Planning and community advocates have singled out six Long Island neighborhoods, mostly working-class communities, as unsafe for pedestrians and in need of safety improvements.
Areas of Central Islip, Wyandanch, Baldwin, Roosevelt, Huntington Station and the Village of Hempstead are hampered by issues such as busy intersections without sidewalks or crosswalks, wide roadways seemingly designed for speed, and a lack of pedestrian walk signals or medians, according to Vision Long Island, a downtown planning group that conducted walking and design studies of the communities.
Street safety advocates and civic leaders are bringing attention to the issues hoping that government officials will push for more state and federal funding solutions. They say more traffic-calming measures, including re-striping and narrowing lanes to slow speeds, extending sidewalks, and adding crosswalks, medians, pedestrian timers and trees, are needed in the communities.
"Over the past 20 years, pedestrian and bike safety improvements have been underway in largely wealthier neighborhoods, with less investment in working-class communities,” said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island. “These [six] communities have shown unsafe road conditions tied to high-speed vehicle use that can be solved through better design and engineering.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- Planning and safety advocates identified unsafe road conditions for pedestrians in several Long Island communities.
- Traffic-calming measures such as re-striping and narrowing lanes to slow speeds, extending sidewalks, and adding crosswalks and medians can improve safety, advocates said.
- Higher speeds result in more severe injuries, officials said. Only five out of 10 pedestrians will survive the impact of a car traveling 42 mph, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
It’s not uncommon for residents in those communities to walk and bike out of necessity because they do not have a car, and navigating streets by foot is crucial, advocates said.
The areas, other than Baldwin, have significantly higher poverty rates and lower per capita income than the region’s county averages. In Wyandanch, for example, the poverty rate is 19.3%, and Black and Hispanic people account for more than 95% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nassau has a 5.7% poverty rate and Suffolk’s is at 6.1%, according to the Census Bureau’s 2020 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said the areas identified often struggle to receive services.
“It would be no surprise if they’re not getting everything they need to make their communities as safe as possible,” Levy said. “They don’t have the level of services that other, wealthier communities do.
"We’ve seen this in school funding, issues of environmental justice, where landfills are located in communities that don’t have powerful voices to prevent this from happening," he said. "This is another example of the ways that poorer communities, which on Long Island tend to be Black and Latino, tend to get the shorter end of the stick.”
Safety advocates highlighted challenges pedestrians face in the six areas.
The bustling intersection of Depot Road, East Pulaski Road and Fairground Avenue, known as “Five Corners,” is a confusing cluster of traffic that some pedestrians would rather avoid. On Depot Road near East Pulaski Road, there are up to five lanes, including turning lanes, but no walkway. A Community Market at that juncture gets ample pedestrian and vehicle traffic, but the neighborhood isn’t built for foot traffic.
"You pray for a miracle to get to the other side,” said Peggy Foulke, 73, a resident who opts to drive to the market.
Rosa Benitez, 59, a 16-year Huntington Station resident, said in Spanish that she’s seen several car crashes and averted one near-accident. “Recently, a woman was crossing with her son and I had to pull them back from an oncoming car. There’s no protection for us here. There is really no good place to cross,” she said.
Suffolk County spokeswoman Marykate Guilfoyle said there are plans in 2024 to overhaul the intersection and make pedestrian improvements, including crosswalks and pedestrian push button countdown timers.
North of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station along the state-maintained New York Avenue/Route 110, new mixed-use buildings dot the thoroughfare, but cars whiz by, despite 30 mph speed limits. The four-lane highway becomes five and six lanes as it curves near Henry Street, with a middle turning lane and no median.
Elissa Kyle, placemaking director at Vision Long Island, said narrowing lanes can help slow down drivers. “Wide lanes encourage speeding” by making drivers feel comfortable, said Kyle, an architect who lives nearby. “The concept is to try to get the design speed to match the posted speed.”
