The Board of Trustees’ July 15, 2021 meeting featured a presentation on a traffic study of Cathedral Avenue, which has been the subject of heavy concern at both the Traffic Commission and the Central Property Owners Association meetings during the last three years.
Cathedral Avenue today is a 44-foot-wide roadway which has four, 11-foot-wide travel lanes (two northbound and two southbound). It has no turning lanes and no shoulders; the area is largely residential with residential driveways along the stretch in Garden City, and there is a 30 mile per hour speed limit. The LIRR grade crossing west of the Garden City Public Library intersects with Cathedral, and there are five-foot-wide sidewalks along the road, The Cathedral of the Incarnation sits along a four-block area of Cathedral Avenue. The road is owned by Nassau County.
Consultants Creighton Manning pointed out that Cathedral Avenue was and is already “Road Dieted” in the Village of Hempstead, immediately south of Garden City.
To perform a Road Diet and traffic calming study, Creighton Manning Engineering had to adjust the data of a March 2021 study to match more closely with data from 2019, pre-pandemic, as the effects of the pandemic on the local traffic were calculated. The data collection performed in March was a 24-hour record of traffic data during the week of March 7 through 13, at two locations along Cathedral. Turning Movement Counts (TMC) were done at nine intersections involving Cathedral Avenue, and Creighton Manning noted that local Garden City schools were in-session when the data was being collected.
Ten year projection of traffic trends
What Filiciotto presented on July 15 was an adjusted model to predict traffic for the next 10 years. The analysis included scenarios of Nassau County and Garden City deciding on “Dieting” or “Not-Dieting” Cathedral Avenue.
“This study is based on 2019 adjusted data and represents pre-pandemic conditions if COVID never happened. But our analysis then goes even further. Typically in traffic engineering you do not just want to analyze what’s existing; you want to look several years out to the future to confirm that projects can work. We’ve evaluated for five and 10 years from now, looking with an analysis up to the year 2032. First we assumed that — if the money is available, and this would be desirable to the Village Board and the county — this Road Diet project could go in within one year. Then, we looked at 10 years beyond that and that is 2032. In doing so we increased the traffic modeling by 0.5% for every year up to 2032. This gave us an adjustment for COVID plus an additional 5% to 6% to look at a 2032 condition, conservatively. That presumes that things will normalize back to the pre-COVID traffic conditions and we think the jury is out on that, because there is a lot of telecommuting and working from home happening as well as peak-hour traffic disruption as a result — volume is down during those peak hours on the local roads. Also, traffic would have to continue to grow further,” Filiciotto explained.
He cited the reasons for the village to consider a Road Diet plan would include “fewer conflicting points; fewer travel lanes to cross for side-street traffic; reducing the exposure to moving vehicles for non-motorized roadway users, and, a point that seemed to resonate, achieving an overall reduction in speed for cars.
Filiciotto noted that Nassau County has approved a traffic light for the intersection of 4th Street and Cathedral Avenue, and he said though it’s not constructed yet it would likely “go in over the next 10 years” for the purposes of analysis to 2032 conditions. Also the study took into account the federal-level road guidelines “that are important and relevant here” he told the Board.
The intersection of St. Paul’s Place became a topic of focus for Mayor Cosmo Veneziale as he asked about Creighton Manning’s reviews at the location. A key part of the proposal for a Road Diet on Cathedral is to create one-lane of travel in each direction from St. Paul’s Place to 6th Street, plus a two-way left turn lane that involves an exclusively left-turn lane at the intersections, plus related traffic signal coordination all along Cathedral Avenue.
A key difference the mayor inquired about is the single lanes of travel for Cathedral in the Village of Hempstead, where there is on-street parking instead of a right lane and there are no left-turning lanes. Filiciotto said the consultants understood that the on-street parking for Cathedral was not a desirable configuration.
Keith Hochheiser, a Central POA director, presented some photos of Cathedral Avenue’s many accidents and discussed a root cause that officials should consider.
“I appreciate Police Commissioner Jackson’s efforts to employ the traffic control tools that he has. But the reality is that I think this issue goes beyond enforcement. [The village] has systemic, excessive speeding that’s 50% over the definition of excessive speeding. That’s why we see the bulk and severity of these accidents with cars flipping over, very serious stuff. Eighty-five percent of the people are doing 45 miles per hour or over that. I think all of the residents would very much appreciate the board moving this road diet concept forward as quickly as possible,” Hochheiser said.
He added that from the beginning, the goal was “to develop a tool that could be used in other parts of the village — and a truly transformative one.” According to Hochheiser, the input the board and administration receives about other key roads in Garden City informs them that the study could be used for, with Washington Avenue being one example.
“The opportunity exists to have these roads learn from this example and gain momentum, possibly developing solutions, without the village and residents having to depend upon the enforcement aspect. Frankly I live in the village and this (enforcement) isn’t working so well,” Hochheiser said before thanking all village staff and officials who helped to develop this study.
Cathedral Dean sees frequent crashes
The Very Reverend Michael T. Sniffen, Dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, also spoke at the July 15 meeting. He added his thanks to Village Administrator Ralph Suozzi, to Frank Filiciotto, as well as the trustees and several Central section neighbors who have been active with presenting this concern.
