Maura Spery wants to see more kids down by the water enjoying nature. However, Spery, former Mastic Beach mayor and current chairperson for the board of directors for the Mastic Beach Conservancy, is worried that some aspects of the new bridge to Smith Point won’t allow for that.
Spery is part of a group of community members that are questioning the lack of a physical barrier for the bike lane on the new bridge being built to Smith Point. The current bridge has a sidewalk that individuals may walk across, but it has no bike lane. Some people do ride their bikes over the bridge, despite the fact that they’re not supposed to and it is unsafe.
“I feel like they’re not welcome there,” Spery said. “The idea is to get these kids out and active and riding bikes, and learning how to swim and enjoying why we live on Long Island.”
The new bridge is planned to have a 55-foot vertical clearance, while the current bridge has a 22-foot clearance, making the new bridge much steeper than the current one.
Spery said that with such a high bridge, having a painted lane and a bigger shoulder seemed dangerous.
“When people are trying to get up a steep incline on a bike, they tend to wobble back and forth and weave back and forth, and I just feel like that’s asking for trouble,” Spery said.
Beth Wahl, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mastics and Shirley, agreed.
“I think it’s very foolish of the county not to consider that,” Wahl said of a barrier for the bike lane.
Spery and Wahl created letters that they sent to congressman Lee Zeldin and Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone regarding the bike lanes. Spery also helped people from the Mastic Beach Conservancy send their own letters, while Wahl reached out to members from the chamber on the issue. The letters include information on how in many “sea towns,” such as the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard, bikes are regularly used as a mode of transportation.
“Studies have also shown that dedicated bike paths—ones with dedicated barriers separating riders from cars—save the lives of cyclists, reducing deaths by as much as 44 percent, and preventing tragedy for those behind the wheel,” the letter states. “Drivers on William Floyd Parkway frequently speed and exhibit poor decision-making. The currently proposed ‘enhanced shoulder’ over the new bridge will not be an adequate solution to the very real life-threatening situations that will inevitably arise from motorists and cyclists sharing the road. In these encounters, cyclists almost always lose.”
In May, Zeldin sent a request to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure asking that funding for the bridge be included in surface transportation reauthorization legislation. According to a press release from Zeldin’s office in 2017, Zeldin helped secure funding to cover 80 percent of the Smith Point Bridge replacement project’s initial $75 million cost through the Transportation Improvement Project, with the remaining 20 percent being covered by Suffolk County. An additional $9 million is needed to complete the project; therefore, Zeldin has submitted a $7.2 million request to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Suffolk County would supply the remaining $1.8 million.
When asked for a request for comment on the bike lane issue, Zeldin’s office recommended the Suffolk Department of Public Works, because the design is done by the county. The Suffolk County Department of Public Works and Bellone’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.