Pedestrian Safety Is Long Overdue on Long Island

Pedestrian-safety advocates are focused on a particularly dangerous stretch (highlighted in yellow) of Long Island's Sunrise Highway.

Pedestrian-safety advocates are focused on a particularly dangerous stretch (highlighted in yellow) of Long Island’s Sunrise Highway.

Sunrise Highway, also known as Route 27, is an east-west thoroughfare that extends across Long Island, from the New York borough of Brooklyn to the seaside village of Montauk Point.

At several points along the way (most notably in an eight-mile stretch in Nassau County) Sunrise Highway is crowded with shopping centers and strip malls, dangerous intersections, tightly placed on-off ramps – and limited or nonexistent safety features for pedestrians. The highway is routinely cited as being one of the region’s most dangerous roads.

On June 19, AARP New York, the Walkable & Livable Communities Institute (WALC), Vision Long Island and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign (a nonprofit dedicated to reducing car dependency in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area) joined forces to call attention to the highway’s hazards. The four groups – along with supporters that included AARP volunteers, elected officials, county planning officials, transportation specialists and area residents – had also gathered out of concern that although the New York State Department of Transportation was making plans for safety improvements, the community had not been invited to participate in the process.

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The gathering began at 9 a.m. in Valley Stream, where WALC placemaking expert Dan Burden led residents and volunteers in an assessment of the village’s current and potential walkability. The same activity followed in the hamlet of Baldwin and then the village of Freeport, where the day of action ended with a presentation at the Freeport Library. The three towns were chosen among the more than a dozen communities along Sunrise Highway due to their interest, willingness and steps already taken to bring infill development to the areas.

The assessments proved eye-opening to the participants.

“Walking around today I realize that this is a suburban community best and most safely enjoyed from your car,” observed Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “The irony is that most people move to the suburbs because they want to enjoy the natural resources the suburbs offer. They’re looking for a community fabric that’s knitted together with a vibrant downtown center and community activities. But that’s not what we see. We’re seeing lots of roadways, lots of pavement. And we’re seeing a lot of communities and neighborhoods divided by that pavement. The resources are just not being enjoyed because people don’t feel safe enough to do so on their two feet.”

Other participants remarked about how simple changes along the Sunrise Highway corridor could have a dramatically positive impact on both the walking and driving experiences encountered on the roadway. The next steps involve reconvening the community within a few months for a larger forum to discuss the assessments and improvement opportunities.

See pictures of the day on Twitter by searching #BurdenonLongIsland. Learn more by watching these videos from the event’s media coverage:

Video: Safety Audit: Sunrise Highway

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Video: Experts look for ways to make Long Island streets safer


Will Stoner Will Stoner is AARP New York’s associate state director for Livable Communities. Follow him on Twitter at @AARPLongIsland.

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