Travelers to Fire Island may soon be able to walk or bike ride down a refashioned Maple Avenue from the Bay Shore train station to the ferry terminals, where each year about 900,000 people depart for the beach.
A $1.6 million state Department of Transportation grant will help Islip Town build bike lanes and improve pedestrian access on Maple Avenue, the main road leading to the Fire Island ferry terminals.
The funding comes from the DOT's Transportation Enhancement Program. The improvements to Maple Avenue are part of the town's proposed revitalization of downtown Bay Shore, including highlighting the historic and waterfront characteristics of the street and improving water quality from storm runoff into Great South Bay.
Fire Island's popularity as a summer destination spurred the town to focus on Maple Avenue specifically.
"Bay Shore is the gateway to Fire Island," said councilman John Cochrane, who is spearheading the project.
With nearly a million people taking the ferries from the Maple Avenue docks to Fire Island each year, according to town officials, traffic during the summer can get backed up for blocks. And tourism remains vibrant during the off-season, so improving access from the train station will alleviate congestion year round, Cochrane said.
The town's project consultants, Level G Associates of Old Bethpage, also envision bike shelters, automatic pedestrian beacons that activate traffic signals, and raised crosswalks along the nearly mile-long stretch between the train station and ferry terminal.
Historic markers and aesthetic improvements to the sidewalks and curbing are also planned. The total cost of the project is projected at $2.15 million, with Islip Town contributing about $538,000.
Cochrane said he hopes construction on the project will start after the high season this summer.
"In its current state, Maple Avenue is not pedestrian friendly, despite the beautiful architecture of the area homes and their historic value," he said in a news release. "We have the opportunity to do some really great things here that will have positive impacts far beyond Maple Avenue."
Local community leaders hailed the project as a boost for tourism.
"Improved connectivity to Bay Shore's waterfront is of integral importance to tourism and the business industry of both Bay Shore's downtown and Fire Island," said Mary Louise Cohen of the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Summit Council in the news release.
"I am very pleased we will be working with the Town of Islip on this initiative," said Bay Shore Chamber of Commerce president Donna Periconi. "We will be able to emphasize the connection between the train station and the Maple Avenue dock. Maple Avenue is one of our most historic and beautiful corridors," she said.