The Sunday death of 33-year-old Seamus Byrne, , has sparked a renewed interest from the New York State Department of Transportation over pedestrian safety concerns on what has become a deadly stretch of road.
According to DOT spokeswoman Eileen Peters, the DOT will reexamine the pedestrian safety conditions of Route 25, though it is too early to conclude what, if any, measures can be taken to improve pedestrian safety.
A full investigation of the accident is necessary.
“Right now we don’t have any specifics about the accident,” Peters said. “We will request a [police] report [and] investigate it later in the week. It’s a little premature really to commit to anything until we know the circumstances of the accident. It’s a little too early.”
Police have said that Byrne, a decorated war veteran who served in Afghanistan, was crossing the road outside of the Napper Tandys pub early Sunday morning. He had just left his own birthday party.
The driver who hit him has not been charged with a crime.
According to data provided by the DOT, there were 359 accidents including one fatality on Route 25 from 2003 to 2008. Of the 359 accidents, 16 involved pedestrians.
Following the tragic death of 11-year-old Courtney Sipes in November 2009 at this same intersection, the DOT sought to improve pedestrian safety by implementing 13 safety measures. Those include installing a fence on south side of Route 25 between Lawrence Avenue and Landing Avenue, increasing pedestrian crossing time, installing a Leading Pedestrian Interval that provides a “walk” sign seconds before vehicles get a green light and installing timers to let pedestrians know how much time they have to cross the road.
With all the new safety measures implemented, Peters said this latest accident has troubled the DOT.
“The fact that we have been making all of these safety improvements makes our dismay and distress over this tragedy even worse, much worse, because we have been working with the locals and the Town of Smithtown and committees to improve safety in this area,” Peters said.
Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, R–Smithtown, said despite the Byrne accident, the safety improvements have helped.
“The road will always be dangerous," he said. "What you can do is take measures to reduce the risk but you’re never going to eliminate it entirely. [We can] do whatever we can to minimize those risks and trust that people will be careful.”
Town of Smithtown Traffic Safety Department Director Mitchell Crowley, who had submitted comments and ideas to Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio for the first meeting with the DOT to improve safety conditions, said the improvements made were worthwhile but does allow room for pedestrian error and did not improve the safety of the actual intersection.
“I know they did install a fence to improve jaywalking, which I thought was a worthwhile thing to do, unfortunately that does not help the safety at the intersection itself. They did try to do things with the phasing to help crossing pedestrians, they reduced the green phase on [Route] 25 to enable it easier for pedestrians to cross [but] when the green phases are too long the pedestrians tend to ignore waiting for their phase to cross,” he said.
Dan Stapleton, co-owner Napper Tandy’s, the bar where Byrne was celebrating his birthday with friends and family the night he was killed, said Route 25 has always had safety problems with no concrete solutions. Stapleton, who was friends with Byrne, named the Sipes death and an incident in January 2010 where Charles Doonan and Mirtha Rotkowitz were injured after being hit by a vehicle when they were crossing Route 25 headed to the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts as evidence that something must be done.
“This road is just deadly, every year someone gets killed out there,” he said. “It’s four lanes, it’s in the middle of a town, at night traffic is moving fast through town."
And for Stapleton, the DOTs safety improvements aren't enough.
"They tried to nibble at it but they don’t seem to be able to come up with a game plan that makes it safe for pedestrians.”