The fatal incident on Woodfield Road last month, where a 12-year-old boy was struck by a car, highlighted what many West Hempstead residents have known for years, that this road is not safe for pedestrians.
“It desperately needs [traffic lights]. I’d be very apprehensive to let a child cross this street. On a Saturday morning it’s like a raceway,” said Joey Aron, who crosses this road on his way to shul. “It should be on Elm Street.”
With the growth of the Jewish community, young families are purchasing homes on busy roads and on the edges of the community. For drivers seeking to bypass the center of West Hempstead, Woodfield Road offers a quick route around the community, with only one traffic light on a 1.2-mile stretch that has more than a dozen intersections on it.
“Unfortunately, a boy lost his life. I emailed County Legislator John Giuffre. He called me within three hours, and we crossed the same path as this boy. It was a very rainy day, the Monday night before Yom Kippur,” said Avi Rosman, the president of Anshei Shalom. “It’s no longer an accident waiting to happen.”
In the two decades since Rosman settled in West Hempstead, he remembers other local intersections where fatalities took place. Some of them now have stop signs or flashing crossing signals. He said that Giuffre recognized the dangerous conditions on Woodfield Road, but also noted that there is a process that takes many months to approve a traffic signal. “In Malverne and Rockville Centre, the stop signs are installed much more quickly, but those are incorporated villages.”
West Hempstead is a neighborhood within the Town of Hempstead. Most of its streets are maintained by the town, but for three: Woodfield Road, Hempstead Avenue, and Nassau Boulevard, which are unmarked County Roads. Rosman noted that county roads serve as long-distance routes and are more likely to have traffic lights, while town roads usually have stop signs. “Drivers don’t always stop at these signs, but they do slow down,” he said.
Along with calls and emails to Giuffre and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, the West Hempstead Community Support & Civic Association generated an online petition calling for more traffic lights on Woodfield Road, which received more than a thousand signatures at this time.
At Woodfield Road near Lindberg Street, flowers were affixed to a lamppost in memory of Tomas Molina Jr. Walking through this community, there are similar makeshift memorials on Hempstead Avenue from earlier incidents at Chestnut Street, which now has a traffic light, and at Oakford Street, which does not.
Unlike the crossing signals in New York City, the “walk” signs in the town of Hempstead do not appear unless a button is pressed, and vehicles can turn right on red lights after stopping. Orthodox Jews cannot press the walk button on Shabbos, and wait until there is a red light, or fewer cars before crossing the community’s county-operated roads.
To the east of Woodfield Road, residents have also been calling for safer conditions on Hempstead Gardens Drive, which parallels the train tracks as a straight line for a mile, without any traffic signals, and no sidewalks. Likewise with Eagle Avenue, a town-operated road that connects Halls Pond Park and Hempstead Lake State Park, with two traffic lights and three stop signs, but no paved sidewalks at the entrance to the state park.
It often takes an injury or fatality to generate an improvement for pedestrians, but with social media, there is more attention brought to unsafe roads so that change could happen before another life is taken away.
By Sergey Kadinsky