For more than a decade, Elmont residents have demanded Town of Hempstead and Nassau County officials to do something to address the high rate of auto accidents that have plagued the stretch of Dutch Broadway near the Elmont Memorial High School. But despite the calls of local representatives and civic leaders, the complaints fell on deaf ears as for years town and county officials seemed to have dragged their feet.
But after a crash on Oct. 31 left four students injured, two critically, on Dutch Broadway, the Elmont community’s frustration boiled over as neighbors, parents and activists reinvigorated their efforts to bring a permanent change to the road. After meeting with Elmonters in November, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen began working with them to designate the patch of Dutch Broadway between Astor Street and Elmont Road a 20-miles-per-hour school zone.
On April 15, about a month after the launch of the Gillen’s “20 is Plenty” initiative, the New York State Department of Transportation approved the town’s request to create a new school zone for the safety of the Elmont Memorial students.
“We just received approval from Albany and are now in the process of printing signs and collaborating with county officials on proper placement and installation,” Gillen said. “I am pleased to see action finally taking place on every level of government to ensure the safety and security of our local residents and students.”
For Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages, the change has been a long time coming since he first took high-ranking county administrators on a tour of the area in 2015. He explained that as drivers enter Nassau County from Queens, they see the one-lane streets become two lanes and take that as a sign to speed up. Residents say they know all too well that cars in the area have a tendency to reach 60-miles-per-hour speeds, so Solages continued to send letters to then-County Executive Ed Mangano and the office of the Department of Public Works to conduct a study of that area and come up with a solution to prevent further crashes.
Yet, little was done, and in 2016, a car struck 12-year-old Gabrielle Johnson as she walked to Elmont Memorial, killing her. Solages, who knew the Johnson family, sent another letter to the county leaders afterward, demanding that traffic study, but nothing was slated.
“It was clear that the previous county executive was not hearing our request,” Solages said.
It wasn’t until last year, with County Executive Laura Curran’s administration, that Solages finally received the support he was seeking to get DPW to draw up plans for a Dutch Broadway study. But it was too little too late for the four teenage victims on Oct. 31.
Mimi Pierre-Johnson, founder of Elmont Cultural Center, was driving her son home from school that day when she saw a car flip into air and strike four students standing on the sidewalk near the corner of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road. As she and other drivers stepped out of their vehicles to help the teens, Pierre-Johnson, a long-time community advocate, vowed to do something to stop these accidents from happening again. The next morning, she began collecting hundreds of signatures online to create a school zone. And when a car struck another student in December, it seemed like nothing but the swift delivery of a new school zone would quell the community’s frustration.
“This has got to be the quickest campaign I have ever worked on,” Pierre-Johnson said. “We pushed the town and county to speed up the process, and with the warmer weather, they’ll be adding the signs on the roads.”
New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, who helped expedite the NYS Department of Transportation’s approval for the school zone, said that the next stepped to creating a safer Dutch Broadway would be to educate the community about the new signs and pedestrian safety. This was something James Bartscherer, the commanding officer of the local Nassau County Police Department’s Fifth Precinct, agreed on. Bartscherer said police had written more than 1500 summons near the intersection of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road since September. Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that even a teacher at the high school had been caught speeding on that road during the winter.
“In terms of enforcement, we’re looking for compliance from the parents and drivers going down the new school zone,” Bartscherer said.
Bartscherer added that his officers would continue their enforcement of the area as the town and county install the new signs on April 24 and complete the Elmont-wide Corridor traffic study, set to be presented to the local community by the end of the year.