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Hempstead Turnpike safety makeover to begin

Pedestrians cross Hempstead Turnpike in the middle of

Pedestrians cross Hempstead Turnpike in the middle of the block between Cathedral and Hilton avenues in Hempstead. (Sept. 13, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

State transportation officials are launching an unprecedented, multipronged effort to improve safety along Hempstead Turnpike's 16 miles through Nassau County, perennially named the metropolitan region's deadliest road for pedestrians.

Traffic signals will be reprogrammed to slow vehicles, medians will be raised so people can take refuge while crossing and fencing will be put up in one target area to discourage jaywalking, the state Department of Transportation 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.

"It's a positive step in the right direction to ensure that pedestrians and motorists are safer than they have been," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

The work, beginning this week and estimated by the DOT to cost $1 million, is the second phase of a plan the DOT announced after Newsday in February published "16 Deadly Miles," a series about the perils walkers face on the turnpike. Traffic engineers quoted in those stories suggested many of the types of changes the DOT now is implementing.

Changes coming to Hempstead Turnpike starting this week and through the fall include:

New traffic-signal timing at night, when vehicles tend to go faster and more pedestrian fatalities occur, so speeding cars and trucks get more red lights. Along the turnpike's western section, vehicles sticking to the 35-mph speed limit will catch more green lights.

Raised medians built in eight locations where pedestrians frequently cross in the middle of long blocks, affording the opportunity of safe harbor.

Fencing installed on the median in East Meadow, near Nassau University Medical Center, to discourage pedestrians from attempting mid-block crossings.

Relocating bus stops closer to crosswalks at six points to encourage more pedestrians to cross at crosswalks rather than dart across the highway to catch a connecting bus. Four of the bus stops are in Hempstead Village, one in West Hempstead and one in Elmont.

Addition of five new crosswalks, a new traffic signal at one Elmont intersection, and installation of countdown clocks and pedestrian crossing buttons at some intersections.


Entire corridor studied

State Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald noted that state engineers, in a DOT first, looked at safety issues along the highway's entire 16 miles in Nassau County, not just high-accident intersections.

"This is the first time the department has looked at the corridor in its totality," she said. "This is the change."

The improvements also may be a template for safety fixes on New York's other dated arterial highways.

"We're going to replicate this across Long Island and across the state," McDonald said, naming Sunrise Highway as another road in need of similar safety upgrades.

Sunrise Highway, which is state Route 27, repeatedly places high on the Tri-State Transportation Campaign's annual list of the metropolitan area's most deadly roads for pedestrians. Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau has been No. 1 on the advocacy group's list four times since 2008.

The DOT, in its initial phase of safety upgrades on the turnpike during the spring and summer, repainted 235 crosswalks, widened 126 crosswalks and kicked off a public education campaign called "Walk Safe Nassau," to make pedestrians aware of the dangers of mid-block crossings and being distracted while walking.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the county, which has jurisdiction over a portion of the turnpike, will "continue to work with New York State in making Nassau County one of the safest places in the nation for pedestrians and drivers."

Newsday, in its investigation, analyzed police accident reports from 2005 through 2010 of nearly 460 incidents when pedestrians were hit on the turnpike in Nassau, finding 32 fatalities. Another three fatalities occurred as of July 2011. On average, five pedestrians died each year on the turnpike in Nassau from 2005 through mid-2011.

As of May this year, there had been two more pedestrian fatalities on the turnpike, according to Nassau police.

Newsday's analysis showed that cases of pedestrian death and injury were divided almost equally into two broad categories: people who crossed at intersections with signals, and people who didn't.


Pedestrian error cited

The DOT last spring did 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.

Moreover, the state's examination found that 50 percent of the deaths were due to pedestrian error, about 33 percent involved pedestrians who had consumed alcohol, and about 11 percent involved people on foot who were under the influence of drugs.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign said the improvements show the DOT is making pedestrian safety a priority.

"Moving forward, the agency should work with community groups and advocates to identify the best designs possible to ensure these safety improvements have the best bang for the buck," associate director Ryan Lynch said.

Over the last five years, the state has spent about $7 million on improvements on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont, Franklin Square and near Hofstra University in Hempstead, DOT officials said.


State transportation officials this week will begin giving Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau County a makeover aimed at making the highway safer for pedestrians. The changes include:

Adjustment to traffic signal timing along the entire 16-mile stretch in Nassau County. The traffic-calming measure will trim the signal cycle time so that pedestrians get more time to cross the road. At night, signal timing will be altered to slow traffic, so that drivers and pedestrians have more time to see each other on the road.

Addition of five new crosswalks with sidewalk ramps, pedestrian push buttons and countdown timers at existing traffic signals in Elmont on the west side of Belmont Boulevard the west side of West Gate and the east side of Jacob Street. In Uniondale, the east side of California Avenue/Hofstra Boulevard and the east side of Silver Lane in Levittown.

New traffic signal at Sterling Road in Elmont.

Modification to three traffic signals to better assist pedestrians at Biltmore Avenue in Elmont, Gotham Avenue in Elmont and Kernochan Avenue in the Village of Hempstead.

Construction of median fencing between Carmen Avenue and Franklin Avenue in East Meadow.

Building raised medians where pedestrians frequently cross mid-block to provide refuge when crossing multiple lanes.

Relocation of six NICE bus stops closer to crosswalks.

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