Nassau County Legislator John J. Guiffrè had a novel idea while driving recently. He stopped his vehicle and waited as a pedestrian was getting ready to cross the road at a lighted crosswalk. Guiffrè then counted how many cars traveling in the opposite direction passed without stopping.
“Three cars in the other direction went right through those flashing lights,” Guiffrè recalled. “The pedestrian stayed because they didn’t have a death wish.”
Nassau County placed a Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacon in front of the Young Israel of West Hempstead — a traffic control device designed to increase driver awareness of pedestrians crossing at certain roadways that have no controls. Guiffrè helped shepherd the crosswalk application through the permitting process at the request of the synagogue.
“It’s a really great step forward in ensuring the safety of our constituents at the synagogue,” said Rabbi Joshua Goller. “We are so appreciative of the partnership.”
The new crosswalk features flashing lights to alert motorists when a pedestrian is about to cross the street, as well as pedestrian warning signs. Guiffrè said he is concerned that not all motorists drive safely, which puts pedestrians at risk.
“It’s not a legal requirement to have a lighted crosswalk, or any crosswalk,” Guiffrè said. “The point is, if somebody is standing on the corner waiting to cross a street, you have to stop your car and let them cross. That’s an alien concept.”
As a personal injury lawyer, Guiffrè said that traffic and pedestrian safety is part of what he litigates. He said he won a case on behalf of a pedestrian who was attempting to cross a street without a marked crosswalk.
While the hope is that these lighted crosswalks will prevent vehicle-pedestrian accidents, Guiffrè said he is realistic. He updates his social media platforms with traffic safety warnings and has advocated that the schools teach traffic safety to middle school students.
“The problem is changing the culture and behavior,” he said. “As much as possible, I try to raise the consciousness of people.”
Installing an RRFB at every intersection in the county is not feasible, since each one costs about $50,000, officials said.
Maureen Greenberg, president of the West Hempstead Community Support Association, agreed with the need to install the crosswalk at the location. “It is appropriate after the survey was done,” Greenberg said, “as long as people use them appropriately.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 6,516 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents across the U.S. in 2020, a 3.9 percent increase from the previous year.
Guiffrè said statistics show that educating drivers makes a positive difference. He pointed to New York City’s Vision Zero campaign as an example of changing motorists’ behavior.
“We can’t have them (RRFBs) at every intersection, so our attention is focused on education,” Guiffrè said.