A new voice joined the fight to make Main Street safer Monday afternoon as nationally recognized traffic specialist Dan Burden gave a walking tour along the roadway and presented ideas on how to make it safe, pedestrian friendly and more vibrant for business.
William Stoner, associate state director for AARP, said Burden was brought in to "bridge that gap between the community and the Department of Transportation and make sure that we get a plan that the DOT likes, that the community can support and actually improves pedestrian safety but also improves downtown businesses.”
The plans discussed include making Main Street two lanes, installing a raised median, putting in bike lanes, reducing the speed to 25 miles per hour, and installing roundabouts where Lawrence Avenue and Route 111 meet Main Street. Burden also said the parking should still be available on the north side of the road.
Burden said he's seen success in past projects he’s been involved in where roundabouts were installed.
“A roundabout will drop out about 90 percent of your personal injury crashes,” he said. “We’ve got some that haven’t had a crash in 16 years that were getting a fatal every year.”
Burden suggested a mini roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Lawrence Avenue, and a two-lane roundabout at the intersection of Main Street and Route 111. He added the roundabouts would significantly reduce speed at the intersections, stating drivers would not be able to drive more than 15 miles per hour.
Burden also discussed the possibility of eliminating parking spots close to Main Street in the Village Commons Shopping Center and adding liner buildings, stores that are only 20 feet deep. He said the buildings would enclose the road, slowing down drivers, and create a natural attraction to draw more drivers into the center.
The idea behind Burden’s plans is to make Main Street in Smithtown a destination.
“We can do a design that celebrates the community’s request for a road that would be much slower, much safer, and start to sketch together the village and the town into one cohesive unit to allow the town to make more money, become more of a destination and not just a pass through,” he said.
Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, R- St. James, who was in attendance for both the walking tour and later PowerPoint presentation, said he is in favor of many of Burden’s ideas, specifically the roundabouts.
“I’ve long argued that if we’re going to look for solutions inside-the-box nothing is going to change,” he said. “This represents some outside-the-box thinking in terms of traffic … I’ve seen roundabouts work on streets much larger than this and I’m very impressed, they work extremely well, so I like the roundabout idea.”
Eric Alexander, executive director for not-for-profit community planning group Vision Long Island, said a similar roundabout was installed in Huntington, which has been a success.
“Thirty-three people were in accidents there the year before it was constructed, there have been two fender benders since,” he said.
Director of Sustainability for Vision Long Island Elissa Ward, who Alexander said was instrumental in getting the Huntington roundabout installed, said it has increased safety to a dangerous area.
“It’s definitely calmed things down, it used to be the shortcut speedway to bypass Main Street and people were getting hit,” she said. “Now it’s safer, it’s more attractive with the landscaping and everything.”
Alexander said Burden’s ideas, or any action needed to improve Main Street, could easily be completed.
“The reality is that if this is just a technical problem that we need to resolve by just laying out the design details and backing up with science, it’s very doable,” he said. “The state should have the money to do this, it shouldn’t cost enormous amounts of money.”
Both Burden and Stoner confirmed that DOT officials met with Burden prior to the community walking tour Monday in an unofficial capacity and discussed ideas for improvement of the roadway.