LI group’s plan calls for safer streets

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Jivanna Bennaeim of Great Neck recounts the hit-and-run incident that killed her husband, Oren, last year at the intersection of Barstow Road and Middle Neck Road (Photo by: Jessica Chin)

Jivanna Bennaeim could not hold back her tears as she recounted the hit-and-run incident that killed her husband, Oren, last year at the intersection of Middle Neck Road and Barstow Road in Great Neck.

Bennaeim was one of the many people who spoke at an event last Thursday about improving pedestrian safety on Long Island.

“Husbands, wives, grandparents, children like Sandy’s daughter, if we slow down and get somewhere five minutes later, isn’t that worth a person’s life?” Bennaeim said, referring to Sandy Vega’s teenage daughter Brittany, who was struck and killed by a vehicle in 2010 on Sunrise Highway in Wantagh. Vega also shared her story at the event.   

“No one else should get the call I received,” Bennaeim said in between tears, “that his or her beloved family member has been injured and killed in a crash that could have been avoided.”

The Long Island Complete Streets Coalition, with the help of Vision Long Island, put together the event in Farmingdale to unveil an “emergency pedestrian action plan,” a list of immediate actions that the coalition is calling for to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Some of the actions the group wants are more visual cues for drivers, more accurate posted speed limits and shorter crossing distances in high pedestrian areas, among many others.

Over 6,000 crashes were reported over a five-year period on Long Island, more than any other region outside of New York City, according to the June 2016 NYS pedestrian safety action plan.  Of the 19 counties focused on in the study, Nassau County led with 4,420 reported crashes.

In June 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the action plan, which provides $110 million to improve safety for pedestrians throughout upstate New York and Long Island.

“Under Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer we did not have that focus on pedestrian improvements, we do now under Andrew Cuomo,” Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, said. “So, we’re excited to see that move forward, but we have a lot of work to do.”

The group’s emergency pedestrian action plan is meant to “feed into the state’s plan,” and the capital plans of the local municipalities, Alexander said. The plan requests state legislators to allocate $100 million of the $1 billion increase in the state Department of Transportation capital program for pedestrian and bicycling projects. 

Victims’ families, local elected officials, small businesses, civic leaders, transportation and Complete Streets advocates attended. In attendance were state Sen. Kemp Hannon, Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, Town of Hempstead Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, Farmingdale village Trustee Cheryl Parisi, and Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand.

Birnbaum says efforts are being made to improve pedestrian safety on Middle Neck Road where Bennaeim’s husband was hit, but it is difficult.

“Usually, what has been tried in the past is road divots, where you make the road narrower in some places so it’s easier for pedestrians to cross the street,” Birnbaum said. “However, Middle Neck Road, which is the street we are talking about here, is the main thoroughfare in Great Neck and that is very difficult to cross.”

Currently, the county is updating the technology around the road such as countdown lights, and crossing buttons to help improve pedestrian safety.

The county is also bringing the “Walk Safe Nassau” program to Great Neck “to educate the people in the area” about how to cross safely, Christopher Mistron, the director of traffic safety for the county, said.

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