Higher speeds result in more severe injuries. Only 5 of 10 pedestrians will survive the impact of a car traveling 42 mph, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
Jim McGoldrick, 63, a lifelong Huntington Station resident who has been pressing officials for fixes, said he avoids walking through the Five Corners intersection. “It’s like taking your life in your hands. It doesn’t even have the bare minimum safeguards in place," he said.
From New York Avenue near Olive Street, to Broadway near the train station, there are no crosswalks for roughly a third of a mile, despite parking lots and businesses along the way. In April, pedestrian Cristino Melendez, 50, was fatally struck by a car on New York Avenue near Church Street, Suffolk police said. A nearby memorial with a cross and flowers marks his death.
Kyle said adding a traffic light near Northridge Street, close to where Melendez was struck, would allow pedestrians to safely cross midway along the long stretch.
On New York Avenue near Olive Street, school crossing guard Wendy Sgaraglio, 57, recently watched a car run a red light and said it’s just one example of the reckless driving she sees daily. “[New York Avenue] is very dangerous. Sometimes, the cars don’t want to fully stop. While I’m crossing a kid, they’re just rolling or they want to go around me. It’s terrible,” she said.
South of the LIRR station, Long Island Avenue runs parallel to the tracks. The area is more of an industrial zone, with vacant lots, unkempt sidewalks and run-down buildings, a stark contrast to the gleaming Wyandanch Rising developments on the north side.
After Newsday inquired, a Town of Babylon spokesman said workers were sent to clean the town-maintained sidewalk areas.
Ghenya Grant, president of the Greater Wyandanch Chamber of Commerce, has been advocating to make the section more appealing and walkable. Near Straight Path/County Route 2, there are up to four lanes on Long Island Avenue, including two turning lanes in the westbound traffic.
“On the south side of the train station, there are buildings not being used, or dilapidated, and the area is not set up for commuters and pedestrians to walk because there aren’t sidewalks that run the whole area. There is a disparity here. This doesn’t empower the entire community and doesn’t give us a true sense of identity,” Grant said.
She would like the north side’s quaint village feel replicated throughout the neighborhood. Grant and Alexander said a sidewalk that runs parallel to the LIRR tracks on Long Island Avenue should be extended east of the station, from Deer Street to Elk Street, to create a possible link to nearby Geiger Park and help beautify the area.
On Straight Path, near a parking lot on Merritt Avenue, resident Helen Jones stepped off the curb to access a westbound train entrance. “People cross here to get to the station, but there is no crosswalk,” Jones said. Kyle and Grant believe additional marked crosswalks on Straight Path will create a protected path for commuters.
Guilfoyle said a capital project underway will reconstruct County Route 2/Straight Path from Long Island Avenue to Nicolls Road. It will include medians.
Safety advocates and some residents said speeding is a concern roughly six blocks from the LIRR station on Lowell Avenue, particularly near Clayton Street, which turns into Poplar Street.
Residents on Poplar Street cross five lanes on Lowell Avenue, including two turning lanes, to go to Central Islip Community Park, but there is only one crosswalk on the north end of Lowell and a pedestrian push button, but no walk signal.
Trisha Kassebaum lives on Poplar with her partner and five children. She said there have been multiple crashes at the intersection, including one involving her car, which was hit while parked on Poplar eight years ago. Last summer, she gathered more than 50 signatures in a petition to revamp the intersection.
“I think it’s alarming that our town and local officials know about the issues and they don’t do anything about it. It’s an unsafe road. My kids are scared to cross here,” Kassebaum said.
Karin Rojas, 34, lives on Lowell Avenue, nine blocks away, near East Cherry Street, and she complained cars gun it on Lowell straight from Connetquot Avenue. Lowell has a traffic light, but no crosswalk and a pedestrian push button that residents think is broken.
"I feel unsafe to walk with my children here. There are no speed bumps, and there have been lots of accidents," she said. Her husband, Walter, was equally upset.
"This is asinine. There are a lot of walkers here, including my kids and other kids who walk to school by themselves, so we need more safety. There is a push button that doesn't work," he said.
