A car careened off the road on Halloween night 15 months ago, flipped through the air and eventually struck a tree, a utility pole and four teenagers standing near the intersection of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road. Two were critically injured, and spent weeks recovering at a local hospital.
The severity of the crash sparked renewed calls for safer conditions on Dutch Broadway, which runs behind Elmont Memorial High School and leads to the Cross Island Parkway.
There were 56 crashes involving pedestrians on Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road from 2013 through 2018, 48 of which resulted in injury and three of which were fatal, according to a report from Babylon-based Greenman-Pedersen Inc. It also shows that there were 22 bicycle crashes in the same period, 19 of which resulted in injuries.
To help improve conditions, Nassau County officials hired the consulting company in 2018 to study traffic flow on these streets and strategize ways to make them safer. After years of collisions, county officials presented GPI’s $4 million draft proposal to Elmont residents on Jan. 22.
“There are many pieces to this puzzle,” Joseph Pecora, deputy commissioner of Nassau County’s Department of Public Works, told more than a dozen residents who gathered at Elmont Memorial High School that night. “But I think the overall benefits that you get out of this project [are] going to make Dutch Broadway and Elmont much safer roads, not only for the motorists, but primarily for the pedestrians that are utilizing these two roadways.”
The proposals included adding traffic signals at the intersections of Dutch Broadway and Lawrence Street, and at Dutch Broadway and Diamond Street. County officials could also work with the state Department of Transportation to add a signal at the parkway’s off-ramp, Frank Pearson, GPI’s director of transportation safety, said.
Additionally, Pearson suggested:
Adding speed-awareness signs for the stretch of road between the 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.
Installing flashing pedestrian crossing signs.
Relocating certain crosswalks.
One of the more controversial proposals that Pearson presented was eliminating a lane on Dutch Broadway, between Elmont Road and Meacham Avenue, to make it a one-lane road in both directions with turning lanes. Residents previously told the Herald that drivers from Queens often speed up when they enter Elmont on Dutch Broadway because the road changes from a two-lane to a four-lane thoroughfare.
Harold Lutz, the county’s director of traffic engineering, also explained that GPI studied the effects of the proposed lane elimination on the volume of traffic and possible increased traffic from the Belmont redevelopment project, and discovered that it would make the road safer for pedestrians.
“The objective here is to slow traffic,” he said, adding that the DPW would study travel speeds before implementing the so-called “road diet,” which, he said, would create a dedicated turning lane. “You’re really losing a half to a quarter of a lane, depending on the time of day.”
Tiffany Capers, however, said the county should look into alternative ideas before implementing the road diet, and another resident expressed his concern that it would prevent emergency vehicles from getting through traffic, although, Lutz noted, emergency vehicles would have the ability to get past cars using the turning lane.
Tania Lawes, who has lived on Dutch Broadway for 40 years, on the other hand, said she would not mind the lane elimination, “as long as there’s room for improvement or change.”
The main problem with improving safety, she said, will be correcting drivers’ behavior. She noted that one accident occurred when a driver was texting, and said, “people need to value people.”
That is why County Legislator Carrié Solages, who led the meeting, said there are actually “three E’s” to solving the traffic problem: education, engineering and enforcement. He said everyone will have to work together to keep the roads safe, and noted that the goal of the meeting was to get the community’s input on the proposals before the county moves forward with the plans.
“No pun intended,” Solages told the crowd, “but I want this to be a two-way street.”
Any residents who would like to offer their views on these proposals are encouraged to call Solages’s office at (516) 571-6203.