By Barbara Baez and Timothy Bolger
Even more pressure is being put on the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to install a guardrail on the bike path from Cedar Creek Park to Jones Beach—this time from Town of Hempstead officials—just as the state prepares to start dealing with the issue of how to protect the path’s estimated 1,000 daily users from high-speed traffic.
“It is outrageous that the state Department of Transportation would allow a trail of death and injury to remain unaddressed,” Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said Thursday. “What’s more troubling is the fact that state officials want to extend this dangerous trail and expose more cyclists to hazardous conditions without making the existing bike path safe for use,” she added, referring to plans to extend the path north to Eisenhower Park.
The DOT has been criticized about the lack of a protetive barrier between the bike path and the northbound side of the Wantagh State Parkway since 19-year-old Matthew Scarpati, a bicyclist from Dix Hills, was killed at the south side of Island Creek Bridge when a motorcyclist struck him while the teen was changing a flat tire in July. As first reported in the Long Island Press, the agency had already considered the proposal but dropped it and New York State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) met the victim’s family and DOT officials to discuss reviving the guardrail idea this month. At the meeting, Fuchillo presented the DOT with a pro-guardrail petition signed by more than 3,000 people.
Two lawsuits, one active and one from 2002 that has been resolved, surfaced since the guardrail issue has gained groundswell—each involving people who have been struck by vehicles while using the path. In the first suit, a judge ruled in the DOT’s favor and said that there is no need for a guardrail. But the state agency is preparing a bike path barrier plan now.
“We will further separate the bike path from the parkway’s vehicular traffic by closing the outside, right travel lane on the parkway for four miles,” DOT Acting Commissioner Stanley Gee said in a statement Friday. Extensive pavement striping in the soon-to-be-closed right lane will increase the space between parkway traffic and the bike path that will vary from 20 feet to 41 feet wide.
Also, the DOT will install a rumble strip at the edge of the new right lane of the parkway in order to alert motorists with a warning if they drift off the road. After that, this fall the agency will install flexible, three-foot-high tubular posts along the edge of the parkway where it curves at the approaches to the Goose Creek Bridge and the Island Creek Bridge. The work will begin on Sept. 1.
As for the guardrail, the DOT is “in the midst of reviewing additional safety measures, including the use of guiderail,” Gee said, adding that the DOT will reach out to the community for input.
Critics were not appeased. “Rumble strips and reflective striping could be helpful as an additional safety measure, but will not be an adequate substitute for guardrails,” Murray said.
As for the bike path extension, that proposal is in the “very early preliminary stages,” said Ilene Peters, spokeswoman for the DOT’s Long Island region. “The future of that project will not be determined until after a public hearing,” she said. Another DOT spokeswoman said guardrails are also being considered in that proposal.
Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised over the current jogging path that extends from Park Avenue to Brush Hollow Road on the northbound side of the Wantagh parkway, where a teenager was killed in 1982, in addition to the Mill Pond County Park path on the southbound side of the parkway near Merrick Road in Wantagh where a fatal car crash claimed three last month. None of those killed in that early morning crash were pedestrians on the path.
Richard Schary, a Long Island environmentalist who voiced the concerns about the Jones Beach bike path and the Mill Pond path, said: “They have to realize that it’s an off-road and multi-use recreational trail and thousands of joggers, bicyclists and rollerbladers and families who are pushing baby strollers should have a reasonable expectation of safety when they use this trail.”