There is something undeniably exciting about the idea of a 175-mile trail connecting Manhattan and Montauk.
Such an artery would provide untold opportunities for bikers, joggers and walkers — while conjuring images of the region’s past, when journeys east and west were made by horse and foot on paths through grassy plains and lush forests.
Nowadays, Long Island has cars. Lots of cars on lots of roads. And lots of people. All of which have produced an uneasy and often dangerous coexistence for those of us who like to bike, walk and hike.
So as we praise a promising plan announced recently to put together a network of roads, parks and utility rights of way to create a seamless path across the region, we implore the brain trust behind it — The Trust for Public Land and the New York Biking Coalition — to put safety first along every foot of this trail.
The proposed route is split nearly evenly between existing roads and off-road sections. The stretches along roads should be separated from traffic as much as possible — by barriers where feasible, and by clear road markings where not. Nassau and Suffolk counties consistently rank near the top of the state in bicycle and pedestrian crashes, injuries and fatalities. Long Islanders were rocked in September when a 12-year-old Boy Scout walking along a road in Manorville was killed by a man accused of driving drunk, and two years ago when a teen cyclist was killed by a motorist in Miller Place. Many Long Islanders simply will not bike, walk or jog along public roads.
But there is a tremendous thirst in the region for paths where those activities can be pursued safely. The parts of the trail that will use parks and rights of way would be particularly popular, especially the section envisioned as the pilot project — a 21-mile segment from Eisenhower Park through Bethpage State Park to Edgewood Oak Brush Plains Preserve in Suffolk that is entirely off-road. The same is true of the dozens of miles that follow, all the way to Peconic Hills County Park in Calverton.
The $114 million trail proposal is an extension of the 750-mile Empire State Trail, which will run from Battery Park in Manhattan to Buffalo and Plattsburgh when completed next year. Funds still must be raised for the Long Island portion, and a zillion approvals will be needed from various agencies and municipalities. But it’s a dream well worth pursuing — safely. — The editorial board