Dead Stop: Here's How To Fix Long Island's Deadly Roads
August was a deadly month on Long Island, with more than 30 of our neighbors killed in car crashes, several involving pedestrians and cyclists.
A 22-year-old runner was killed and her two brothers were injured Aug. 21 when a minivan plowed through them on the side of Harned Road in Commack. In the preceding days, a 48-year-old father of two was killed in a Huntington Station hit-and-run, a 55-year-old pedestrian was mowed down in Hempstead and a 72-year-old woman was killed crossing a street in Ronkonkoma. The list goes on.
Whether you’re cruising the Long Island Expressway, riding your bike or out for a quiet Sunday morning run, it’s apparent that Long Island’s roads have become more dangerous and “share the road” has become an antiquated slogan in the post-COVID world.
There were 461 pedestrian-related vehicular crashes in Suffolk 2021 (43 fatal) and 305 bicycle-related vehicular crashes (six fatal). There were fewer bike-related fatalities in Nassau that year (two), but more bike-related vehicular crashes (356) and way more pedestrian-related vehicular accidents (738).
Long Island accounts for about 25 percent of statewide pedestrian fatalities, but we’re hardly alone. According to the Albany-based Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, there were 1,355 pedestrian fatalities and 70,000 pedestrian injuries in New York State between 2017-2021.
And while New York City remains America’s deadliest city for pedestrians (118 fatalities in 2022), about 20 pedestrians die every day across the United States – and roughly 7,500 died every year, the highest annual rate in the last 40 years.
This has driven U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg – who told PBS NewsHour in February that “the only tolerable level of roadway death in America is zero” – to tap into funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law and create a $5 billion Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program, designed to help state and local governments prevent roadway deaths.
Several Long Island agencies are on the job. Walk Safe Long Island, a collaboration of health and transportation-safety educators, offers bike and pedestrian safety workshops and publishes public service announcements with tips like walking facing traffic, which according to Walk Safe helps motorists “establish a psychological connection with the walker and their presence on the road.”
The Suffolk County Police Department recently distributed free fluorescent reflective safety vests to pedestrians and cyclists in Patchogue, while groups like the New York Bicycling Coalition are pushing for a statewide 3 Foot Safe Passing Law, establishing that a motorist must give bicyclists a minimum of three feet of space when passing them on a road.
The ongoing efforts of the Coalition to Protect New Yorkers from Drugged Driving also lean toward pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The coalition is pushing Albany to enact legislation that will update the state penal code’s list of impairing substances, more clearly define “impaired” and “intoxicated,” add oral-fluid field testing as a roadside screening tool and allow for the suspension of alleged drugged drivers’ licenses pending prosecution, as is currently done in alcohol-related DWI cases.
The data says getting pedestrians to wear bright colors and use crosswalks could reduce pedestrian deaths, as would putting the brakes on aggressive, reckless and distracted driving. Some say we should also took a broader look at Long Island’s walkability, especially in places were wide roadways, busy intersections and a lack of sidewalks or crosswalks or both contribute to the carnage (Central Islip, for instance, or Roosevelt or Huntington Station).
Vision Long Island, the Northport-based nonprofit on a smart-growth mission, last month unveiled a 10-point plan to improve safety on Long Island roads – including getting our fair share of those federal dollars, creating more protected bike lanes, installing more crosswalks and traffic-calming roundabouts and widening sidewalks.
Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander, who’s also a member of Smart Growth America’s Complete Streets Coalition, says government has to step up in places where vehicular-related fatalities run high, because “personal responsibility isn’t enough.”
“People are sometimes going to make mistakes or poor decisions,” Alexander notes. “But those mistakes shouldn’t be fatal.”
And while substantial infrastructure work may be needed, there’s plenty state and local governments can do quickly to improve pedestrian and biker safety, according to downtown guru – creating a crosswalk, for instance.
“People always say that design takes a lot of time,” Alexander says. “But in some cases, it’s just paint.”
That’s good, because it seems like time is of the essence.
This article first appeared on Innovate Long Island.