays a role in fatality rates. When hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 mph, a pedestrian has an 85 percent chance of being killed. At 30 mph, the likelihood of being killed decreases to 45 percent, the Federal Highway Administration said.
Newsday's yearlong investigation of pedestrian fatalities on the turnpike found 32 people were killed and at least 427 were injured in 457 pedestrian accidents from 2005 through 2010. Another three pedestrians were killed through July 2011.
After Newsday's series, state Commissioner of Transportation Joan McDonald asked DOT engineers to suggest short-term fixes and long-term solutions within 90 days.
"The commissioner has been meeting weekly with staff and is pleased with progress that's being made," McDonald spokesman Bill Reynolds said.