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Paterson: Wantagh bike path guardrail to be installed

The Wantagh State Parkway has a higher-than-average rate

The Wantagh State Parkway has a higher-than-average rate of off-road crashes. (Oct. 21, 2009) Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

New York State will install a guardrail between the Wantagh State Parkway and the adjacent bike path, Gov. David A. Paterson said Thursday, as statistics emerged showing the stretch of road along the path had a higher-than-average off-road crash rate.

Paterson presented the solution at a meeting with State Sen. Charles Fuschillo and the family of Matthew Scarpati, 19, of Dix Hills, who was killed July 20 when an out-of-control motorcyclist slammed into him as he changed a bicycle tire on the path.

State transportation officials most likely will choose a steel cable guardrail, Paterson said, a relatively new system that he said appeared to be as effective as traditional guardrails, is safer for motorists and less expensive. He said installation would cost about $800,000 and cover most of the 4.5 miles of the popular bike path, which runs along the northbound parkway lanes.

DOT officials said both types of barrier systems have been shown to reduce fatal crashes by 44 percent and injury crashes by 47 percent.

"Obviously, we're in a recession now and agencies have had to cut back by 15 percent, so we're almost in austerity and that has delayed projects," Paterson said in a telephone interview. "But this is such a horrible situation and it's upset so many people - we will try to address the situation and treat it as an emergency.

"We don't want any family to go through what the Scarpatis have gone through," he said.

Paterson's announcement and the new accident statistics, presented by DOT officials at a meeting with Nassau Legis. Dave Denenberg Tuesday, came after Scarpati's family and residents had renewed calls for a guardrail.

According to the DOT, the stretch of parkway along the bike path experienced an average of 3.6 off-road crashes per year, compared to 2.4 per year on "rural freeways" with similar traffic counts over a 10-year period. Only reportable crashes - those with injury or property damage over $1,000 - were counted.

Scarpati's was the only reported death on the parkway in 10 years, according to the state; at least three serious injuries to bicyclists have been reported since 2002. Since Scarpati's death, state officials have closed the right lane of the parkway to create an 11-foot buffer between motor traffic and the bike path. They also installed a rumble strip along the shoulder to warn motorists who veer to the right.

Scarpati's brother, Chris, said the family is "deeply grateful" to state officials for focusing attention on the safety of the bike path. "We know this won't bring Matt back to his family and friends who love him, but we hope it will prevent another tragedy," he said.

State officials say the bike path is used by an average of 1,000 people a day during the summer, with up to 2,000 on summer holidays. Between 6,000 and 15,000 cars use the parkway each day.

Denenberg (D-Merrick) said he's been asking the state for a guardrail for two years. "The cable barrier system seems to be the most preferable," he said Thursday. "It's the least intrusive in terms of views and the safest both for motorists and cyclists."

Fuschillo (R-Merrick), who also has been lobbying for a guardrail, said he is "extremely pleased and satisfied that the process is moving forward."

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