Long Beach-bound motorists on Austin Boulevard may have to travel on fewer lanes if a proposal in a Nassau County-backed traffic study is employed to improve safety on Island Park’s main road.
RBA Group, a engineering firm, conducted the study that analyzed road design, traffic patterns and accident reports from 2008 to 2010, and concluded that the boulevard is plagued with aggressive driving that has led to 309 accidents during that time, and travel lanes that are 10 feet wide, when they should be 11, have contributed to its hazards. As one solution, the proposal calls for widening the lanes but reducing the number of south- or Long Beach-bound lanes from three to two, while maintaining the three northbound lanes that serve as a coastal evacuation route for the barrier island, according to the Oceanside/Island Park Herald.
At a community meeting about the proposal in Island Park earlier this month, Eileen Kelly, the firm’s transportation planner, said:
“In addition, in the summer, there’s traffic going to the beach. When people are traveling to go to the beach, they’re all getting there at a different time. But when they’re leaving the beach, they’re all leaving at the same time.”
In addition to many bar-restaurants near Austin Boulevard in the southwest corner of Island Park, a King Kullen supermarket and shopping center are under construction in that area and is expected to open later this year.
County Legislator Denise Ford, R-Long Beach, who attended the community meeting at Lincoln Orens Middle School and contacted Patch on Monday after this story was originally posted, noted that, according to the study, the proposed two southbound lanes on Austin would open up to three lanes at the foot of the Long Beach Bridge, on the Island Park side of the structure.
Ford said that she and the engineering firm know that the proposed changes could impact Long Beach. “There is no doubt that traffic will be impacted by the reduction to two lanes,” she said. “The parking lanes are too narrow as well as the left turning lanes. According to RBA, who did the study, the best configuration for safety is to reduce the number of southbound lanes to two.”
City officials and Long Beach residents were invited to the public presentation in Island Park, Ford noted, and she expressed hope that they would attend future presentations.
“There will be another presentation and I am hoping that we will get input from the administration in Long Beach as to their thoughts on this study.”
While the Herald reported that the traffic study was started in 2010, after the Island Park Civic Association began calling for safety-related changes to the boulevard when the organization was formed in 2008, a major impetus for the changes on the 1-mile roadway was a fatal accident there in 2003.
That June, a 98-year-old woman was killed while driving her 1983 Cadillac southbound on Austin Boulevard, after she collided with a man driving a 2000 Honda civic beside her. Police said the collision occurred after another motorist in a 1998 Toyota pulled out of the east side of Kingston Boulevard, crossing Austin's westbound lanes to get to the southbound lanes.
The following spring, local residents, spearheaded by the Island Park Chamber of Commerce, took county and Town of Hempstead representatives on a walking tour of Austin, and the town later posted no-left-turn signs on the east side of two side streets off Austin, Vanderbilt Avenue and Broadway, each of which were without traffic lights.
During their walking tour with Ford and Town Councilman Anthony Santino, R-East Rockaway, and their traffic engineers, the residents demonstrated that even when pedestrians push the button to delay the red lights, an average young man has just enough time to walk across Austin's six lanes from one side to the other.
"If you're an elderly person or if you have children in tow or if you're walking your dog, you're going to have a hard time making it across in time," Barbara Rubin, the chamber president in 2004, said. "What we're afraid of, and what has happened, is that the person in the furthest lane may not see you."
The traffic study suggests adding crosswalks with countdown timers and upgraded traffic lights, as well as widening the parking lanes on the side of the road.
* This story was update at 3:14 p.m. on 5.21.12.