After more than a decade of complaints, studies, fits and starts, work to remediate the traffic problems on busy Austin Boulevard in Island Park will begin next summer.
After a two-year study, engineers concluded that Austin Boulevard, which stretches north from the Long Beach Bridge to where it rejoins Long Beach Road, near Peter’s Clam Bar, is dangerous, citing numerous sideswipe accidents in which motorists lost doors or were struck by passing cars as they got out of their vehicles.
“The study showed that we had to ‘calm’ the speeding traffic and make the road safer for both motorists and pedestrians,” said Aryeh Lemberger, a county traffic engineer. “We looked at the parking problems, the problems faced by pedestrians crossing the boulevard, the turn lanes and the timing of traffic signals. Residents complained about all of those issues, and we have come up with solutions and recommendations that should solve some of those problems.”
Lemberger said that the changes, first proposed two years ago, and now finalized by the Nassau County Department of Transportation, will include doing away with one of three southbound lanes, increasing the width of parking and turn lanes and installing countdown clocks at key intersections.
In addition, he said, the Town of Hempstead is being asked to review the speed limits on the boulevard as well as current parking regulations, explaining that the county has no control over either.
The northbound side of the road will keep three lanes, to accommodate the heavy traffic leaving Long Beach on summer evenings and pre-storm evacuations. On the southbound side, parking lanes will be widened from seven to 10 feet, left-turn lanes expanded from nine to 10 feet, and the two remaining travel lanes widened from 10 to 11 feet.
Left turns will be limited to side streets, and no turns will be allowed from the southbound roadway to businesses on the northbound side. New crosswalks will be installed at key intersections, some with countdown clocks. Other intersections will have sidewalk “bulbouts” — extensions into the parking lane that allow pedestrians to see oncoming traffic before crossing, and decrease the distance between the sidewalk and the center median.
“We want to enhance pedestrian safety,” Lemberger said. “This is what the community asked for and, by and large, we have consensus on the changes we want to make.”
He added that a stop light will be added at the intersection of Austin and Kingston boulevards, which the community has requested for several years.
County Legislator Denise Ford, who hosted a meeting at Lincoln Orens Middle School in Island Park on Aug. 3, said she would request that the speed limit on the entire stretch of road between the Long Beach Bridge and Long Beach Road be reduced to 30 miles per hour from the present 40.
“The police can’t now give a ticket unless a motorist is driving at 50 miles per hour, and that’s just too fast,” Ford said. “Increased traffic has made this a critical situation, and I will make sure that the plan gets pushed through and implemented.”
Mark Milch, who owns Milch Photography, on Austin Boulevard, said that the road has been a “death trap” for many years and “changes have been a long time coming.” While Milch said he isn’t sure whether he approves of eliminating one southbound lane, he likes the other changes that will take place.
“It’s important that we cut the speed and get the light on Kingston Boulevard,” he said. “Those changes are critical. And we need a 30-mph speed limit and timing of the traffic lights. We’ve been asking for changes for years, and it’s about time something is finally going to be done.”