Eight pedestrians have been struck and killed since the state Department of Transportation began a $2.2 million safety overhaul of Hempstead Turnpike -- and the toll has advocates alleging New York has not done enough to improve safety on the road.
Perennially named one of the metropolitan area's most dangerous roads for pedestrians, Hempstead Turnpike began undergoing the improvements in March 2012, shortly after Newsday published a series of stories on pedestrian safety on the 16-mile-long road, which runs from the Queens border to the Suffolk County line.
A DOT spokesman defended turnpike improvements, which include the widening of more than 100 crosswalks and installation of raised medians, saying pedestrians and drivers also need to make safety a priority.
In the months after the work began, three pedestrians died on Hempstead Turnpike, also known on some stretches as Franklin Street and Conklin Street. Three more died in 2013 and this year, two were killed while crossing, including an 81-year-old grocery clerk and 13-year-old Bryanna Soplin, who police said was hit June 15 by Michael Elardo, 48, a retired NYPD officer.
Elardo surrendered Tuesday and was being held on $1 million bail on charges of leaving the scene of an accident. Police are still investigating.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a watchdog transportation advocacy group, which has been critical of the agency's efforts, said the improvements have only scratched the surface.
"These [recent fatal] incidents highlight that there should be urgency to do more work sooner rather than later," said campaign associate director Ryan Lynch. A transportation department spokesman said the agency has completed all of its road improvements, which were based on detailed study and have been proved to work elsewhere -- though there is not enough data yet to measure their effectiveness on the turnpike.
"We know that all these measures have a safety benefit as long as they're utilized," said DOT spokesman Beau Duffy. "Engineering is a part of the equation to solve this issue. Education and enforcement are the other parts of the equation."
Human error a factor
Duffy noted that an agency study found human error was a factor in past fatalities. He said county and state officials had embarked on an education campaign, and Nassau police also stepped up enforcement.
"We are committed to making Hempstead Turnpike as safe as it can be through engineering, and we will continue to assess the safety measures and make changes as necessary," Duffy said.
Nassau County Safety Coordinator Chris Mistron said, "The state has worked very hard to make the roadway safer, and now it's up to motorists and pedestrians to buy into those safety improvements."
A February 2012 Newsday investigation, which included analyzing 569 reports of accidents on the turnpike, revealed that pedestrians crossing at intersections remain in significant danger, with walkers struck far more often by drivers turning left than turning right. In addition, the investigation found that nearly half of all pedestrians struck were hit in stretches away from intersections or crosswalks.
Between 2005 and 2011, pedestrians were killed an average of more than five times a year, according to the Newsday analysis.
Earlier this year, Hempstead Turnpike dropped to second on the Tri-State Transportation's "Most Dangerous" list for pedestrian fatalities between 2010 and 2012, when 12 pedestrians were killed on the road, according to the group.
Jacki Point-DuJour, 42, of Queens Village, said he rarely crossed in the middle of the turnpike until the DOT installed a raised median between Plainfield Avenue and Elmont Road in Elmont.
"I feel like it's safe. You have somewhere where you could stand," he said Sunday as he crossed using the median. But he noted drivers speed on the road at night, pointing to a black car whizzing by.
George Hernandez also crossed the turnpike Sunday in the middle of the road, west of Gardiners Avenue in Levittown, where the DOT has widened the crosswalk.
"I saw that the traffic slowed down," he said, adding that he also uses the crosswalk.
Hempstead Turnpike carries a high volume of traffic through a dense commercial environment. The roads also function as major thoroughfares for commuting motorists, with stoplights timed for traffic movement.
Prone to speeding
Lynch said roads like the turnpike are wide, with large distances between intersections that encourage speeding. He said such measures as pedestrian islands at intersections and landscaping medians to make them more visible to drivers prompt them to slow down.
"The DOT has done a decent job in taking those first steps," he said. "But we need to be a bit more innovative on how we redesign the road for everyone."
The DOT said the changes were made after a study analyzed vehicle-pedestrian crashes on the Hempstead Turnpike corridor between 2008 and 2011 -- the first time the DOT had undertaken such a review.
Among the improvements, the DOT installed raised medians at 13 locations in the middle of the turnpike because its study showed people cross there.
Details on the three fatalities in 2013, including an elderly man in Franklin Square, were not immediately available. The factors of previous ones need to be considered, Duffy said, adding the DOT looks at each case to see if safety measures can be improved.
In April, an alleged drunken driver struck and killed an 81-year-old Bethpage man after he got off the bus and crossed to the south side, west of Gardiners, where the DOT increased pedestrian crossing time.
Two months later, Bryanna, who had Down syndrome, also was crossing the turnpike at Gardiners Avenue when she was struck shortly after midnight by Elardo, who was traveling east in the left lane, police said.
Dilruba Ozmen-Ertekin, a civil and transportation engineer and NYU research scientist, said it's a challenge to get full compliance with engineering changes because of variables such as those who won't follow traffic rules. "You cannot avoid pedestrian crashes. It will take time on the people's side to accept the new changes and get used to it."