While cars sped by on North Ocean Avenue Saturday morning, Assemblyman Edward Hennessey called on New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide funding to make area roadways safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Our roadways are dangerous and we need to slow people down,” said Hennessey, standing at the corner of North Ocean Avenue and Shaber Road, where 29-year-old Melinda Resto was killed after she was struck by a car while walking home from a school event in December 2012.
Resto, said Hennessey, is just one of a multitude of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths that could have been prevented with safer roads. In 2012 in Suffolk County, 41 pedestrians and seven bicyclists were killed. In that same year, 559 pedestrians and 388 bicyclists were injured.
“It’s time now to complete the streets,” said Hennessey, pointing to Suffolk County’s and New York State’s respective Complete Streets laws, which call for safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists to be built into roadways, but lack enough funding to carry out projects.
Over the past four years, officials said, both the state and the federal government have reduced funding for safe roads.
Specifically, Hennessey is asking the governor for $20 million more annually for road projects that could be as simple as adding striping to roads for bike lanes or more involved projects, including the installation of sidewalks.
“We need to find ways to make all roadways safer,” said Suffolk County Legis. Rob Calarco, who sponsored the county bill that established the county’s Complete Streets policy, which Calarco said has helped make several roadways safer, including Woodside Avenue.
Woodside Avenue, said Calarco, was a road where there were numerous deaths each year, but under the Complete Streets policy, the roadway was revamped, and Calarco said not a single pedestrian or bicyclist has been struck since.
“People are going to continue to be out jogging and bicycling. We have to make sure they are safe doing that,” he said.
Vision Long Island, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Long Island Bicyclists and Runners for Safety, the New York Bicycling Coalition and the Greater LI Running Club all stood unified in support, saying the time is now to improve roadways.
“Long Island has some of the most dangerous roads for pedestrians in the region and modern day safety enhancements can reverse these conditions,” said Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island.
Aside from calling on the state to fund safer road projects, Hennessey is also asking that a bill he wrote in 2013 be passed. The bill, he said, aims to increase penalties for anyone who leaves the scene of accident where there is a fatality or injury.
“Hit-and-run driving is an epidemic on Long Island,” said Hennessey. “We need to stiffen penalties and de-incentivize drivers from hitting a pedestrian, a jogger or another motorist and fleeing the scene without stopping and calling for aid.”
Hennessey’s bill creates a felony offense, called aggravated leaving the scene of an accident without reporting, which carries with it increased jail time, from a maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years to 5 to 15 years.
According to Hennessey, in Suffolk County in 2012, 13 instances of hit and runs resulted in fatalities. n