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Rails to Trails

By Nancy Marr

In 1978 Suffolk County Planner Lee Koppelman suggested a trail along Long Island’s North Shore for hikers and bikers. Forty years later, as a result of the efforts of elected officials, community groups and individual citizens, funding for a trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River was approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, with plans to start construction in 2019. How do such ideas become reality in our communities?  

By the time the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail (on 3½ miles of New York state land) was completed in 2014, its supporters had been trained in advocacy. With the Three Village Community Trust as overseer, local residents and organizations supported the trail, raised funds to supplement the state and federal grants and contributed labor to complete the trail. As the trail was being built, the civic associations, the Long Island Mountain Bicyclists and other nonprofits played a role. When they needed Department of Environmental Conservation approval to pass through the Lawrence Aviation property, they pushed to get it. 

Thus when the new Rails to Trails group needed “persons of interest” to attend official government meetings, or informed residents to speak at community meetings, skilled home-grown activists were well-established and ready to work together on this ambitious goal. But advocates also knew that they needed an engaged local elected official who could help navigate the system and secure government support. When Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) became a Suffolk County legislator in 2011, this trail became a legislative goal.

Anker got past her first roadblock when County Executive Steve Bellone (D) enthusiastically endorsed the idea of creating the trail along Route 25A. The second roadblock, property owner LIPA’s concern about liability, was removed when the county executive worked out an agreement to lease and maintain the property, creating a “linear park” that would be cared for by the Parks Department and the county police. Community opposition, however, mounted at the idea of losing privacy with strangers passing near homes along the trail. With the experienced help of Friends of the Greenway Chair Charles McAteer, county legislators organized public meetings to discuss residents’ concerns.  

When the Legislature voted on the request to bond the federal money (that will be paid back in grants) on July 17, so many supporters spoke positively that it passed with only one abstention. The federal funding that had been obtained in prior years by congressmen Felix Grucci and Tim Bishop was delayed until 2016 when Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) secured final approval of almost $10 million.  

The groundswell of support from the community and Anker’s continuing commitment will make the trail’s future secure. Working together, the legislator and the community overcame many obstacles to the establishment and funding of the trail in the past 7 years. This project serves as a strong case study for Suffolk County citizens in advocating, building community support for a grand idea, finding a legislative champion and working together to make it a reality.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email league@lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone details plans to present un-lumped bonds at the July 17 legislature meeting during a press conference July 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the fight over lump bonding in the Suffolk County Legislature is not over yet, both parties are looking to find common ground.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county would be offering un-lumped bond resolutions for the next legislative session July 17, after a series of bond-seeking bills for various projects were voted down on a party-line vote last month.

“Unfortunately we have seen the creeping into Suffolk County of national style politics that has delivered abuse in Washington – which is a shame because we haven’t had that in Suffolk, particularly when it comes to funding of critically important and even routine capital projects,” Bellone said. “I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

Bellone mentioned several bond resolutions that will be up for vote come July 17. One includes funding for repaving on Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. Two other major projects include $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees, and $8.82 million in funds for the Rails to Trails project that will establish a trail from Wading River to Mount Sinai on grounds that used to host train tracks.

Ninety-four percent of Rails to Trails is funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the driving force behind the project, said if the bond doesn’t pass the county could miss the August deadline to get access to those federal grants.

“We have already invested $1 million with a design and engineering plan that we will have to reimburse if this bond does not pass,” Anker said. “We are ready to put a shovel in the ground, even at the end of this year.”

“I want to move us back towards the way we have operated in the past where we treat these kinds of important bonds in a nonpartisan way.”

— Steve Bellone

The legislature needs to vote “yes” on both an appropriations bill as well as one to approve bond funding to support capital projects, and for weeks the two parties in the legislature have battled over bundled bonds. Bellone has said the Republican minority was hypocritical if it voted for the project’s appropriations but voted against the funding. Republicans were against any lump bonds because they did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, lumped with items they were comfortable supporting now.

Because the legislature requires 12 of the 18 members to pass a bond vote, the seven-member Republican minority have joined together during the past two legislative meetings to shoot down any lump bonds.

