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Traffic Calming On West Shore Road?

Bikers ask for a safer West Shore Road for cyclists, walkers, joggers

While it appeared a few weeks ago that West Shore Road would be repaired after years of neglect, advocates for a bike lane made their voices heard and are continuing the dialogue on the project. A previous plan, about 10 years ago, included funds from the federal government, which supports the inclusion of bike lanes in highway projects, as another mode of transportation. The new plans, funded only by Nassau County, have no bike/walkways included.

Oyster Bay Cove resident Caroline DuBois spoke at the East Norwich Civic Association meeting on Aug. 23 in favor of the bike/walkway and said, she was a former bicycle coordinator for the Washington D.C. department of transportation. She asked that the group consider sending a letter of support to the county in favor of traffic calming on West Shore Road.

Ms. DuBois has joined the movement to have a bike/walkway included in the project. She said traffic calming was the way to slow down the speed of the traffic on West Shore Road, but wanted the work on the road to continue. She said, “The next hurricane could collapse the sea wall as backwash from the road could undermine the sea wall and force the closing of the road.”

She said, in the 1960s, the bridge to Rye proposed by Robert Moses was stopped by deeding the land to create the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. “Today, big trees along the way have narrowed the road. I’ve bicycled it and it is terrifying. There is a sort of sidewalk there but it has trees in the middle of it. There is sand, sticks and potholes. There are collapsing guardrails. The hedges grow out to the white line so there is no walking area on that side of the road.”

Oyster Bay Historical Society Archivist Nicole Menchise found several 1920 photographs of West Shore Road in their collection, when it was newly opened. One photograph shows a car on the road, and on the inland side, a woman walking along a path. (See photo on page 1)

Ms. DuBois asked how the ENCA members would feel if the road, from the Bayville Bridge to the Mill Pond, was declared a go-slow area to make it safe? She said she was there when a video of a biker’s experience riding along West Shore Road was recently documented. It is available on YouTube through the safewestshoreroad.com site.

She said, “I was there when they did the video. Derrick Nobman (of Nobman’s Hardware Emporium) who sells trail bikes (they have extra big tires) was the rider, on a Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. He was yelled at and cursed at by drivers and nearly cut off.”

The video shows cars driving around him to get ahead, and shows how close the hedges have come to the road, even blocking out the white line in places. “For families with children riding there is terrifying,” she added.

Ms. DuBois said New York City has bike paths as do other cities, and therefore, “There is knowledge out there on how they work.” She said to create the road without a bike/walkway is a lost opportunity, especially because of the beauty of the road and what a great community resource it could be if properly renovated for future generations.  

ENCA director Bob King said in Queens they use traffic bumps to slow down traffic and suggested it was “the cheapest way to go and it’ll work.”

Pat Cohen testified that, “Sunday mornings I ride my bike to Bayville to have breakfast.” She said, that she signed the petition for a bike path and thought it was an East Norwich issue in that, “We’re all looking for calming traffic all the way from Muttontown to Bayville.”

ENCA board member Mel Warren said, “I’ve walked that road since I was 8 years old. The only thing that has changed are the cars: they are more high powered, bigger and have crazy drivers.” As to the effect of hurricanes, he said, “There were sailboats parked on West Shore Road after recent hurricanes.”

Someone added that at the Triathlon, Sunday, Aug. 26 they were going to hand out information on the proposed bike path to the riders. Nick DeSantis added, “During the races, the police stop the cars from going on the road because it is not safe.”

ENCA President Matthew Meng said the road is being envisioned as being a multiuse path with walkers, bikes, roller bladers also using the road.

Someone commented that “You can’t stop it because the plans are made.” Ms. DuBois said, “No one has seen the plans as yet.” She added,  “It’s not a done issue until the bulldozers go in.”

Press Conference

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton met with advocates of a bike path on West Shore Road, at noon Friday, Aug. 24 at Beekman Beach. She said, “We need to see everyone together on this. Democrat and Republican, town and county, cyclists and homeowners. This is about human lives and safety. People are on this road with bikes every day - some for work and some for recreation. So I am meeting with cyclists and safety experts to learn what possibilities are out there. We also need the county executive’s administration to cooperate and help us as we explore options. I commend Mr. Quirk and the other cycling advocates for reaching out with some helpful information.”

John Quirk said he became aware of the pending work on West Shore Road and that it would contain no bike/walkway as part of the project, about a month ago. He thought a lot of people would want a bike path and set up a website called safewestshoreroad.com asking people to add their comments. “It took off,” he said, “Especially after (Nassau County Department of Public Works spokesperson) Mark Martino said it was safe to ride a bike on the shoulder of the road. We created a video to prove it is not safe. It is on our website safewestshoreroad.com.”

West Shore Road is bordered on the land side by dense hedges in many areas and Mr. Quirk said, “We can remove the hedges but you can’t replace a life.”

Standing with Mr. Quirk at Beekman Beach was Jake Jacobi whose comments are on the webpage. Mr. Jacobi said, “The webpage was a way to get the support of our elected officials. This road will have an impact. We hope it will have a positive impact.”

Kate Naughton, former Bayville Village Trustee remembered when the fight to Stop the Bridge to Rye was taking place. It was the impetus for the formation of the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge,  as the land was deeded to the National Fish & Wildlife Service to preserve the area. “I used to knock on doors to get signatures on the petitions,” she said.

Whose Sea Wall Is It?

A new issue brought up by Nassau County has entered the discussion – who is responsible for the sea wall. Mayor Douglas Watson sent a letter to Nassau CountyExecutive Edward Mangano saying  of the West Shore Road project “I respectfully request that Nassau County cease its abdication of responsibility for West Shore Road and move forward with this important project.”

