Taming a Long Island artery
The New York State Department of Transportation will begin converting a 15-mile stretch of suburban highway into “a kind of suburban boulevard” this spring.
The road — Route 347 in the Long Island Towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven — has malls and strip development along its entire length, says Heather Sporn, a landscape architect who is senior policy adviser at DOT. At the urging of residents, community leaders, and the smart growth organization Vision Long Island, DOT agreed to help the corridor evolve into a setting where pedestrians and bicyclists will feel considerably more comfortable.
The speed limit will drop to 45 from 55 mph. Travel lanes will be trimmed to 11 feet from 12 feet. Ten-foot shoulders will be narrowed to six feet. Many new pedestrian crossings will be installed. A planted median will be added, creating areas of refuge for people crossing the busy road — it carries 70,000 vehicles a day.
“There will be continuous walkways on both sides; they can serve as the backbone of a bicycle network,” Sporn says. A Shakespeare park that’s planned along the route would, like the stores and malls, be able to be reached without driving, she says. Pull-off areas for buses will be added. “We want to promote transit,” Sporn says.
The project will take probably a decade to complete, with segments being worked on as funds from the financially strapped state government become available. Two interesting aspects of the project are these:
• Where the law requires DOT to offer to build walls shielding residences from highway noise, “we’re looking at alternatives that may be more visually desirable,” such as a “green screen,” Sporn says. A green screen is fence designed to support vegetation. It may not block noise as effectively as a tall wall of concrete, but residents may prefer it because of its softer, more natural appearance.
• Near concentrations of shopping, DOT is considering constructing a service road that could be closely lined with new buildings. An image produced by DOT shows how a single-story building might face the frontage road, furnished with on-street parking. The image falls far short of a true downtown; the pedestrian-oriented building is too low to give the road a sense of enclosure, but possibly the concept will evolve into something more urbane.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, says a key to DOT’s change of attitude was the release of a report in 2008 that identified Long Island as having five of the state’s 20 most dangerous roads. Pedestrians, especially senior citizens, have been killed on roads that offer them little protection from vehicular traffic. Alexander says the new approach represents a “180-degree shift in sentiment.”