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County begins road improvements on Dutch Broadway

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After Elmont residents have spent years demanding safer conditions on Dutch Broadway, Nassau County Department of Public Works crews began milling the road for repaving on Nov. 11. It is just the first step, county officials said, in a $522,000 effort to improve pedestrian safety on a road that sees roughly 10,000 cars a day.

The county is also planning to install flashing lights at the intersection of Dutch Broadway and 238th Street, digital speed indicators at the road’s intersection with Astor Street, and a crosswalk at its intersection with 237th Street. Additionally, there are plans to eliminate a lane on Dutch Broadway between Elmont Road and Meacham Avenue, converting it into a two-lane road with separate turning lanes.

Residents have told the Herald that westbound motorists from Queens often speed up when they enter Elmont on Dutch Broadway because it widens from two lanes to four. In January, Harold Lutz, the county’s director of traffic engineering, told Elmonters at a community meeting that the Babylon-based Greenman Pedersen Inc. — which the county hired in 2018 to study the road’s traffic flow — examined the effects of eliminating a lane and concluded that it would help make the road safer for pedestrians.

“It’s all about calming down the traffic [and] making people aware of how fast they’re going,” County Executive Laura Curran said, noting that drivers are also less likely to lose control of their vehicles on a smoother road. “Pedestrian safety,” she added, “is always my number one priority.”

There were 56 accidents involving pedestrians on Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road between 2013 and 2018, 48 of which resulted in injury and three that were fatal, according to GPI’s January report. There were also 22 bicycle accidents during the same time period, 19 involving injuries.

One of the most notable crashes occurred on Halloween night two years ago, when a car careened off the road, flipped through the air and struck a tree, a utility pole and four teenagers standing near the intersection of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road. Two of the teens were critically injured, and spent weeks recovering at a local hospital.

“The kids still talk about it, saying, “I’m not going to cross that road,’” said Monica Dejusus, a troop leader of Girl Scout Troop 1080 in Elmont. Many troop members, who are between ages 9 and 13, Dejusus said, knew a young girl who was struck and seriously injured by a car on her way to the junior-senior high school in 2016. “It was personal for them.”

So, when the troop was tasked with solving a real-world issue in their community for a merit badge earlier this year, the girls decided to design a traffic safety system called “Smart Cross” at the intersection of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road. They spent months coming up with possible solutions and determining whether they would be feasible for the county to implement, Dejusus recounted, and then shared their proposal with County Legislator Carrié Solages, who had been advocating for safer road conditions since he was elected in 2015.

“This was a big concern for our community,” said Solages, who showed Curran the Girl Scouts’ project in his plea to get the work on Dutch Broadway done immediately, even though other projects had to be postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Road improvements, he explained, would help keep people out of hospitals during the pandemic.

Curran agreed, noting that she was going to prioritize projects that focused on constituents’ health and safety during the pandemic anyway, and added, “Of course, we’re thinking of the kids who go to school nearby.”

“It’s an honor to get this done” for “an overlooked area of our community,” Solages said, and he was “looking forward to other improvements” that GPI suggested the county implement in its January meeting as well, including:

Adding digital speed indicators on the stretch of road between Elmont Memorial High School and Dutch Broadway Elementary School, where the county cannot implement a school speed zone under state law.

Adding “No Turn on Red” signs during school hours at certain intersections.

Closing the median and the high school’s driveway.

Adding pedestrian fencing.

Relocating certain sidewalks.

County officials are still studying the potential effects of those measures, according to Michael Fricchione, a spokesman for Curran, but already installed speed indicators at the intersection of Elmont Road and Dutch Broadway last year.

In the meantime, Solages said, “it’s up to the drivers” to keep the road safe.