Bellone said he would be going forward with legislation that would require both appropriations and bonding be included in one single vote, but Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the Legislative Counsel has questioned the legality of that idea, with appropriations requiring 10 votes and bonds needing 12.

Instead, Gregory said he instructed the county clerk to write up the next week’s meeting agenda to have bonds be voted on before appropriations.

“If the bond resolution fails then the appropriation doesn’t come up for a vote,” Gregory said. “It limits the opportunity for somebody to vote for it before voting against it … Hopefully it takes the politics a little bit out of it.”

Republicans in the legislature see the move away from lump bonding as a victory.

“We’re happy that the County Executive has agreed to go back to individual bond resolution for several bonds,” Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “We’re looking forward to working forward with the County Executive over the coming months to find some common ground.”

Though Cilmi said he and other Republican legislators are happy the bonds will not be lumped together, he still has misgivings about a few of the projects, especially when it comes to county finances.

“There are certain proposals where we agree with the project, but we believe the funding for the project should come out of operating funds rather than going out and borrowing money to do it,” Cilmi said. “The county is $2 billion in debt, and we have to exercise restraint in how we go out and borrow money.”

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We were among those excited to hear the long-discussed 10-mile bike trail from Mount Sinai to Wading River Rails to Trails project finally seems to be getting off the ground.

With work expected to begin in spring 2019, the LIPA-owned property will be put to great community use with countless benefits for both locals and visitors to the area. We have heard complaints from residents whose properties abut the trail, and we’ve also heard of issues at other comparable trails on Long Island. It is
incumbent on the organizers of this project — Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), engineering firm NV5 and the county’s Department of Public Works — to not only hear but also act on resident concerns all along the way.

While we understand having a trail suddenly run through your backyard can be a disruptive new addition to a home with the potential to attract strangers, we would argue unused woods can also attract undesirable behaviors. This is not to say that steps shouldn’t be taken to buffer the trail from property lines. We are confident that an amicable compromise can be reached as long as residents’ concerns are truly taken into account.

The popular Long Island Greenbelt Trail, which is overseen by the nonprofit Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference, is regularly in need of volunteers to help maintain and clean up the massive trail. To its credit, the group has a tab on its website where hikers can submit reports about issues or problems along the trail. Something like this would be great when the Mount Sinai-to-Wading River project is complete. Building a bike trail for residents and tourists alike to enjoy and utilize is great in theory, but maintaining it and keeping it vibrant is another project entirely. We would even propose the newly created chambers of commerce in each of the hamlets through which the trail runs divide the 10 miles and host quarterly cleanups.

We were also glad to hear mile markers will be included on the trail to make it easier for people in need of emergency assistance to let authorities know where on the trail they are located. We’d like to see something similar to what Cold Spring Harbor State Park implemented a few years ago to ensure safety for users of the trail. Suffolk County police officer James Garside helped develop and implement innovative GPS-enabled trail markers there, and since installation in 2017, a man who suffered a heart attack on the trail was saved thanks to the availability of his precise location.

We also hope this new trail is like the Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail in one specific way.

“From the 6th Precinct’s standpoint there haven’t been any spikes in burglaries or home invasions on the [Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail],” Community Oriented Police Enforcement unit Sgt. Walter Langdon said during a discussion about safety on the new trail. “With the right-of-ways, people can already access the rear of these houses. With more people on the trail, there’s more people to call 911. In a way, it’s safer.”

Projects for public good are always great by us, but keeping a neighbor-friendly status will require attention and work.

Public voices residual concerns following last year’s meetings

The Rails to Trails recreational path from Mount Sinai to Wading River will be built on old LIPA-owned right-of-way. File photo by Desirée Keegan

With the Rails to Trails bike path another step closer to completion, many residents are still shouting “not in my backyard.”

At a meeting inside Shoreham-Wading River High School’s cafeteria March 27, locals repeated concerns about privacy and security for homes adjacent to the trail.

“They say it’s going to be scenic, but where I’m from, you’re literally six feet from somebody’s fence — what’s scenic about that?” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said, pointing to the satellite maps that detailed the path the 10-mile trail from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River would take. Her property would have only a few yards of buffer from the trail. “If I had trees behind my property I wouldn’t care that much, but I have little kids, I have a tiny dog that’s going to go nuts.”

