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Twenty is Plenty

Local officials call for school zone on Dutch Broadway

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Update: The Town of Hempstead unanimously voted to create a school zone on Dutch Broadway between Astor Street and Elmont Road during a board meeting on March 12.

Town of Hempstead officials and local civic leaders gathered on Dutch Broadway near the Elmont Memorial High School to announce on March 8 their “20 is Plenty” road safety initiative. As part of the effort, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said she is seeking to create a 20-miles-per-hour school zone on Dutch Broadway between Astor Street and Elmont Road, where motor vehicle accidents and speeding have plagued Elmont pedestrians for years.

“Everyone knows that Dutch Broadway is dangerous,” Gillen said. “I met with residents back in November, and since then I’ve been working with Nassau County and law enforcement, doing everything we can to keep the people of Elmont safe.”

Gillen was referring to a heated public hearing, scheduled after an auto accident at the corner of Dutch Broadway and Elmont Road on Oct. 31 left four Elmont Memorial students injured — two of which remained in critical condition for weeks after — as they were walking home from school. After impassioned exchanges with the public, town and county officials pushed to add more traffic signs and police officers assigned to the area, but despite the improvements, another car struck a student who was on his way to a winter concert at the school in December.

The frequency of accidents in the area might have come as a surprise to Gillen, a Democrat from Rockville Centre, and other officials who began their terms in 2018, but the dangers have been a constant for residents living in the area, and their children.

Long-time Elmonter Farida Khan, who hosted the “20 is Plenty” press conference in her front yard, has advocated for years with local civic leaders for something to be done on Dutch Broadway. She referred to the stretch of road as a “raceway” that leaves residents scared.

Gabrielle White, who was struck by a car in that same area in 2002, said it was frustrating to see current students of the high school suffer like she did when she attended Elmont Memorial.

“I was 16-years-old when I nearly lost my life,” White recalled. “I had multiple surgeries, and it was a financial, emotional and great burden on my family.”

Sidney Garcon, the father of one of the students who was severely injured in the October accident, said his daughter also went through multiple surgeries and physical therapy. He added that his she was still traumatized by the incident, but felt relieved that local officials were finally going to create a school speed zone in the area.

This new push for a lowered speed limit, with the backing of town officials is a far cry from the responses Elmont had received under previous town and county administrations, in which pleas for added safety measures appeared to fall on deaf ears.

Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages, who has been advocating for safer roads since an auto accident in the area killed a student in 2015, said former Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican from East Rockaway, had denied proposals for a school zone on Dutch Broadway, and the Nassau under County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican from Bethpage, had stalled the implementation of a proper traffic study for years.

“We asked the boards to approve this, but we got nothing back,” Solages said. “Common sense dictates that after one child dies, something would be done about it. But we were told that a traffic study wasn’t warranted.”

Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino, a Republican from Valley Stream who has served as the town representative for the district since 2003, did not respond to requests for comment on the school zone proposal. It is unk

The Elmont-wide corridor traffic study, which was approved in November by the current administration of County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin, has begun as county Department of Public Works officials investigate the best ways to create safer roads throughout Elmont. The department hopes to present its findings to residents and local officials by the end of 2019 in order to gain input for the final design of the roads.

Although changes to the roads won’t begin until 2021, DPW Commissioner Kenneth Arnold previously told Elmont residents that the thorough study would “pinpoint exactly what the roads need to make them safer for residents.”

As they wait for the county’s findings, Elmont residents welcomed the school zone plan believing it would act as a deterrent against those speeding down Dutch Broadway as they enter Nassau County from Queens. Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and officers from the local 5th Precinct said that the police have issued more than 600 tickets in the area since last September. They believed that heavier fines, such the ones from speeding at school zones, would push drivers to slow down.

“The last level of this is going to be lots and lots of tickets being handed out,” Mimi Pierre-Johnson, a local activist, said. “People can’t dismiss these signs anymore, and we’ve got to get the word out to drivers.”

Gillen presented the school zone proposal for a vote during the town board meeting scheduled for March 12 after the Herald went to press. If the town approves the school-zone designation, the proposal would go to the New York State Department of Transportation for review. New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said she would deliver a letter to the DOT to approve the town’s proposal and help enact it as soon as possible.