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Rails to Trails

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.”