Nassau County may have to reconfigure its road diet plan for parts of Grand Avenue — which involves cutting the number of lanes from two in both directions to one — if a timing issue with a streetlight at Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue is not resolved, officials said at a Nov. 29 public meeting.
Over the past month, the line of traffic heading south on Grand toward Sunrise during morning and evening rush hour has been longer than previously observed, Sean Sallie, deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Works, told a standing-room-only crowd at Baldwin High School. He did not say how much longer the lines have been compared with prior months.
The heavier traffic appears to be the result of a change in the timing of the southbound streetlight, Sallie added, which is controlled by the state because Sunrise is a state-owned road. But county officials are unsure why the timing was changed.
“Was it a computer glitch? We’re not sure. We have to find that out from the state,” Sallie said. Stephen Canzoneri, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, said in an email on Monday that a slight modification was made to the signal’s operations, but he did not elaborate on what the change was or if it would shorten the lines of cars.
Sallie said on Nov. 29 that the county might have to change the boundaries of the project if the lines continue to remain longer than anticipated. “If the conditions that are out there today are permanent, we have to look at the lane reconfiguration limits because we’re going to have to make some changes,” he said.
The road diet is one part of the county’s “complete streets” project for Grand Avenue, which seeks to improve safety conditions along the street by slowing drivers down. According to the county, there were 736 collisions on Grand from 2011 to 2014. “It’s going to slow traffic down,” Sallie said. “That’s the purpose of this project, to make the corridor safer.”
Under the plan, sections of Grand Avenue would be reconfigured from two lanes in both directions to one with a center left-turn lane. 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, Smith to Florence streets would have one lane in either direction.
The complete streets project would also include curb extensions and crosswalks at certain intersections. The extensions would shorten the amount of time needed to cross Grand, and give pedestrians a better view of oncoming traffic.
Many residents came to the meeting opposed to the project, though a few said they favored it. County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, said she supported the project and told the crowd that County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, did as well.
Linda Degen said answers provided by Sallie and other officials helped warm her to the idea. “Coming in, I was at zero percent approval for this,” she said. “Now, put me at 35 . . . If they can fix the timing at Sunrise, I’d go up to 75.” A proposed bike lane north of Sunrise would keep her from going all the way to 100 percent, she said.
Despite reassurances by county officials, Baldwin firefighter Jimmy Carl said he did not believe the plan would allow fire trucks to drive down Grand Avenue quickly and easily. “To me, I don’t know how you can get the same amount of traffic through one lane as you do through two,” Carl said.
County officials also said the project could benefit Baldwin economically, and would coincide with the Town of Hempstead’s proposed rezoning of the corridor, which seeks to revitalize the community’s downtown. Karen Montalbano, the Baldwin Civic Association president, said that slowing drivers down could force them to notice new stores on Grand Avenue.
She recalled a clothing store that closed shortly after she became aware of it. “I had always driven right past it,” Montalbano said. “By the time I walked to it, it had already been too late.”
Resident Donald O’Shea said he believed the project could give Baldwin a true downtown feel. “Nothing has been changed here in 40 years,” O’Shea said. “You need to give it a shot.”