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More reach for bikes by the beach

A cyclist enjoys the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway

A cyclist enjoys the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway in 2014. Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

So you’d like to ride your bicycle to the beach? Just head to Cedar Creek Park in Seaford and ride the path down Wantagh State Parkway to Jones Beach. Once there you can head east for a beautiful 13 miles along some of the best beaches in the world, thanks to the state Department of Transportation’s completion of the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway this year. That’s great — if you live in Nassau County.

Unfortunately, if you live in Suffolk, you’ll need to load your bike onto a car rack, drive to Captree State Park, and pay the $8 parking fee (or use your Empire Pass) to access the greenway. That’s difficult if you don’t have a car or can’t afford the fee. Back in the ’90s, when planners scheduled the greenway for construction, they also planned a path along Robert Moses Causeway so Suffolk residents could bike to the beach at Captree State Park. Over the years, as other projects took priority, the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway was delayed and the path along the causeway was dropped. But finally, the $16.2 million greenway project was completed, giving cyclists new routes and new vistas to enjoy.

But its sister path along the Robert Moses Causeway has gone nowhere. It was a fairly straightforward project to build back then, and still would be. What has changed is our air quality (worse), need for physical activity (greater) and understanding of the effect exercising and enjoying the outdoors can have on our health and well-being (enormous). These concerns come at a time when people are also increasingly concerned that public facilities be accessible to as many as possible.

We need to let our elected officials know that this project deserves higher priority. Suffolk County residents should have the same access to the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway as Nassau residents. Money will always be tight, but there should be room in the DOT’s budget to build this path. If enough people let their voices be heard, it could be under construction in a couple of years and we could be riding to the beach not long after.

Until then, we could employ a temporary solution used in Europe and in some places in the United States: bike shuttles. Such a shuttle could transport cyclists from Gardiner County Park in West Bay Shore 5.4 miles to Captree State Park. We could use eight-passenger vans to tow trailer-mounted bike lockers. The van pulls up, the cyclists each open a door and roll their bicycles in, close the door and hop on the van. Fifteen minutes later they roll their bikes out at Captree. Each trip would take four to eight cars off the crowded causeway.

Better yet, after trying it here, a similar setup could be used to connect Long Beach with the west end of Jones Beach. Seasonal shuttle services already run in Montauk, East Hampton and Southampton, so this is not an unusual idea. Simply add a bike trailer to the van.

While we push for the design and building of a Suffolk bike path, let’s launch the short-term solution of a shuttle so we can get out and enjoy biking to the beach this summer.

Hal Tarry is a bikeway design engineer and advocate for safer cycling facilities on Long Island.

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