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Pedestrian crashes a problem on Hempstead Turnpike

The bus crash that killed a 6-year-old boy Tuesday in Hempstead Village occurred after a Nassau County bus swerved to avoid a pedestrian jaywalking across a busy section of Fulton Avenue -- a safety issue documented in a Newsday investigation.

Failure to use a crosswalk or crossing against traffic signals, especially in Hempstead, which bustles with pedestrian and mass-transit traffic day and night, was identified as a safety problem by experts and traffic engineers in the paper's February series on Hempstead Turnpike.

Newsday analyzed police accident reports from 2005 through 2010 of nearly 460 cases in which pedestrians were hit on the turnpike in Nassau, finding 32 fatalities. On average, five pedestrians died each year from 2005 through mid-2011.

Tuesday night's fatality occurred on a part of Fulton Avenue that was not identified as one of the worst for pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Newsday's investigation. The crash happened near Tennessee Avenue's intersection with Fulton Avenue, and not far from the Nassau Place intersection, police said.

There were two pedestrian accidents, one fatal, near Fulton Avenue and Tennessee Avenue between 2005 and 2010. The fatal crash involved a 35-year-old man hit by a motorcycle at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2005. There were more pedestrian accidents near the intersection of Nassau Place, five in the same six-year period, all involving adults.

An analysis of the pedestrian-vehicle crashes found multiple intersections along the highway near where there were more than 10 pedestrian crashes in the six-year period studied.

Pedestrians' actions were cited in 59 percent of the pedestrian fatal crashes from 2005 to 2010. That included crossing the highway at points other than at a traffic signal, crossing against traffic signals or simply "wandering off the sidewalk."

Under state law, when no crosswalk is available, pedestrians are allowed to cross without one, but must yield to drivers, who have the legal right of way.

The Department of Transportation last spring released results of its own pedestrian safety study of Hempstead Turnpike, analyzing vehicle-pedestrian crashes from 2008 through 2011 that resulted in 17 pedestrian fatalities. Its findings echoed those of Newsday.

The state found 50 percent of the deaths were because of pedestrian error, and about 33 percent involved pedestrians who had consumed alcohol; 11 percent were under the influence of drugs.

"That's a big problem," said Richard Brustman, a retired safety analyst with the state DOT.As for jaywalking, Brustman said it has "been a problem since the invention of traffic control."

Fencing will be also put up in one target area to discourage jaywalking, the state Department of Transportation said.

A half-dozen new crosswalks were to be added to Route 24, state officials said.

Bus stops will be moved closer to crosswalks in six spots -- a recognition of the turnpike's heavy weekday use by commuters, who often run across multiple lanes of traffic as they transfer from one bus to another.

The work was supposed to cost about $1 million. That money was to be spent in addition about $7 million in improvements made earlier in 2012.

Nassau County and the state joined in a public-awareness campaign called "Walk Safe," which stressed the dangers of crossing mid-block on Hempstead Turnpike.

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