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Long Island Bikeway May Roll Through South Fork

Thu, 02/09/2023 - 10:44

175-mile route would be like Empire State Trail

A slide from the Trust for Public Land’s presentation to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday shows a possible route for a bikeable 175-mile Long Island Greenway and extols some of its potential benefits.
Trust for Public Land

The East Hampton Town Board heard from Carter Strickland of the Trust for Public Land on Tuesday as the organization, working with Suffolk County, moves forward on an ambitious and long-desired plan for a Long Island Greenway that could eventually bless bicyclists with 175 miles of Island-spanning trails, from Manhattan to Montauk.

There’s a long road between here and there but that plan would include what is now a “conceptual path” to Montauk, said Tina LaGarenne, a principal planner with the Town Planning Department. The plan for East Hampton would follow LIPA lines in places, create or utilize existing bike lanes along Route 27, “and hit town centers,” Mr. Strickland said. “Those are the kinds of things we’ll be looking at,” as the conceptual route rolls into more granular terrain.

Ms. LaGarenne highlighted a new federal grant opportunity that could be used “to find the most desirable path through town.”

In late 2022, the Biden Administration announced that it had pumped $1.5 billion into the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program.

The grant applications are due on Feb. 28 and winners will be determined by the United States Department of Transportation.

RAISE grants are an 80-percent-20-percent mix of federal and state, local, or in-kind donations, and require a funding match commitment, in this case, of $100,000, as a “backup” in case the match doesn’t come from the state, said Mr. Strickland.

Time is of the essence. Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the board would have to commit to funding on Feb. 16, when it meets for its next regular session. “Conceptually, we’re supportive,” he said.

RAISE grant decisions will be announced on June 30. The next round of state Regional Economic Development Council applications are due on July 31, following passage of the state budget in April.

Mr. Strickland said that in the meantime, he would be “working with the state delegation to try and get a carveout for matching contribution funds.”

The Trust for Public Land was instrumental in the rollout of the Empire State Trail, a mostly-paved 750-mile on and off-road trail that connects Buffalo, Plattsburgh, and New York City that was built with $200 million in state funding. The problem, as Mr. Strickland explained, was that “they left out 8 million people on Long Island.”

The $114 million Long Island Greenway project was hatched in 2017, and since that time has completed a phase-one study for a 25-mile stretch UpIsland that straddles Nassau and Suffolk County, which was funded through a state Regional Economic Development Council grant. 

The work was undertaken by MV5, the same firm that designed the North Shore Rail Trail that is now open between Port Jefferson and Wading River along Long Island Power Authority power lines.

Mr. Strickland explained that much of the trust’s work focused on how to stitch together various bike path opportunities — the LIPA lines, other off-road areas, on-road rights of way, road shoulders, and sidewalks — to, among other things, provide a viable alternative to car transportation.

The county produced a Hike-Bike Master Plan in 2020, and East Hampton Town made bicycling a priority going back to 2012 when a combination of state and municipal efforts created numerous new bike lanes on the East End. “The good news,” said Mr. Strickland, “is you did a lot of planning.” 

One option that does not appear likely is utilizing land along the Long Island Rail Road tracks. “Indications from L.I.R.R. so far is that it’s not something that they are interested in,” said Mr. Strickland by way of pouring water on a suggestion made by Mr. Van Scoyoc.

“Is it worth pushing that boulder up the hill?” He said it was worth looking at and suggested that drumming up local support might sway the railroad, but reiterated that to date, “L.I.R.R. is not playing along.”

With a funding stream in place, Mr. Stickland laid out an ambitious timeline that would see a fully designed and “shovel ready” Long Island Greenway plan in place by 2025 that would sync up construction across the entire 175-mile venture.

He noted that planners had to “start from scratch” to create a bike path cutting across the middle of a heavily developed UpIsland, but that there are “more built-in opportunities” to the east to potentially shorten the time frame for scoping out a path on the East End. He invoked, for example, a possible opportunity to build bike lanes above the onshore buried cables that are part of ongoing and upcoming offshore wind projects.

Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Mr. Strickland said, lead the state in pedestrian and bicycle deaths. To that end, Ms. LaGarenne stressed that ensuring safety for bicyclists is an imperative as plans for a Long Island Greenway get rolling.

Last July, a bicyclist was struck by a car and killed along the Napeague stretch on Montauk Highway.

Councilwoman Cate Rogers suggested on Tuesday that an opportunity might be afoot to widen the lanes or otherwise create a safer bike route along that same stretch, following the recent felling of thousands of pine trees along the highway that were infested with southern pine beetles.

Those are just the sorts of “opportunities,” said Mr. Strickland, that need to be explored to realize this long-awaited vision for a Long Island Greenway.

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