A plan by the Long Island Rail Road and Village of Farmingdale to help transport golf fans to the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black next week will force hundreds of commuters to drive east for miles to park near a train station.
Despite outrage among the affected LIRR commuters, railroad and village officials are defending their decision to shut down the parking lots at Farmingdale station to accommodate shuttle buses for tournament-goers and safety personnel.
Earlier this month, the LIRR and Farmingdale notified commuters of the planned closure of the station’s north and south parking lots beginning Saturday and lasting through the end of the tournament May 19. Only 12 spaces for vehicles with handicapped parking passes will remain open at the station, which is used by some 3,800 customers daily.
Parking on Farmingdale streets or at other village lots is prohibited, and subject to fines of up to $250, the LIRR told customers. But the railroad is allowing Farmingdale commuters to park free at the Wyandanch station garage — about 5 miles away — and catch a train there.
The option brings little solace to several commuters, who pay $100 to $400 annually to park at Farmingdale station, and say commuting instead from Wyandanch will mean longer travel times and more crowded trains.
“I think the fact that they asked us to drive out of our way the opposite direction is absurd,” said Cynthia Hare, of Farmingdale, who intends to have her husband or father drop her off and pick her up at the station each day. “I mean, it’s not terrible for me. I do have an option, but I think it’s unfair to the people that don’t have that option.”
LIRR officials said a functioning public transportation plan will be key to the success of the tournament, which is expected to generate more than $100 million in economic activity for Long Island. The railroad said it expects up to 18,000 riders at the height of the tournament, and said, for safety and congestion reasons, it’s important that bus and commuter traffic don’t mix.
“The plan created to provide adequate train service, along with proper space for security and shuttle purposes, will help avert massive traffic gridlock across large swaths of the Island,” LIRR spokeswoman Sarah Armaghan said. “We apologize to LIRR customers inconvenienced by this, and appreciate their flexibility during this period.”
Although the LIRR and golf organizations have set up similar shuttle bus operations at Farmingdale for previous events at Bethpage Black, it has been several years since both station lots were closed altogether. And in past instances, where both lots were shuttered, commuters still had the option to park at other lots in the village or on the street. The village is looking to avoid the chaos that came with street parking in the past, Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said.
“Anybody can walk to the station. They can drive to the station and get dropped off,” said Ekstrand, who cited the tournament’s potential as a terror target as a key reason for the parking plan. A portion of one of the lots will be used for security screening.
“I understand it is an inconvenience. But I don’t know what else to say. It’s the best thing we can do for the safety of everybody concerned,” Ekstrand said.
Farmingdale commuter Michael Borg criticized what he said is the LIRR and village’s decision to put golf fans ahead of commuters.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense, because Farmingdale is not getting any benefit from this. Nobody who is taking the trains is going to be using Main Street in Farmingdale,” said Borg, of Melville. “We’re getting the short end of the stick — the commuters, the people who are there every day.”
Ekstrand said while he doesn’t expect the event will be a major financial boon for his village, it will help “keep Farmingdale on the map.”
Correction: The first name of Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand was incorrect in a previous version of this story.