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Parents, officials call on county to study traffic near Hewitt Elementary

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Residents are calling on Nassau County to conduct a traffic survey of Hempstead Avenue, near Hewitt Elementary School, because of the dangerous driving in the area during drop-off and pickup times.

Last Friday morning, several vehicles ignored the 20-mph school speed limit. Four cars and one NICE bus drove past the stop-sign arm and red flashing lights of school buses parked in front of the school. This was nothing new, according to Marleen Maccone, who crosses Hempstead Avenue, at Paddock Road, every day with her two daughters.

“There’s a bunch of cars going down really fast,” said Leah Maccone, a fourth-grader. “When buses put on stop lights, cars pass them anyway. They don’t pay attention.”

“The traffic situation during school rush hours at Hewitt Elementary is a nightmare,” her mother wrote in an email. “There is simply no ‘safe passage’ area north of DeMott. Our crossing guard already struggles to manage the one dangerous intersection that provides a safe passage for all our families. This is a difficult task, as drivers headed in both directions blatantly pass buses and violate the 20-mile-per-hour zone.”

Several other families — and sometimes children on their own — cross the intersection of Hempstead and Paddock, where there is a break in the double yellow line but no crosswalk or stop sign.

At the urging of the Maccones, Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray and State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin have joined them to see the traffic for themselves. The Maccones have also contacted Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito’s office. All have sent letters to Nassau County, which has jurisdiction over Hempstead Avenue, asking county officials to commission a traffic study to assess possible solutions, such as speed deterrents.

“Our primary goal is to advocate for the safety of our children and parents in our community,” D’Esposito wrote to the Herald in an email. “We’re working with our partners in village and county government to address this important safety concern.”

When Murray visited the intersection on Oct. 6, he saw cars going 30 mph past buses with their stop signs out and red lights flashing while children were trying to cross the street. “I’m asking and begging everyone to slow down,” he told residents and visitors passing by on the road. “You’re going to hurt someone.”

At a village board meeting on Oct. 5, Murray also said that Village Hall is “inundated with phone calls” complaining about people driving too fast around schools. As an immediate remedy, village police officers are patrolling the area and enforcing traffic laws. The fine for passing a stopped school bus is a minimum of $250 for a first violation in New York state.

“That’s a serious offense,” Griffin said when she visited the area last Friday. “This has been a problem for so many years. You don’t want to wait for a tragedy for change to happen.”

Griffin, a longtime Rockville Centre resident, recalls dealing with similar issues when she took her own children — now in their 20s — to Hewitt. Once, she recounted, she was crossing the street in front of a stopped school bus, where cars were stopped, but one went around the others, nearly hitting her. “If I had a kid with me,” she said, “one of us would have gotten hit.”

Griffin noted that New York passed legislation last year allowing the installation of cameras on bus stop-sign arms, similar to red-light cameras, to capture images of vehicles that break the law, but the cameras have yet to be implemented in most districts.

Marleen Maccone said there have been “too many near misses” of vehicles and pedestrians. As she and Griffin stood at the corner of Hempstead and Paddock last Friday, other parents passed and shared their own experiences, as well. Although there is a stoplight and crossing guard at the corner of Hempstead and DeMott, that is not enough, Maccone said.

“We live north of DeMott,” she said. “A lot of times we hear from the district to park south of DeMott and to use the stop light, but we can’t have all the cars parked over there, and that doesn’t help people coming from the north.”

Maccone and a small group of parents are staying in touch with local officials on the issue. On Tuesday, a county spokeswoman said that the county has received the requests for a traffic study and plans to pursue one. In 2014, the county installed two speed awareness devices on Hempstead Avenue for the school speed zone.

Murray noted that a few years ago, families living near Covert Elementary School and Molloy College successfully pressured county officials to conduct a traffic study there. As a result, two traffic lights were installed for students crossing Hempstead Avenue to get to Covert.

“A lot of parents feel disenfranchised,” Maccone said. “They’ve asked for help at all levels, and the village’s hands are tied. But we can’t just stop and say we’ve done what we can. It’s not enough.”