Islip spokesperson Caroline Smith said the town has not received any complaints about the two intersections, but will review the locations for potential upgrades. She said residents can report issues by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pedestrians weave through an intersection loosely referred to as Debevoise Triangle, where Debevoise Avenue, Mollineaux Place and Babylon Turnpike merge into four lanes on Nassau Road. There is a crosswalk and pedestrian timer south of a traffic light on Nassau Road, near Debevoise Avenue, and a small pedestrian island to shorten the distance to get across Babylon Turnpike, but no timer to help cross.
North of that juncture, cars on Nassau Road stop for a traffic light, but there is no crosswalk on the road. Instead, multiple pedestrians were spotted jetting across. Elden Lopez, 60, a resident, was one of them.
“Where there is a traffic light, you need a walk signal and crosswalk. It would help if they did that here for security. … The cars go so fast,” Lopez said in Spanish.
Community advocate Jacob Dixon, founder and CEO of Choice for All, a Roosevelt-based human services organization, said the area, which is near a senior center, lacks basic traffic safety, including crosswalks.
Dixon recommends crosswalks on all sides of each intersection, curb extensions to trim the roads, shortening the crossing distance and pedestrian refuge islands.
Ronny Thigpen, 58, a local resident, said: “It is dangerous here. … This is confusing right here because there are so many intersections.”
Dixon also said that less than two tenths of a mile away, a crosswalk and a traffic light was needed at Babylon Turnpike and East Fulton Avenue, where he said there were two recent crashes. “The stop signs do not do it justice, and there are no painted crosswalks. It is difficult to navigate that area,” he said.
Nassau County did not return requests for comment.
Grand Avenue, a four-lane road that winds through downtown and into more leafy and residential sections, should be overhauled north of Stanton Street to the Southern State Parkway due to a number of car accidents along that stretch, according to Darrien Ward, president of the Baldwin Civic Association.
Last month, a 31-year-old motorist was charged with manslaughter after a fatal crash on Grand Avenue and East Carl Avenue claimed the life of 66-year-old Scott Freeman. Freeman was driving another car and died at the scene.
Ward noted that the southern section of Grand, from Merrick Road and Stanton, is being redesigned with a focus on walkability. Upgrades include enhanced sidewalk space, curb extensions, trees and other amenities. Ward wants the northern end to get the same treatment.
Chris Evans, 46, of Baldwin, was walking on Grand Avenue near DeMott Avenue and was worried about speeding cars. “Over the period of the last eight years, the speed on this street has gotten crazier. It’s supposed to be 30 miles per hour, but cars go up to 60 to 70 miles per hour,” he said.
“There’s a logical fear that there will be more traffic on the roads for the summer and people speeding, and with that, there will be an increase in crashes,” Ward said.
Speeding is an issue on North Franklin Street in the village, Alexander and Kyle said. They recommended more school safety signs near the Academy Charter Elementary School near Jackson Street, clearly marked crosswalks for enhanced visibility, and pedestrian signals added down the block at Bedell Street, close to the Academy Charter Middle School, among other changes.
Another area that should be revamped is Peninsula Boulevard and Front Street, they said.
Sylvia Silberger, a Hempstead resident who previously ran a transportation advocacy group, said the main issue is the lack of crosswalks. “That intersection [Peninsula and Front] is an absolute nightmare. There is a lot going on, and there are businesses there and not everyone is driving," Silberger said. “There are really busy streets that are meant for cars, yet pedestrians have to get there and there is no good way to cross. It’s kind of racing and running.”
Hempstead Village Mayor Waylyn Hobbs Jr. said he has increased police enforcement along Franklin to address speeding, but noted it is maintained by the county. Hobbs said he also spoke to county officials about adding greenery to a median on Peninsula to calm traffic.
“If you put some sort of shrubbery or tree lining for aesthetics, it looks good and it also prevents pedestrians from crossing in between the crosswalks. We’ve had a couple of people, unfortunately, that were hit by cars because they tried to cut across that median. It will provide a safety barrier that will deter people from just running across,” Hobbs said.