In the aftermath of a multi-car wreck at Elmont Road and Dutch Broadway on Oct. 31, which injured four teenage pedestrians, two of whom remained in critical condition for weeks, the public’s reaction was swift and angry.
At a Nov. 8 meeting with Nassau County and Town of Hempstead officials, residents blasted inaction to improve area roads, where three young pedestrians have died since 2015.
A little over than a month later, one local activist is reporting that the county and town have acted quickly to address the community’s concerns, with increased signage, modifications to traffic signals and additional police.
“I’m extremely happy,” said organizer Mimi Pierre-Johnson, who had pushed for added safety measures in the area and who said she has witnessed numerous accidents on Dutch Broadway, including the one on Oct. 31. “This is my community, and I’ve seen the accidents that have occurred around my house. I’m an organizer and an activist; I do it for a living, so I felt like I should be doing this for my community.”
Pierre-Johnson had invited county traffic officials in November on a tour of the problem areas around Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road, which intersect near a high school and elementary school, and handed them a list of suggested safety measures. She said all but two have so far been implemented.
They include no-right-on-red signs in all directions at the intersection, yellow school crossing signs along Dutch Broadway stretching from Crystal Street west to the county line at 237th Street and a no U-turn sign in front of the Dutch Broadway Elementary School east of the intersection.
Additionally, the timing of the traffic signal has been changed at Ridge Road and Dutch Broadway, where Pierre-Johnson said many high school students cross, to allow more time for pedestrians. Finally, she said, she believed that the left-turn signals at Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road had been extended to give drivers more time to make turns without having to contend with oncoming traffic.
The remaining changes that Pierre-Johnson proposed, she said, might have to wait until spring, including painting of school crossing signage on the surface of Dutch Broadway at Ridge and in front of the elementary school, and wider crosswalk lines from Harriet Street to 237th Street. County officials told her, she said, that the adhesive used for the lines must be applied at temperatures above 50 degrees; otherwise, the thick paint could fly off and potentially hit pedestrians.
Pierre-Johnson said she would also like to see the number of crossing guards around the high school and elementary school increased from two to four.
She said that after so many deaths and injuries in the area, she felt compelled to push for changes. “There are some communities that if one child had died, everyone would rise up to make the community safer,” she said. “We’ve had three. I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure that it’s done. It’s not just talking about it, but there are things that you have to do.”
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said after the Oct. 31 accident that although an investigation had revealed that the incident had not been the result of speeding, his department would continue to be committed to providing additional resources in the area.
This month, 5th Precinct Inspector James Bartscherer reported that police had stepped up enforcement in September, before the accident — to coincide with the start of school — issuing more than 500 traffic summonses to motorists on Dutch Broadway and more than 600 to those on Elmont Road since then, and had increased speed enforcement again after Oct. 31.
Despite this, Bartscherer said, there was an accident in the last week of November that resulted in an overturned vehicle on Dutch Broadway. He said, however, that again, the accident was not attributed to speeding.
‘The public makes the assumption that if it’s overturned, it’s because of speeding, but that’s not necessarily the case,” he explained. “There are various factors such as the weight distribution of the vehicle and the nature of the accident.”
Additionally, Bartscherer said that in the week after the accident, a mobile digital speed sign had been placed near the intersection, although that had been planned before Oct. 31.
“Part of enforcement is educational,” he said of the sign, which he noted had also been placed near the intersection at the start of the 2017 school year. “We rotate them into different areas; before Dutch Broadway, we had them on Wheeler Avenue.”
Bartscherer also attributed the stepped-up enforcement to additional officers assigned to the precinct by Ryder and County Executive Laura Curran, as well as supplemental personnel from centrally assigned Community Oriented Police Enforcement, or COPE officers, who are rotated to different areas.
County Legislator Carrie Solages, who organized the Nov. 8 meeting and subsequent fundraiser for the injured teens, said he was pleased with the improvements, but that he would like to see more.
Among his ideas for safer streets would be to use $250,000 allocated for Dutch Broadway improvements to transform the stretch of Dutch Broadway from 237th Street to Elmont Road from four to two lanes.
“I’ve requested that for up to Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road,” he said, “but if I could have my cake and eat it too, I would love to have that for the entirety of Dutch Broadway, because it’s all about changing people’s driving habits.”
Additionally, Solages said he would like to see a traffic light installed at Diamond Street and Dutch Broadway, where motorists coming from Queens might encounter elementary-age pedestrians. Such changes, however, will have to wait until the comprehensive Elmont corridor traffic study is completed; work on it is scheduled to begin in January, according to the county Department of Public Works.
Pierre-Johnson said that once the study is complete and improvements are made, the remaining responsibility will fall on motorists, joking, “After all of this is done, the parents and drivers will have to have a meeting to talk about their driving skills,” she said.