The Hempstead Town Board unanimously approved on March 6 a measure that will reduce the speed limit on Austin Boulevard in Island Park from 40 miles per hour to 30. The vote came after a public comment session where many voiced support for the change.
“I want to thank the board for hearing our proposal,” Island Park Schools Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino told the group. She along with Island Park school board President Jack Vobis have been vocal proponents of reducing the speed limit on the road, which has seen a high frequency of accidents and pedestrian deaths.
Bovino added that in addition to the danger posed by speeding motorists to students trying to cross Austin, there are occasions where seriously injured pedestrians must be airlifted by helicopter from fields at the Lincoln Orens Middle School to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
“It’s a horrible situation for the victims,” Bovino said, but noting the psychological effects such incidences can have on students, added. “But it’s also a very horrible situation for the children who we have to bring in from the fields to have these individuals airlifted.”
At least some, however, challenged the vote on the grounds that the speed limit reduction did little to address problems posed by a lack of police enforcement and the general design of the Austin.
“The road is dangerous,” admitted Island Park resident Patti Ambrosia. “But it’s the drivers, it’s the texting, it’s everything else.”
She countered that the county was in the midst of planning for construction that would change the configuration of the road, and that out of the traffic studies performed as part of the process, there were no recommendations for reducing the speed limit. Ambrosia added that she believed there may not be enough police presence on the road.
The planned changes to Austin — using a $5 million federal grant, awarded to the county last march — include sidewalk bulbouts to increase pedestrian visibility, additional traffic lights and crosswalks, as well as widening the center left-turn, travel and parking lanes while preserving three northbound and two southbound lanes. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin later this year, according to County Legislator Denise Ford.
Ford, however, said she also supported the speed limit reduction at a Feb. 15 news conference unveiling the measure, called by Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito who initially proposed it. He praised the board’s decision in news release after the vote, “The safety of our residents is always my top priority,” he said. “And I believe that this measure will literally save lives.”