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Editorial: Drivers, walkers can make Hempstead Tpke. safer

A pedestrian trying to cross Hempstead Turnpike pushes

A pedestrian trying to cross Hempstead Turnpike pushes a button to change the signal at the interection with Plainfield Road in Elmont on Sept. 13, 2012. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Keeping pedestrians safe on Hempstead Turnpike remains a vexing problem. Deaths continue to mount even as the state Department of Transportation has made improvements along the 16-mile road. Eight pedestrians have been killed since the $2.2-million project began in 2012. One reflexive response is to demand the DOT do more to make the road safe; sure, there always are extra steps that can be taken.

But there is only so much the agency can do without the cooperation of the people who use the road. Speeding is still a problem. So are drunken drivers and drunken pedestrians. And people still cross the turnpike between intersections. All of those are risky behaviors that can offset safety improvements.

The DOT has done a lot of work on the road that ranks at or near the top of Long Island's most dangerous year after year -- including wider crosswalks, increased crossing times for pedestrians, raised medians, and adjusted signals to slow down traffic by controlling speeds. But things still can go tragically wrong, as they did in April when an 81-year-old man was killed while crossing Hempstead Turnpike. He was not using a nearby crosswalk where the pedestrian crossing time had been increased, and he was hit by an alleged drunken driver.

New York City, too, is focusing on pedestrian safety. The State Legislature last week approved a reduction in the city speed limit from 30 to 25 mph and Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday signed bills designed to reduce traffic injuries and deaths, including measures to crack down on careless drivers and to redesign dangerous intersections.

Too many streets have become battlegrounds between people on foot, who often are distracted, and big, heavy, fast-moving vehicles piloted by other people, also often distracted. Re-engineering roads can help ease the problem. So can vigorous enforcement by police of speeding and jaywalking rules.

But no solution will be entirely successful that does not include both groups of people -- pedestrians and drivers -- changing their risky behaviors.