Residents were able to view satellite maps of the trail at a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School March 27, to see where homes will sit along the trail. Photo by Kyle Barr

The current timeline of the trail 30 years in the making shows final design plans will be submitted to the New York State Department of Transportation May 1, and a final approval is anticipated to be received in October. The county would receive construction bits in the fall with groundbreaking expected to begin in Spring 2019 and end in Fall 2020. The total cost of construction is estimated to be $8.8 million, $500,000 of which will come from Suffolk County, and the rest from federal funds, according to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

“The vision in my mind is an eco-tourism hub,” Anker said. “They can visit the Tesla museum, they can go into downtown Rocky Point, which really needs more passive traffic, they can stop in shops all the way into Mount Sinai.”

The plan does not include building fences around properties that don’t already have them. Privacy was a major point of concern for Rocky Point resident Gary Savickas.

“I have a 7-foot fence on my property, and with how high the trail will be, I will have people looking over my fence,” he said. “I would have to build a 30-foot fence if I wanted to keep eyes off my yard. I think we can spend that $8 million differently.”

Anker said she hopes to procure additional funding through local civic organizations for fences and shrubbery to help with privacy issues and added she and her team hope to be able to meet the privacy needs of the community while the trail along the LIPA-owned property, formerly an old railroad line, is being built.

“A lot of folks have converged on the right-of-ways with structures, with fencing, with pools, and what we’re going to do is work around them,” she said. “We’re going to veer the trail as far around those structures as possible.”

The 10-mile trail will run from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Wading River Manor Road in Wading River. Image from Suffolk County

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe President Jane Alcorn said she’s all for anything that will bring more attention to Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

“We see it as another link to the site,”  she said. “We hope that it will bring something positive to these communities.”

The pitch inside the cafeteria grew loud as residents grouped in circles discussed the pros and cons of the trail, and asked questions to representatives from Suffolk County Department of Public Works and engineering company NV5.

Rocky Point resident Bob Lacorte has biked through Rails to Trails paths in several other states, and said it’s normal for trails to cut close to people’s property.

“I’m still for them,” he said. “It’s for people who want to safely ride their bikes. My property doesn’t back up to [where the trail will be located], but honestly, I don’t know how I’d feel if that was my property.”

Many people, like Lacorte enjoyed the idea of a safe space for kids to walk or bicycle.

“You want people to feel safe with their kids, it’s going to be a safe place to encourage people to bicycle,” said Michael Vitti, president of advocacy group Concerned Long Island Mountain Bikers. “You want to get kids involved in a healthy outdoor activity, but you don’t want them to feel unsafe on the street. This will be a traffic-free space.”

The trail will be 10-feet wide and split up into two lanes separated by a yellow line. Markers will indicate where along the trail a person is to help emergency personnel locate someone in the need of assistance. Image from Suffolk County

The double-laned, 10-foot-wide trail will be split in half by a yellow line. Features will include kiosks at trailheads, quarter-mile markers and railing when the trail meets an incline. Where the path intersects with high-traffic roads, there will be flashing yellow signs to signal those using the trails to stop, and warnings on the street side for drivers to be wary, said Daniel Loscalzo, senior civil engineer for NV5.

Rocky Point Fire Chief Mike Yacubich said all his original complaints about the trail had been addressed, specifically the road markers, which will help emergency personnel quickly locate someone in need of emergency assistance.

“I think that it is a very nice idea — I like the positive things they are saying it’s going to bring into the community,” he said. “They have addressed some of our concerns as responders, we just need the community to be vigilant to make sure that nobody is hanging out there after dusk.”

Members of the Suffolk County Police Department also spoke to residents about concerns of drugs, home invasions and the use of ATVs. Officers referenced the nearby Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, using it as an example to show how little no incidents have occurred along the 11-mile trail.

“From the 6th Precinct’s standpoint there hasn’t been any spikes in burglaries or home invasions on the [Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail],” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “With the right-of-ways people can already access the rear of these houses. With more people on the trail, there’s more people to call 911. In a way, it’s safer.”

The 10-mile route that the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project will take. Image from Legislator Anker's office

As hundreds packed the auditoriums of Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place high schools the same sentiment reverberated off the walls — there’s not only a want, but a need for a safe place for children to ride their bikes.

