Sunrise Highway has long been a safety concern for residents of Nassau County, and the news that the New York State Department of Transportation was to focus on safety improvements along the notoriously dangerous roadway — which saw eight pedestrian deaths, 94 collisions involving motorists and pedestrians and 32 collisions involving motorists and bicyclists between 2010 and 2012 — was well-received. However, NYSDOT had undertaken the planning process for a $3.8 million pedestrian safety plan for Sunrise Highway without any local community input.
AARP New York, in partnership with Vision Long Island and Tri-State, reached out to the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) to conduct three walking audits with community members along the highway. In June, internationally-renowned traffic safety expert Dan Burden led Nassau County elected officials, planners, advocates and residents through Valley Stream, Baldwin and Freeport, guiding the group through an in-depth examination of how design directly impacts behavior on roadways and discussing ideas to make Sunrise Highway safe for all users. WALC then gathered the input, along with Dan Burden’s observations, and generated a series of recommendations for how to transform the corridor into a Complete Street.
WALC’s report states that “Sunrise Highway reflects conditions along Long Island and in many places around the U.S.: physical activity has been engineered out of daily life due to overly wide roads, high vehicle speeds and a lack of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.” They propose several short-term, mid-range and long-term solutions for combating this unfriendly environment, including:
Short term opportunity: implement traffic-calming street treatments. Sunrise Highway’s wide lanes encourage speeding. WALC recommends repainting lane markings to reduce lane width to 10 feet, and placing tree wells every two or three parking spots along areas where there is on-street parking to create a “sense of enclosure” and encourage reduced speed. They also recommend that intersection signals be replaced and remounted in more visible positions, and their timing should be adjusted to provide safe crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists. Enhancing crosswalks with highly-visible paint markings and adding street lighting along more heavily-traveled corridors will also improve safety by alerting motorists to the presence of pedestrians in the area.
Mid-range opportunity: create mid-block crossings. Sunrise Highway’s blocks are up to 1,000 feet long in some places, which leads to pedestrians attempting to cross mid-block. Creating pedestrian islands for safe mid-block crossing where the dangerous practice is most prevalent would increase roadway user safety across the board.
Mid-range opportunity: install buffered sidewalks and curb extensions. WALC notes that “sidewalks work best when they are fully buffered from moving traffic” and asserts that this should be a planning priority for Sunrise Highway, as it would increase “the social and economic vitality of the street” by encouraging pedestrian travel.
WALC notes that a short-term and relatively low-cost means of providing a buffer would be to reposition existing guardrails wherever possible — though we feel that this would only serve to reinforce the notion that the roadway is a deadly place and discourage pedestrian traffic along it. The preferable solution would be WALC’s recommendation to install curb extensions at all corners of village intersections along the roadway, which would reduce the speed of vehicles making right turns while also increasing visibility for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians at all important crossings.
Long-range opportunity: build a shared-use bicycle and pedestrian path along the north side of Sunrise Highway. Nassau County doesn’t have a stellar reputation for being bike friendly. A shared-use path along the roadway would not only provide a buffer between vehicle traffic and non-motorist users, but would also provide a new connection between the villages along Sunrise Highway. In tandem with highly-visible sheltered bike stations near LIRR stations, the report states that this would encourage people to ditch their cars and take their bikes instead.
Big thinking: turn Sunrise Highway into a boulevard within the villages. Creating a boulevard in the villages would encourage economic development by making these areas feel like a destination for residents and visitors. The small town of Hoboken, New Jersey is turning its major main street thoroughfare into a Complete Streets boulevard, and will no doubt serve as an excellent model for small town transformation.