FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 9, 2011
SCHUMER: DEADLY SMITHTOWN MAIN STREET IN NEED OF LONG OVERDUE REDESIGN; CALLS ON FEDERAL HIGHWAYS ADMINISTRATION AND NYSDOT TO WORK TOGETHER TO BETTER PROTECT PEDESTRIANS AND MAKE SHOPPING IN BUSINESS DISTRICT SAFER
Route 25/25A in the Heart of Smithtown Has Been Site of at Least Three Deaths When Pedestrians Were Crossing Road Over 18 Months; Street Design Threatens Safety of Pedestrians and Puts Strain on Local Businesses
Road’s Narrow Lanes Encourage Dangerous Driving, Obstructing Poles Make Cars Difficult to See, and Wide Lanes Make Crossing Dangerous
Schumer Calls on Federal Highway Administration to Work With New York State DOT to Create New Pedestrian Safety Strategy to Protect Pedestrians and Improve Downtown for Smithtown Businesses
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the New York State Department of Transportation to work with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and coordinate federal and state resources to help create a new pedestrian safety strategy on Route 25/25A (Main Street, Smithtown). Schumer’s call comes in the wake of a slew of pedestrian accidents at the intersection, including the latest in which a 9 year old girl suffered a severe head injury while crossing the street just last month. Schumer noted that there have been three fatalities on the roadway over the last 18 months, making clear that a significant overhaul of the intersection is imperative. In a letter to the New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan MacDonald and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, Schumer urged the agencies to work together to launch a new pedestrian safety strategy for the roadway to achieve greater safety for pedestrians and create a downtown that is more walkable and less treacherous.
“Walking across Main Street in Smithtown is a dangerous and deadly proposition and it is past time to address this problem plagued road,” said Schumer. “The tragic loss of life we have seen on this dangerous road not only has devastated families, but also has a significant impact on local businesses, by sending the impression it is not safe to shop on Main Street.”
Smithtown’s Main Street, like many towns across Long Island, also serves as a major traffic artery known as State Routes 25 and 25A. Although the downtown business community grew along this road, a strategy to accommodate local merchants and patrons did not. In 2009, eleven year-old Courtney Sipes was struck and killed by a hit and run driver while crossing the street. In February, Seamus Byrne, an Afghanistan veteran celebrating his 33rd birthday, was struck by a car as he crossed Main Street. Charles Doonan of Flushing died in August of last year after suffering injuries from being struck on Main Street in January of 2010.
This past Sunday, the Courtney Sipes Memorial Foundation sponsored the Smithtown Residents for a Safer Main Street, at the Smithtown Festival Day. The goal of the organization is to promote safe driver and pedestrian behavior on Main Street and the group collected over 1,000 signatures this past weekend in support of such changes. Last year, Schumer met with the Sipes family and supporters at the 2010 Smithtown Festival Day. The Sipes family has been working with the Senator’s office to identify federal support for the desperately needed traffic changes on Main Street.
Schumer said that these accidents were due to a number of dangerous structural problems in the roadway that make it dangerous for pedestrians. These problems include: narrow lanes that cause drivers to smash mirrors when passing each other and swerve from lane to lane, encouraging aggressive and deadly driving; utility poles at many crosswalks across Route 25/25A, located within only a foot of the road’s curb, that block the view of pedestrians; and the forty foot width of Route 25 that makes it highly treacherous for pedestrians to cross the road.
Today, Schumer called on NYSDOT to tap federal dollars and expertise provided through FHWA to create a new pedestrian strategy for the roadway based on two key objectives – safety for pedestrians and downtown walkability for small businesses and Smithtown merchants. Schumer said that FHWA helps the New York State Department of Transportation administer federally-funded programs and could provide the appropriate technical staff in the coming weeks to help direct the group to resources that enhance pedestrian safety.
A copy of Schumer’s letter is below.
Dear Commissioner MacDonald and Administrator Mendez,
I write today to urge the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to work with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and coordinate efforts and resources to develop a new pedestrian safety strategy on Route 25/25A (Main Street, Smithtown). This major roadway has been the source of six fatalities in the past seven years. It is imperative that NYSDOT and FHWA deploy the appropriate financial resources and expertise to resolve this outstanding problem.
Routes 25/25A in downtown Smithtown consists of four narrow lanes in a high volume pedestrian area. According to local merchants and experts, the lanes are approximately nine feet wide and often results in accidents and near collisions. Though there does not seem to be one root cause of the aggressive and deadly driving behaviors on this road, it is clear that the current roadway’s structure lends itself to a dangerous pedestrian environment and fosters an unfriendly business climate for downtown merchants.
It is my understanding, from local community advocates, that the cross walks that pedestrians use when walking across Route 25/25A are in need of revision. Utility poles located at the many cross walks along Route 25/25A block the view of pedestrians crossing the street. Nearly all of these utility poles are within a foot of the road’s curb and therefore, create a safety hazard for pedestrians looking out for oncoming vehicles. Furthermore, the forty foot width of Route 25 makes it highly treacherous for pedestrians to cross the street. These characteristics, in addition to others, seem to have caused Route 25/25A to be one of the most dangerous roadways for pedestrians in Smithtown.
In the past year and a half, three fatalities have occurred on Route 25. In 2009, an eleven year old girl named Courtney Sipes was struck and killed by a hit and run driver. In January 2010, Charles Doonan of Flushing was struck on Main Street and died in August of the injuries sustained in that accident. And this past February, Seamus Byrne, an Afghanistan veteran celebrating his 33rd birthday was struck by a car as he crossed Main Street. It is my hope that these tragic events could be prevented in the future once a new pedestrian safety strategy is implemented on Route 25/25A in Smithtown.
A local working group of community, town, county, and state officials has been formed to help address this hazard and consider implementation of a new road design. I would urge the FHWA to coordinate their efforts with NYSDOT and deploy the necessary resources to fix this dangerous roadway. NYSDOT receives substantial support from the FHWA and is the administering agency for federally-funded programs which have the potential to bring significant resources to the local effort to provide a safer roadway in Smithtown and I urge you to explore their use. Additionally, I am requesting that FHWA provide the appropriate technical staff in the coming weeks to help provide guidance to the local group to identify and utilize existing resources to make safety improvements in Smithtown.