After the deaths of two local children, the desire for the Rails to Trails project to push forward was prevalent among the Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River residents who live along the proposed 10-mile trail.

“I don’t know if this trail is going to move forward 100 percent, but so far it’s picking up momentum,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said to the March 29 group in Shoreham. “We need the ability to ride bikes in a safe place, the ability to take a walk or push a baby carriage in a safe place.”

Residents listen to questions and answers during the meeting at Shorheam-Wading River High School. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The legislator, who is propelling the project, brought members the Suffolk County Department of Works and engineering company NV5 to her first general meeting to gather public input and answer questions.

“I need to hear what you want, because I’m here to make it happen,” Anker said.

Steve Normandy, project manager with NV5, discussed the flat surface and location being conducive to a trail.

“There’s over 1,600 rail trails nationwide over 20,000 miles,” he said. “They’re good for biking, hiking, walking, safe travel to school, and studies have shown businesses thrive and home values increase, it improves air quality and enhances sense of community.”

On March 28, the county Legislature unanimously approved a negative New York State Environmental Quality Review Act determination for the proposed 10-foot-wide trail, which would be opened from dawn to dusk. The adoption of negative SEQRA determination means that there is no anticipated environmental impact for the project.

The path will have paver markings and mile-markers for county miles, as well as emergency services to locate those in need. It will also meet Americans with Disabilities Act slope requirements. The design report was submitted to the state Department of Transportation in February. If design approval is received this summer, final design plans will be prepared in the next year in the hopes of received final design plan approval from the NYSDOT in winter 2018.

Currently, the plan is that construction will begin in spring 2019, for a fall 2020 finish.

“We’ve met with quite a few partners and discussed a bunch of different aspects of maintenance, but the biggest issue we anticipate is really going to be cutting the grass,” said county Department of Public Works chief engineer, Bill Hillman. “We’ll be asking the community for help, to pitch in with a lot of the different maintenance aspects.”

The hope is that a not-for-profit like the Friends of Greenway, which maintains the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, will form to beautify and preserve the attraction.

Kaitlin Brown, who moved to Wading River five years ago, said she entered the area because she loved the trees.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker responds to questions from the audience. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I want to pledge my support because I think it’s a wonderful component that our community doesn’t have, and it needs,” she said, adding she is willing to help mow and maintain the piece of property, which is owned by LIPA. “I found my house on the map, and it looks like one day when I have kids, they’ll be able to get from our house through back roads to the trail, and then take the trail to the high school.”

Judy Black, who has lived in the area for 47 years, said she’s been hoping the trail would become a reality from day one, back in 2001 before plans derailed, and again in 2011 when Anker tried to revive the idea.

“I so hope we can come together and make this happen,” she said. “With a son that rode his bicycle all over the place I was always worried about him.”

She explained how she once saw a cyclist fall on North Country Road trying to maneuver around a construction sign. She was in need of medical attention, and when examiners arrived, they asked her why she was riding along a major road.

“But where else do you ride your bike?” Black said. “We need a safe place to ride, to walk with friends, to expand our community connection, and I’m so for it.”

The ideas weren’t without opposition.

There were some like 10-year Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz, who said she’s felt like she’s been kept in the dark.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” she said, although adding she would probably be in favor of Rails to Trials if she didn’t live near it.“This is in my backyard 24/7; you come for an hour-and-a-half walk and then you leave. I’m here all the time.”

Some of her concerns included if the trail will take property from homeowners, if cesspools will be affected and what issues her dogs barking toward the trail could bring.

Hillman and Anker reassured her that she will not be losing property, and cesspools will not be affected. As for dogs barking and noise ordinances, Hillman said it’s an issue Gladysz would have to take up with Brookhaven Town.

The trial currently doesn’t have any guardrails, fences, beautification elements, toilets or lights budgeted into the $8 million plan.

Those who would like to see where the trail will be located in relation to their homes could view individual hamlet maps during the meeting. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Anker said she is working on a plan to protect privacy along the path, and said Eagle and Girl Scouts typically do beautification projects, which could include adding benches and other useful things along the trail.

