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Community Pushes for Safer Area Between Bike Path and Wantagh Parkway

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilman Gary Hudes recently criticized a NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) plan to extend the Wantagh Parkway Bike Path, also known as the Ellen Ferrant Bicycle Path, while unsafe conditions along the area remain unresolved.

The extension of the existing bicycle path would proceed north from Cedar Creek Park, along the Wantagh Parkway and continuing along Salisbury Park Drive in Westbury, eventually leading to Eisenhower Park. The plans for extending the project contemplates having bicyclists walk across Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road at their intersection with Wantagh Parkway.

“I am concerned that the state’s plan to extend the bike path will encourage more cyclists to put their lives at risk,” stated Hudes. “Adding insult to injury, the DOT may be creating a whole new array of dangerous bike conditions without fixing the existing deficiencies on the current bike path.”

“A guardrail is a necessary and important step in safeguarding the bike riding public along the parkway,” stated Murray. “Rumble strips and reflective striping could be helpful as an additional safety measure, but will not be an adequate substitute for guardrails.”

The officials’ plea comes in the wake of the tragic July 20 death of cyclist Matthew Scarpati of Dix Hills who was killed when a drunk motorcyclist estimated to be traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour veered off the parkway northbound and onto the bike path.

Murray and Hudes called upon the commissioner of New York’s DOT to shelve the expansion plans and install a protecting guardrail along the existing trail for cyclists before extending the path and potentially increasing the number of bike riders traversing unsafe territory. The current path runs 4.5 miles from Jones Beach State Park to Cedar Creek Park on the Wantagh/Seaford border.

While the bicycle path on the Wantagh State Parkway complies with state and federal engineering and safety standards, DOT has been working on a series of actions that were implemented on the parkway beginning Tuesday, Sept. 1.

“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,” an Aug. 28 press release states. “We will identify the lane closure through extensive pavement striping. The change will increase the buffer strip between the parkway and the bike path that will vary from 20 feet to 41 feet wide. The existing buffer strip ranges from 10 feet to 30 feet wide.

“Subsequently, NYSDOT will install a rumble strip at the edge of the new right lane of the parkway in order to alert motorists with a pronounced, audible warning if they begin to drift off the highway. That will be followed as quickly as possible by the installation this fall of vertical delineators along the edge of the parkway where it curves at the approaches to the Goose Creek Bridge and the Island Creek Bridge. The delineators are flexible, three-foot-high tubular posts, which will provide additional visual warning to motorists about the edge of the roadway.”

The DOT added that they are reviewing additional safety measures, including the use of guide rail on the parkway.

“We will be reaching out to the community for input,” the release states. “We intend to make a decision about the appropriate additional measure(s) to deploy as quickly as possible.”

Senator Charles Fuschillo, in a July 30 letter to Governor David Paterson, requested the installation of guardrails on the bike path.

“DOT officials from the Long Island region estimate that this bike path is used by 1,000 people per day,” he wrote. “We have seen the danger that exists and must do all in our power to protect others from harm.”

After meeting with Assemblyman David McDonough, DOT officials and the Scarpati family, Fuschillo penned another letter to the governor that included a petition signed by “thousands of people.”

“DOT officials have acted expeditiously to present the Scarpati family with designs that can be implemented immediately,” Fuschillo wrote in the Aug. 21 letter.

When discussing the installation of ‘vertical delineators’ as mentioned by the DOT, Assemblyman McDonough said, “I am only satisfied with this as an initial measure to move the traffic further away from the bike path.”

“However, I will still be insisting on the installation of guardrails to assure a greater measure of protection and safety,” he added.

Jericho resident Gina Russo created an awareness and activist group the social networking website, Facebook entitled “Guardrail for Wantagh Parkway Bike Path.” The group, which includes over 2,300 members, is petitioning to have a guardrail placed along the path at Cedar Creek Park, rather than the proposed flexible delineators.

Russo started pushing for more safety standards back in February and last month contacted the Town of Hempstead in hopes of “getting the word out there.”

Signed petitions can be sent to Gina Russo, c/o LIFun4Kids.com, P.O. Box 333, Hicksville, NY 11802-0333. More information about the petitions can be found at www.lifun4kids.com.

Community activists Rich and Lisa Schary of Bellmore have been working on local bike path issues for the past 20 years.

An avid jogger himself, Rich said he has been “afraid to use” the “shared-use recreational trail” along the Wantagh State Parkway.

“Nowhere is there any indication that there is a recreational trail,” Lisa said of that section of the parkway. “It is a shared-use recreational path and the motorists should be aware of them. The people who are using the trail should have just as much protection as the motorists.”

Rich and Lisa, who are president and board member, respectively of the Friends of Massapequa Preserve, said the “DOT should be proactive, not reactive.”