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Disabled challenge ban on bicycles from Tobay Beach parking lot

Peter Hawkins, of Malverne, seen near the Tobay

Peter Hawkins, of Malverne, seen near the Tobay Beach bike path on July 16, 2015, regularly works out there with a specially designed three-wheel racing wheelchair. Credit: Steve Pfost

Oyster Bay officials are holding firm on the town ban of bicycles from the Tobay Beach parking lot, despite warnings that the way they keep bikes out makes access for people with disabilities more difficult and violates the law.

Last summer, the town installed concrete barriers and, later, a fence, to keep out bicycles that arrive at Tobay from a new state-constructed bike-path extension from Jones Beach and Cedar Creek Park.

Town officials said they are worried about bikes colliding with people or cars. A turnstile allows cyclists and others to walk to the restrooms and concession stand on the other side of the fence.

But the turnstile blocks people such as Peter Hawkins, of Malverne, from getting through.

Hawkins, 51, regularly works out on the bike path with a specially designed three-wheel racing wheelchair. Hawkins is paralyzed from the waist down.

He has been tussling with town officials for months about the barrier. After he complained, the town put up a sign advising people with disabilities to call a phone number for a town employee to unlock a gate.

After more complaints, town officials replaced the key lock with a combination lock and gave the combination number to people with disabilities who called during business hours -- although the phone number had a prerecorded menu that did not always make clear how to obtain the combination.

The latest change, instituted July 17, is a 24-hour phone number that directly connects callers to an employee for the combination number.

Hawkins credits the town for making access for people with disabilities less burdensome. But, he asked, what about those who can't reach the lock or are without phones?

"I never bring my phone with me when I go out to train," he said.

Kelly McClean, community policy advocate for the Levittown-based Long Island Center for Independent Living, said the town's policy clearly "violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA calls for equal access for people with disabilities. This is not equal access."

Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino said he's trying to balance the needs of people with disabilities with safety concerns.

The no-bikes policy followed numerous resident complaints after near-collisions between cyclists and people who were walking or driving through the busy lot -- which has 4,500 spaces -- or walking under tunnels to the beach, Nocerino said.

Nocerino said the town has tried its best to accommodate people with disabilities, but there are no plans to remove the fence. "I understand what Mr. Hawkins is saying, but he has to understand we have a bigger issue with the 4,500 cars" and concerns about safety, Nocerino said.

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