Others still worried about safety and other crime-related issues, were soothed by Sgt. Walter Langdon of the Suffolk County Police Department, and 7th Precinct COPE officer Mike Casper, who said there has been “little to no crime” at Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, but added that there will still be a police presence along the path.

By the end of the first meeting, those like Rocky Point resident Cory Fitzgerald were heard loudest, and supported by other community members for their opinion of the trail.

Fitzgerald has daughters aged 8 and 6, and both love riding their bikes.

“We take trips to Cape Cod every summer and the rail trail up in Cape Cod is phenomenal,” he said. “My girls ride their bikes more in that one week than during the entire year in Rocky Point. The roads in Rocky Point are very narrow and hilly, so I want to give my girls that opportunity to ride whenever they want. We’ve been waiting for so long — I’ve been told this was coming and I’ve been so excited and the girls really want this to happen. It’s going to be great for our community.”

Residents in favor of the trail, which some like Wading River resident Bruce Kagan are naming the “Tesla Trail,” because it will lead to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, were unanimous on the biggest topic of discussion: kids.

“This is the most deadly county for injuries and deaths for pedestrians and cyclists,” Kagan said. “There’s no place for our kids. Let us do this for our children and our children’s children.”

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Roadto bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

In response to a 14-year-old’s death at a busy intersection, the Miller Place community says enough is enough, and their voices were heard.

Residents from across the North Shore gathered March 26 to push for drastic safety changes at a dangerous road crossing at the intersection of Miller Place Road and Route 25A, where Nico Signore was struck by an SUV while riding his bike with friends last month.

Community members, including Signore’s family and friends, said the intersection should have a red left-turn signal to stop cars from entering the crosswalk when pedestrians are given the signal that it’s safe to walk to the other side. The group also agreed every corner of the intersection should be a no turn on red.

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Road to bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Feb. 23, Signore pushed the crosswalk button, waited for the go-ahead signal to bike across the intersection, and was struck because the northbound driver had a green left turn arrow.

According to Miller Place resident Tammy McGuire, rally organizer and close friend to the Signores, the disastrous layout of the intersection gave the driver an invitation to run him over.

“There’s no reason Nico should be dead,” McGuire said, holding back tears. “We want someone to do something about it before more [people] die. Any parent or community member should want this changed.”

McGuire asked for a moment of silence among the crowd in memory of the beloved Miller Place lacrosse player, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died at the same intersection in May 2015, before leading the residents in a call and response chant.

“What do we want? Change,” the group shouted. “When do we want it? Now.”

Those in the crowd held up signs that read “make Miller Place safe again” and “we demand a full red before anyone else is dead” as passing cars honked in support.

“This corner has been a disaster — this whole section needs to be revamped and they need to do it immediately,” said Angela Campo, Signore’s former religion teacher. “The more time they take for studies, the more lives are lost. The Signore family has been destroyed and this community can’t take it anymore.”

A bear placed in memory if Nico Signore, who was hit by a car, holds a sign that says “make Miller Place safe again,” following the 14-year-old getting hit by a car at an intersection. Photo by Kevin Redding

She held up a sign containing a photo of her former student, adding that he was a beautiful and vibrant boy.

“He never got to live his life and the world is a much more awful place without him,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Kevin Cantwell, of Sound Beach, said Signore’s death should be the catalyst to get something done.

“Somebody has to figure this out because it’s a safety issue and there’s been proven deaths here,” Cantwell said. “Living in the community for 15 years — seeing this happen, seeing all the accidents, talking to the Miller Place fire department — this [intersection] is a nightmare.”

Back in October, months before Signore’s death, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) reached out to the department based on concern from the Miller Place School District about hazardous traffic conditions at the same intersection, where a frequent number of car accidents occurred.

Signore’s death at the intersection prompted a recent request from state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) to the New York State Department of Transportation to conduct an immediate pedestrian-bicycle safety study along the Route 25A corridor.

LaValle received word from the DOT that it will be making changed to the Miller Place intersection. The agreement included a red turn arrow on Miller Place Road.

“This will prevent cars from turning into the intersection while pedestrians are in the crosswalk,” LaValle said. “Additionally, the DOT will be installing new signs to warn drivers about pedestrians in the crosswalk.”