In response to his letter, Mayor Watson received a letter from Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt saying, “I have no intention of unnecessarily delaying the work necessary to stabilize and repair West Shore Road.

“However, as an elected legislator, I am entitled to ask questions or request additional information on any project for which my vote is required. Based on the testimony provided to the planning committee, outstanding questions remain as to the ownership of the sea wall, the scope of the project, and the necessity to condemn property. I will not provide my vote to advance this project until and unless those questions are satisfactorily answered.”

He added that, “I have asked the administration to evaluate this risk, and if necessary, determine an emergency action plan to stabilize West Shore Road or, in the alternative, close the road to traffic until repairs can be made,” concluded Mr. Schmitt.

As to the ownership of the sea wall, National Fish & Wildlife Service representative, Michele Potter, the LI Wildlife Refuge manager (of a total of 10 LI refuges) when asked if they own the sea wall along West Shore Road as suggested by NC Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, said, “The sea wall has been there since the turn of the century. It predates the refuge. The road was built in approximately 1910 or 1920. I talked to Nassau County about it and corrected them on it.” The Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge was created in 1968 as north shore residents worked together to prevent the bridge to Rye, that was proposed by Robert Moses.

The deed itself answers Mr. Schmitt’s question saying that, “The Grantor, its successors and, assigns, agents and employees, shall not knowingly disturb, damage or destroy any notice, signboard, fence, building, ditch, dam, dike, embankment, flume; or other improvements of property of the United States, within the limits of the area being acquired, and all such property so damaged or destroyed shall be replaced at the option of the Secretary of the Interior...  at the cost of the Grantor.” In other words, the U.S. government in accepting the refuge area would not have to pay for any work needed in the adjoining areas.

Begun In Controversy

Looking further back into the history of West Shore Road, Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond said, “One hundred years ago there was a big battle to put in Shore Road. Residents didn’t want the road to go through. It was a little dirt road going to the bridge. They wanted to expand and pave the road and that’s where the battle erupted. There was a gas station that was there, opposite Beekman Beach, between Horseshoe Road and Cleft Road. When the Village of Mill Neck was incorporated, they threw out the business.”

The Committee for a Safe West Shore Road group met Aug. 23 with Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton in Mineola and asked if an environmental impact study had been ordered for the road for the project that impacts over 10 acres, and over 10,000 local residents of Bayville, Oyster Bay, Mill Neck and Centre Island. Traffic on the Bayville Bridge shows that it has over 10,000 trips a day.

The committee stated that West Shore Road has 348 percent more accidents than the average two-lane road in NYS, according to DOT statistics. They concluded, “Clearly, there needs to be greater shoulder width for vehicles to maneuver around bicyclists, joggers and oversized trucks coming the other way.”

The 1966 deed which said the Town of Oyster Bay granted “certain lands, marshes, shorelines, and tidewaters (hereinafter referred to as the town Lands), which are of particular importance to migratory birds, in addition to being essential components of the marine environment which supports a valuable shellfishery and habitat essential to the fishery resource of Long Island Sound,” can be best preserved by deeding the land to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The deed, said the committee, acknowledges the need for management of roads, reconstructions and makes comment for the management of the estuary as relates to the population and that the road does not fall under the category of encroachment into the estuary which would cause any deed reversion.

The committee also said that the November 2011 plan, “Does not include road lane dimensioning, gravel path dimensioning, or road lighting.”

During the press conference on Beekman Beach someone suggested lowering the speed limit on West Shore Road and Ms. DeRiggi-Whitton said it was worth discussing. Presently the speed limit in both Oyster Bay and Bayville is 30 mph and on Nassau County’s West Shore Road it is 35 mph.

Two women and several young bikers came to the press conference. They included children Marian Coor, Andrea Myers, Thomas Coor and adults (mother) Janet Coor and Jackie Capewell. Janet Coor said, “I love biking. It’s great exercise and West Shore Road is a great scenic road, but I can’t do it safely with my kids.” Ms Capewell agreed, “We can’t bike here safely with kids.”

“Biking is my favorite sport. We do kayak with the children – and go to Bridge marina. We bike in TR Park,” said Ms. Coor. She just doesn’t let her children bike on West Shore Road, she said.

Ms. Capewell added, there are back roads they can travel on to get to Bayville but it takes a lot more time. She said she has lived her for 26 years, “And every time I see West Shore Road I dream of it as a great bike path opportunity. The world would be the better for a bike path here.”

Some History

In the recent past there have been two pushes for the road. About 20 years ago, Nassau County engineers drew up plans of the work that was shown to local residents from Oyster Bay, Mill Neck, Bayville, Locust Valley and Lattingtown – with an interest in the connector road. At that time the hue and cry was to save their tree-lined country road and not make it wider, which would encourage speeding resulting, in the engineers going on to projects that were less controversial.

About 10 years ago Nassau County engineers announced they were back and held meetings again. When residents looked at the plans they were angered and said they were the same plans they had seen before. The difference was that this time the engineers went back and began the project on what is now being proposed.

The difference this time around is that there are people who want something done on Shore Road, as opposed to those who wanted nothing done.

Residents of Bayville and Centre Island have expressed the wish that West Shore Road be restored since it is one of two roads in and out of their areas. Centre Island drivers motor out on the causeway by Centre Island beach that connects to the crossroads of Ludlam and Bayville Avenue where they can go take Ludlam to West Shore Road to Route 106 and beyond or follow Bayville Avenue through Lattingtown and Locust Valley and beyond.