As Femy Aziz watched cars driving south on Merrick Avenue in Merrick, she told a small group of Baldwinites that she would not want a second lane of traffic along the thoroughfare, which runs through Merrick’s downtown.
“I wouldn’t want the second lane,” said Aziz, the new president of the Merrick Chamber of Commerce, who owns a photography studio on the avenue. “I think it would only invite more traffic, which I wouldn’t want.”
Erin Donohue, Aziz’s predecessor, nodded in agreement, as the two led a walk-through of their neighborhood for a group of Baldwinites on Jan. 12. Both said the area faced a number of challenges, such as high taxes and low foot traffic at times, but added that they were pleased with the way Merrick Avenue is laid out — one lane in each direction, with a center left-turn lane.
The walk-through of Merrick Avenue was held to show Baldwinites what Grand Avenue might look like if a “road diet” plan to reduce the width of Grand from four to two lanes were executed, as proposed.
Randy Shotland, a past president of the chamber who now lives in Patchogue, said Merrick Avenue has had only two lanes for long as he could remember. Nassau County has been considering the same configuration for parts of Grand Avenue in recent months to reduce speeding and improve visibility for businesses in Baldwin.
The proposal to halve the number of lanes on Grand has been met with criticism by many Baldwinites. “I don’t think it’s going to work,” Jeff Barkan, a longtime resident, said at a recent meeting in Baldwin. “Grand Avenue is the only coastal evacuation route in Baldwin … It’s going to back traffic up.”
Donohue said there are parts of Merrick Avenue where traffic backs up, specifically near schools when parents are dropping off or picking up their children. Chatterton Elementary School, in the heart of the downtown, built a circular driveway out front last year to alleviate some of the congestion, she said.
Skeptics of the road diet plan have said the reduced number of lanes in Baldwin would slow response times for police and fire officials. Sean Sallie, deputy commissioner of the county Department of Public Works, said both the Baldwin Fire District and Nassau County Police Department are open to discussing the plan.
Sallie late last year said the road diet — part of a complete streets project that also includes curb extensions and crosswalks at certain intersections — might have had to be redrawn because of a timing issue with a streetlight at Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue that was causing longer lines of traffic on Grand.
The timing of the light has since returned to normal, he said at the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce’s meeting on Jan. 9. “We don’t know if it was a computer glitch or a seasonal thing,” he said. Had the issue not been resolved, the boundaries of the road diet could have been changed.
If the plan is approved, the lane change would begin roughly 400 feet north of Merrick Road and continue to about 480 feet south of Sunrise Highway, where it would return to normal. Then, north of Sunrise, Grand Avenue, from Smith to Florence streets, would have one lane in either direction. Sallie said there is one potential impediment to the road diet plan — the number of cars that use Grand Avenue every day. According to the Federal Highway Administration, road diets are not recommended for streets with a daily average of 20,000 or more vehicles. In those cases, reducing the number of lanes has increased congestion, which drivers attempt to bypass on smaller side streets.
Grand Avenue, Sallie said, is approaching the 20,000 mark. “We’re right at that cusp,” he said. He added, though, that he believed the plan could still work to reduce speeds in Baldwin. “We’re talking about marginal reductions in speed here,” he said.