The changes, according to LaValle, will be implemented in two to four weeks.

“The DOT is in the process of developing long-term recommendations as well that, when implemented, will greatly improve the safety of this intersection,” LaValle said. “It is my deepest hope that these changes will prevent any future loss of life and lower the accident rate in this area.”

Community members hold up signs on the corner of Route 25A and Miller Place Road to bring awareness to the dangerous intersection following the death of a local 14-year-old boy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Stony Brook resident Danielle Algiere said even though she doesn’t know the Signore family, she came out for the simple fact that she’s a mother.

“It doesn’t matter that it happened in Miller Place, any local mother should be out here right now fighting for change,” she said. “He did everything he should’ve, and a flawed system is what got that child killed.”

The Signore family rejected the idea that the red light program had anything to do with Nico’s death, saying just the green arrow did.

“That’s not what this is about,” said Vincent Signore Jr., Nico’s older brother. “The intersection itself needs to be looked into and it’s nice to see a lot of people supporting this and caring about my brother. No family should ever have to go through this.”

All in attendance were encouraged to sign a petition, which help enacted the change, and another was passed around for the Rails to Trails project, to provide a safe, out-of-the-way path for residents to bike on. Also included in that petition was a request to dedicate a portion of the path running through Miller Place to Nico, an avid bicyclist.

“I met with the parents and they want to see a better situation in their community,” Anker said. “I hope if we move forward with Rails to Trails we’ll provide that safe place for our children to enjoy riding their bikes. The Signore family is close to my heart right now.”

This version is updated to include state Sen. Ken LaValle’s response from and about changes made to the intersection by the New York State Department of Transportation.

A map of the Rails to Trails project provided by the county’s Department of Public Works. Photo from Legislator Sarah Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) will host two public information meetings to discuss the proposed design for the Port Jefferson-Wading River Rails to Trails project. The two dates for the public meetings are:

•March 22 at 6 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School, 250 Route 25A in Shoreham.

•April 5 at 6 p.m. at Miller Place High School, 15 Memorial Drive in Miller Place

The proposed trail, a project that was spearheaded by Anker, is a 10-mile-long shared-use recreational path.

The path will be built along the abandoned Long Island Rail Road right-of-way, which currently is owned by the Long Island Power Authority. The trail will run through the hamlets of Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham, East Shoreham and Wading River.

These meetings will give residents an opportunity to hear from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works regarding the plan for design and construction of the trail. For more information, contact Anker’s office at 631-854-1600.

The new trail will move from Port Jefferson Station to Wading River, passing through where old Miller Place railroad tracks used to be. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Every project has its perks, and in the case of one large North Shore endeavor, the possibilities are endless.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), along with other local officials, recently announced a 2018 completion year for the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project  — that has been more than 30 years in the making. With the plan, which involves paving a bike path where old railways existed to be used for cyclists, potential is everywhere.

While the project will provide a safe space for biking enthusiasts, skateboarders, roller-bladers and even those just looking to take a scenic stroll, there is also a huge chance for economic growth, with the path connecting so many Town of Brookhaven hamlets. Bikers, hikers and anyone in-between could stop at kiosks along the path to grab a bottle of water or an ice cream cone, or groups may stop in any hamlet along their travels to grab dinner or go shopping. The trail could also be a way to connect locals, and tourists too, to local beaches, museums and other landmarks.

It’s also just a great opportunity to explore the wonders of the North Shore. The plan helps preserve even more open space while stringing together breathtaking views that tend to get lost in all of the development on Long Island.

Further, the trails should serve as inspiration for cars to be left at home occasionally, which can only have a positive impact on the environment around us.

This project is attractive on multiple levels and across multiple layers of government. We applaud officials for being able to work together and across party lines to achieve a common goal with so many benefits.

Marty Buchman, a cyclist for over 40 years, and owner of Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, rides down a path at Sylvan Avenue Park in Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

It has been more than 30 years in the making, but by 2018, cyclists in the Town of Brookhaven may finally have a new 10-mile route to ride from Port Jefferson to Wading River.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to preserve land strictly for recreation and transportation, proposed to use old North Shore railroad track locations and pave the way, literally, for a bike path.

