In January 2017, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled plans for the construction of the nation’s most ambitious bicycle trail network. The 750-mile lattice of off-road existing trails, multiuse paths, signed bike lanes and bike routes, when completed, would link lower Manhattan to the Canadian border, and Albany to Buffalo.
The trail would be a boon to tourism in upstate scenic areas desperate for an injection of tourist vitality. It would provide a desperately needed safe passage in urban areas for cyclists heading to work, and a linear park for walkers, joggers and recreational users. Seventy percent of the trail is now completed.
When the projected route for this mission was unveiled at the New York Bicycle Coalition summit in 2017, I called attention to a glaring omission. Left out of this visionary and commendable project were the 7 million New York State taxpayers who live east of Manhattan who need and deserve the extension of the trail to Long Island. When I asked about why Long Island was left out of the project, the response was that Long Island presented density barriers that were prohibitive.
In the two years since the Empire State Trail initiative was announced, the leaders of the Trust for Public Land have worked with the Nassau Suffolk Hike and Bike Master Plan committee to create a feasibility study to address and provide a solution to the density difficulties. In October, the trust announced a plan for a 173-mile trail from Battery Park to Montauk Point, including a plan for a 24-mile phase of the trail that would run from Eisenhower State Park in Nassau County to Brentwood State Park in Suffolk.
And Cuomo recently announced a $600,000 matching grant to the trust to fund the planning of this first stage of the route. It is essential now that he backs the funding for the next phase of the planning study so this project can go from the planning stage to being shovel-ready for construction.
The proposed trail route would connect park trails with a network of power-line easements and other off-road alternatives, meaning the construction of this section of the trail would involve minimal traffic disruption. The idea of using the land easements beneath the power lines is pivotal to solving the density issues of Long Island. Suffolk and LIPA recently reached an agreement for the Port Jefferson-to-Wading River rail trail that reduced the liability burden that had been a stalling point. This cooperation can serve as a model for the Long Island Greenway trail.
In Suffolk County, the construction of the Port Jefferson-to-Wading River rail trail, known as the North Shore Rail Trail, would serve as a model for the economic potential that long-distance scenic bikeways can have. The extension to Long Island of the Empire State Trail would bring tourists to Long Island: They would not add to the already choking motorist congestion, and would be “wallets on wheels,” stopping more often at local businesses than motorists. The trail construction would provide well-paying jobs and would help alleviate the Island’s unsustainable traffic congestion.
Assemb. Steve Englebright, who chairs the Environmental Conservation Committee, has advocated for this project and Todd Kaminsky, his State Senate counterpart, is also in favor. Long Island deserves this state-funded trail as much as our upstate brethren, but without public pressure, the window of political possibility may soon close. This is not a prohibitively costly project. All that we need now is political will. Cuomo must continue to approve funds to make this vision a reality.
Martin Buchman is a board member of the New York Bicycle Coalition and a consultant to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s Suffolk Bike Hike master planning committee.