As opponents and proponents of the Grand Avenue “road diet” continued to debate the project, the Nassau County Legislature unanimously approved $8.46 million on March 25 for the road reconfiguration proposal in the county’s four-year capital plan. Half of the money will be reimbursed by a federal grant, according to the county.
Baldwinite Karen Montalbano said the planned reduction of Grand in some areas from four lanes to two would help revitalize the community’s struggling downtown. “Without changes, nothing will get better on Grand Avenue,” Montalbano said before the Legislature voted. “New approaches are needed to address the changing times.”
But resident Jack McCloy said the plan, part of a “complete streets” initiative that also includes curb extensions and crosswalks at certain intersections, would bring traffic on Grand to a standstill between Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road. “It’s going to hamper the Fire Department from getting to emergencies,” he said, noting that Baldwin Fire Department headquarters is just north of Merrick. “As soon as it goes in, there will be calls for it to be returned to its original configuration.”
Fire Department officials have not publicly commented on the plan. In January, Nassau County Police Department Deputy Inspector Robert Fitchett, executive officer of the 1st Precinct in Baldwin, said he did not foresee the redesigned road being problematic for first responders.
McCloy added that there might be too many cars on Grand for the plan to work. According to the Federal Highway Administration, lane reduction is not recommended for streets with a daily average of 20,000 or more vehicles.
In those cases, the FHA said, reducing the number of lanes has increased congestion, which drivers attempt to bypass on smaller side streets. Grand Avenue, according to the county, sees almost 20,000 vehicles on Grand between Sunrise and Merrick every day.
“That will just make the community more dangerous in other areas,” McCloy said. The FHA has said, however, that some communities have seen success with road diets, despite having a higher than recommended number of cars on a road.
If the road diet were implemented, the lane change would begin roughly 400 feet north of Merrick Road and continue to about 480 feet south of Sunrise Highway, where Grand would return to two lanes in each direction. Then, north of Sunrise, Grand, from Smith to Florence streets, would have one lane in either direction, with a center left-turn lane.
County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, and County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, have both expressed support for the proposal. County officials have said the plan would reduce speeding, making Grand safer for pedestrians and drivers.
Some have said that without the road diet, a town proposal to implement a mixed-use overlay zoning district along Grand and other thoroughfares, such as Sunrise, might not work. The Town Board’s plan would allow for new developments with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper ones to be constructed without builders needing variances from the town’s Board of Appeals. In the past, required approvals have caused developments to fall through and hindered attempts to revive the downtown area.
County officials have said that the road reconfiguration would improve visibility for Baldwin businesses by slowing down motorists who would otherwise miss the stores. Resident Steven Greenfield said he agreed that it would help improve the area’s businesses. “The Grand Avenue corridor and downtown are in desperate need of modernization,” Greenfield said before the Legislature’s vote, “and I believe that this is a step that makes revitalization possible.”
McCloy said, though, that he had received dozens of emails from opponents of the plan who demanded that the road remain unchanged “This is not a project that is favorable within the community,” he said.