Railroad tracks used to lay behind Sylvan Avenue Park in Miller Place, which is where the proposed trail will run through. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Railroad tracks used to lay behind Sylvan Avenue Park in Miller Place, which is where the proposed trail will run through. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Marty Buchman, who lives in Stony Brook and opened the new Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn, has been a member of Rails to Trails for 20 years and cycling for over 40.

“It means everything for us cyclists,” Buchman said of the project. “There is no joy like riding on a bicycle trail. The trail will bring economic development, health, jobs — I can’t understand why it took so long to get this started, but I’m absolutely overjoyed. I can’t wait. I’ll be here the first day.”

He has frequently rode along the Greenway Trail, which connects Setauket and Port Jefferson Station, and said that the usage and the joy people get out of the trail is exciting to see. He added that he knows the new trail, which will connect Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River, will have the same impact.

“If you build it, people will come,” he said. “I’ve been cycling since I was 16, and when I ride, I feel like I’m 16 again. I feel like I’m connected to the world around me. I sometimes ride 30 miles to work.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (R-NY), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) all helped give the proposal life, advocating for the project over the years in an effort to secure funding.

According to Zeldin, converting the rails into a bike trail had been discussed in 2001 when North Shore advocate Mike Cosel spoke to then-legislator Martin Healy about the idea, which has long been stalled since then. Though the projects roots date back much further than that. The previous allocated funding for the project sat for over five years, and was in danger of being cancelled and repurposed, so local officials worked over the past 19 months across party lines to restore the funding so the project could move forward.

Cyclists would no longer have to share the road with cars once the Rails to Trails project is completed. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Cyclists would no longer have to share the road with cars once the Rails to Trails project is completed. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Living on Long Island we are blessed with so many natural treasures, including our renowned parks and beaches, many of which are connected through our scenic biking and hiking trails,” Zeldin said. “Long Island’s trails are an important part of our local community and economy, connecting our residents and visitors to our beaches, parks, local farms, festivals, wineries, restaurants and other destinations, while providing an option of healthy recreational activity and transportation. In addition to improving quality of life and livability, trails help to protect our environment through conservation and by reducing traffic and pollution on our roads.”

The $9.51 million project, according to the congressman, will be 80 percent federally funded, with Brookhaven Town covering the remaining 20 percent.

“We’re going to take this and make this something that people can enjoy,” Romaine said. “This will be a great addition to what we have to offer for recreation in the Town of Brookhaven.”

For experienced cyclists, skateboarders, walkers or even first-time riders, safety was a main concern for all parties involved in approving the trails.

“Unfortunately Suffolk has the very dubious honor of having the highest fatality rates of cyclists on the road,” said Robert DeVito, president of the Suffolk Bicycle Riders Association and director of the Nassau-Suffolk Bicycle Coalition. “We constantly go out riding, whether in a group or alone, always concerned [about safety]. With people today utilizing their phones more and more in their car, it’s really become an issue. We need safer areas to ride.”

The project will also provide an economic boost, as shops could set up along the trail. Anker said the goal is to create ecotourism where along the trail, community members and visitors can stop at the various hamlets, whether it be just to buy a bottle of water, to sit and eat dinner or even visit the Tesla Science Center.

Ashley Hunt-Martorano, director of marketing and events for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, talks about her excitement for the Rails to Trails project. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ashley Hunt-Martorano, director of marketing and events for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, talks about her excitement for the Rails to Trails project. Photo by Desirée Keegan

According to Ashley Hunt-Martorano, director of marketing and events for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-profit organization focused on national policies to address climate change, it will also help create a safer place for cyclists to travel during ozone days, when county or state officials determine it’s not safe for bike riders to be out on their bikes.

“The more people get outdoors and engage in their community, the more they’re paying attention to the changes we’re seeing in our planet,” she said. “I have really fallen in love with riding my bike, and I love riding my bike on Long Island. I visit places I’ve never went before in my car. There are certain areas where it’s just gorgeous.”

Although there’s still more time to wait and see if the plan will come to fruition, for now, many locals are excited to hear there may be a plan in place.

“This project has always had tremendous support from all of the surrounding communities,” said Rock Point resident Jeff Carlson, who is president of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “We’re really happy that this is finally getting somewhere.”

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