Written by Denise Nash Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
Gina Russo recognized a dangerous situation when she saw the Wantagh Parkway Bike Path, also known as the Ellen Ferrant Bicycle Path, back in February. The 4.5 mile paved path runs from Jones Beach State Park to Cedar Creek Park along the Wantagh Parkway and is utilized by thousands of residents weekly who like to walk, jog, bike, and rollerblade.
A majority of the path has no protection from vehicles on the highway There are no barriers, trees or fencing to protect pedestrians from the oncoming traffic that passes within feet of the path.
Russo, a resident of Jericho, created an awareness and activist group on the social networking website Facebook entitled “Guardrail for Wantagh Parkway Bike Path.” The group, which includes over 2,300 members, is petitioning to have a guardrail placed along the path at Cedar Creek Park to separate it from the busy parkway.
Five months after Russo started her petition for the bike path, 19-year-old Matthew Scarpati of Dix Hills was killed when a drunk motorcyclist, estimated to be traveling in excess of 100 miles per hour, veered off the northbound parkway onto the bike path and struck him while he was changing a flat tire on his bicycle.
Through Russo’s efforts, teamed with the Scarpati family, a petition was started to have a guardrail placed along the path. They currently have over 3,300 signatures supporting their cause.
While the bicycle path on the Wantagh State Parkway complies with state and federal engineering and safety standards, DOT has been working on a series of actions that were implemented on the parkway beginning Tuesday, Sept. 1.
“We will further separate the bike path from the parkway’s vehicular traffic by closing the outside, right travel lane on the parkway for four miles,” an Aug. 28 press release states. “We will identify the lane closure through extensive pavement striping. The change will increase the buffer strip between the parkway and the bike path that will vary from 20 feet to 41 feet wide. The existing buffer strip ranges from 10 feet to 30 feet wide.
“Subsequently, NYSDOT will install a rumble strip at the edge of the new right lane of the parkway in order to alert motorists with a pronounced, audible warning if they begin to drift off the highway. That will be followed as quickly as possible by the installation this fall of vertical delineators along the edge of the parkway where it curves at the approaches to the Goose Creek Bridge and the Island Creek Bridge. The delineators are flexible, 3-foot high tubular posts, which will provide additional visual warning to motorists about the edge of the roadway.”
The DOT added that they are reviewing additional safety measures, including the use of guardrail on the parkway.
“We will be reaching out to the community for input,” the release states. “We intend to make a decision about the appropriate additional measure(s) to deploy as quickly as possible.”
In regard to the DOT’s announcement of a buffer lane, Russo said, “The buffer lane is just a temporary band-aid and a permanent guard rail is what is needed to keep vehicles from passing onto the bike path.”
In response to the DOT’s idea to install delineators, Russo said, “Flexible tubular posts? That won’t stop a vehicle weighing one ton or more going 60 mph or more from going onto the path. Why don’t they just install toothpicks then?”
State Senator Charles Fuschillo, in a July 30 letter to Governor David Paterson, requested the installation of guardrails on the bike path.
“DOT officials from the Long Island region estimate that this bike path is used by 1,000 people per day,” he wrote. “We have seen the danger that exists and must do all in our power to protect others from harm.”
The Scarpati family, along with Russo, are still collecting signatures for their petition. Petitions can be found at www.LIFun4Kids.com, or by searching “Guardrail for Wantagh Parkway Bike Path” on Facebook.com. Also, petitions have been left for people to sign at Brands Cycle and East Bay Diner in Wantagh, Sunrise Cyclery in Massapequa Park and the Bicycle Planet in Syosset.