Standing amid the bustling traffic on a corner of Austin Boulevard near the Lincoln Orens Middle School in Island Park on Feb. 15, county, town and school officials proposed reducing the speed limit on the road, which has caused concern among Island Park residents over the years.
The group called for the speed limit to be reduced from 40 mph to 30 mph for the entire length of the boulevard. Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said lawmakers had been working on the initiative for several months, and that it was imperative for the measure to be passed before the summer months, when traffic to and from Long Beach hits its peak.
“Motorists speed well over 40 mph when they see the current speed limit,” D’Esposito said, noting the proximity to the school. “That kind of speed is not safe in this community. This isn’t an expressway.”
D’Esposito said the roadway averages more than a 100 accidents per year, including six fatalities in the last decade. In December, a woman was critically injured trying to cross the road, which was one of four pedestrian accidents that year.
Responding to an inquiry, Mary Studdert, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, reported that 71 accidents occurred on Austin Boulevard in 2014, 63 in 2015 and 75 in 2016.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a number of accidents here,” said Island Park Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino at the Feb. 15 news conference. She praised the push to have the speed limit reduced. “We appreciate everyone’s efforts.”
Other community leaders, who were not present, also backed the change. “We’re glad this safety measure is getting proposed,” Debra Rothman, vice president for the Island Park Civic Association, told the Herald. She added that enforcement by county police would also be required. “They go hand in hand,” she said.
D’Esposito said he will call for a public hearing on the proposal, to be held at the March 6 Town Board meeting. Although Austin Boulevard is a county road, the implementation and modification of speed limits fall under the Hempstead Town Board’s jurisdiction.
“In order for people to be safe and feel safe, we need to make sure the speed is reduced, and I think 30 mph is an adequate speed,” County Legislator Denise Ford said at the conference.
She is also helping to oversee a $5 million federal grant, awarded to the county last March, for a separate safety improvement project. Island Park School Board President Jack Vobis and Ford also advocated for that project at the conference, which would redesign Austin Boulevard.
“It’s too narrow right now,” Ford said. The proposed changes — backed by the Island Park Civic Association as well — include sidewalk bulb-outs to improve pedestrian visibility, three lanes going north and two heading south, as well as additional crosswalks and signals. Ford said the county DPW carefully reviewed Austin Boulevard’s design over the years as well as the plan to redesign it. She said construction is scheduled to start later this year.
“Our school is about 200 feet away from here,” Vobis said of the importance of improving safety on this road. “Children cross the street, parents drive here … We want to make sure the children are safe, the parents are safe, and anyone else who crosses here are safe.”