“My wife and I live on the corner of 5th and Cathedral; my office is at the corner of 4th and Cathedral, and the Cathedral of the Incarnation owns four blocks of the stretch along Cathedral Avenue that we are discussing. It’s really hard to put into words how traumatic some of these high-speed accidents have been — I have been the first person on the scene for at least 10 accidents. While it may help to have a priest on-scene for the people who have been in one of the traffic accidents, it’s an especially scary thing for a lot of the accidents here to have involved a lot of young people from the village,” Sniffen told the board.
Dean Sniffen noted how the Cathedral of the Incarnation is in the process of implementing its 10-year master plan with campus and capital improvements, including much increased walkability.
“We’re significantly improving our campus for pedestrians, for children, for people to be outside with their pets, and our largest program run at the Cathedral is called ‘Cathedral for Kids’ where we have dozens of toddlers present on-campus all the time. What we don’t want to have to do is to ‘wall-off’ the Cathedral property in order to make it a safe zone in its part of the village. What we DO want to do is help make the streets of this village safe for pedestrians and people travelling in vehicles. We thank you for your work and we know that ALL the corporations allied to the Cathedral support this safety project,” he said.
Central resident Bryan Maher, who has seen many Cathedral Avenue crashes firsthand, restated the alarming statistics presented by Creighton Manning of 163 accidents in a three-year span, 2017 through 2019, in which 56% of them required hospitalizations of vehicle occupants.
“That is 91 hospitalized persons with an average of one every two weeks. I have helped Garden City kids get out of minivans and family vehicles that were hit in accidents on their way back from lacrosse practices at St. Paul’s. I have helped teenagers crying on the scenes. I have also helped a kid who had a bone coming out from his leg who was in a car that had gone 180 feet onto the sidewalk. I do not think they were able to save his leg. It’s really, really tough out there and I appreciate how this is so important to me and people from every section of Garden City that have asked me to represent their concerns. I would remind this Board that this does not cover just a Central section issue because it will impact people who attend or go to Garden City Middle School and other schools as well as Cathedral of the Incarnation, and the Garden City Pool and Community Park, the school busses are in this area. People are walking their dogs and walking with children in strollers. Seconds matter,” Maher said.
Deputy Mayor Tom O’Brien asked Filiciotto about a timeframe if the Board of Trustees grants its approval for moving the Road Diet ahead, because the Nassau County review and application process would be next. Filiciotto said the County would need approximately a month to really digest the proposal for Cathedral Avenue. He expects dialogues to continue past Labor Day and the process would be at the minimum an eight-week period from July 15.
“Then, they will probably comment on this because they are not just going to rubber stamp it. They would critique a little bit of the details and then they could have questions for us. Possibly it involves a process where we address their comments and send the answers back with the Road Diet initiative. In doing so that could hopefully help us gain the approval,” Filiciotto said.
At the meeting, Village Administrator Ralph Suozzi explained that Garden City administration has consistently been in touch with Nassau County about Cathedral Avenue and several other traffic conditions since the fall of 2020, and that Garden City has the support of County Legislator Laura Schaefer as well. He noted how she has been truly helpful with fostering communication and relaying details with all Nassau County projects within the village.
Mayor Veneziale said it’s important that Police Commissioner Kenneth Jackson is involved in future studies, noting that Jackson has tremendous knowledge of traffic regulations as well as the existing issues Garden City faces with accidents and vehicular patterns “in every part of the village.”
Trustee Mary Carter Flanagan added that other parts of Garden City such as on Hampton Road in the Estates and along Rockaway Avenue and Merillon Avenue near Garden City High School must be considered for traffic configuration changes, especially as some students, schools’ staff and parents are often pedestrians around there.
“We understand it may not be practical to say it’s a villagewide review or study, but as a village we need to examine what the spots are. From reading the proposal there may be more locations where we have to work towards implementing solutions, and the cost would likely be better to have a larger study area than a series of smaller locational studies,” she said, noting that the strategies from a local streets’ study would be good information to examine for multiple areas of Garden City.
Trustee Louis Minuto disagreed that a blanket, all-encompassing approach to traffic solutions should be part of the Board’s and the consultant’s reviews in the months ahead. He said places such as Tanners Pond Road and New Hyde Park Road have obvious geographical issues that impact them with much higher percentages of speeding. “And it will only get worse,” he commented.
“The things impacting those areas with their localized changes are completely different than pass-through traffic which is being observed in the numbered streets. In order to propose and pass the studies properly, as I am hearing (Filicotto) say the same thing, you would want a study for the numbered streets (Central section) and the study for New Hyde Park Road down to Tanners Pond Road,and we should identify the forces that are creating issues within different zones. I agree that there are different hotspots but they do not all have to be completed with one study, because that would slow down any progress. While I don’t want to sound too dramatic, in the Central section many of us have young kids and something bad is going to happen,” Trustee Minuto said.
Trustee Carter Flanagan replied that she did not intend to suggest delays or to minimize the safety issues of the Central section, but several other parents in other areas of Garden City have also relayed concerns on safety and speeding traffic.
“I think we need to have the conversations about the safety concerns with a group of areas,” she said.