After two decades of planning, design and public input for a 14.4-mile path along Ocean Parkway, state officials have agreed to fund a 0.7-mile route connecting the end of the bike path to beach access at the East Bathhouse. The state Department of Transportation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation are to unveil the $1 million project Thursday.
Summer cyclists now must park their bikes at the end of the 7.5-mile Wantagh path and walk three-quarters of a mile around the Field 5 parking lot and through a tunnel under Ocean Parkway to get to the beach.
"The walk back from the beach with a couple of tired, whiny kids, when the pavement's hot and they still have to bike home -- that's no way to make biking fun," cycling advocate Michael Vitti, of Glen Head, said at the site Wednesday.
Vitti, 55, president of Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and a member of Long Island Greenways and Healthy Trails, helps push for more bike paths. For years he and others have written to state officials seeking beach access for cyclists.
Thursday, state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald and Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey plan to tour the site and two other bike path projects under way: a 6-mile extension to the Bethpage bike path that will extend the trail north of Bethpage State Park to the Long Island Rail Road station in Syosset, and a 2-mile addition to the Setauket-to-Port Jefferson Station path that will extend that route to the East Setauket post office.
The DOT has had plans for a bike path along Ocean Parkway since the 1990s. Cycling advocates still want the state to fund the 14.4-mile route to Captree State Park, but welcomed the improved Jones Beach access.
"A lot more people will likely use it now that they can actually ride all the way to the beach," said Denis Byrne, committee chairman for the trails alliance. "Recreational trails get people who are nervous about riding in traffic biking."
McDonald pledged her commitment to the Ocean Parkway path in Nassau and Suffolk counties. "I know the desire is for the full 14 miles and I support that. We have to figure out time and budgets, but it would be terrific for the Island," she told Newsday Wednesday.
By noon Wednesday, about 1 1/2-dozen bikes lined racks at the southern end of the Wantagh path. Several riders kept going past the "Biking Prohibited" signs, toward the beach.
John and Nancy Hines of Huntington and their children, Brendan, 13, and Briana, 12, greeted news of the extension enthusiastically. "We're always looking for off-road places to ride with the kids," Nancy said. "With the traffic on Long Island, the more bike paths, the better."