As a bridge--indeed, as a structure--the Atlantic Beach Bridge is not at all remarkable. It opened in 1950; like so much else built at the time, it was built from steel and concrete in thoroughly prosaic forms. (Did I just sound like some pretentious architecture "critic"?) And, as one might expect from such a span built on a shipping lane that was once widely-used (and is still used for that purpose), it's a drawbridge.
I have ridden over it any number of times, as have other New York cyclists I know: If you're going to Long Beach, Lido Beach or Point Lookout, there aren't many other ways to go. Crossing it is pleasant enough: There are beaches, boat docks and houses along the Reynolds Channel, which the bridge spans, and the ocean is just a few swim strokes away.
I had long assumed that the bridge connected Far Rockaway--which, as its name indicates, is the New York City neighborhood farthest from midtown Manhattan--with Atlantic Beach, which is in Nassau County. However, the line between the city and the county is actually a few feet away from the entrance to the bridge, at the end of Sea Girt Boulevard.
Why does this matter for cyclists? Well, on most bridges in New York City that have pedestrian lanes but not dedicated bike lanes, cyclists routinely ride without a thought. This happens even on those bridges where signs command cyclists to walk their wheels over the span. There seems to be a kind of understanding, or at least a truce, between cyclists and pedestrians and, it seems to me, confrontations between the two are rare. At least, I've never seen, or been involved in, one!
On the other hand, Nassau County--or its police, at any rate--doesn't always have such a laissez-faire attitude toward cyclists. There is a command post right next to the tollbooth (Interestingly, cyclists were charged five cents to cross until 1975, when the bridge's bond was retired.) and, every once in a while, the gendarmes decide to use their powers on cyclists. Lately, that has been happening with increased frequency. In fact, about two weeks ago, as I was entering the bridge, another cyclist who was riding in the other direction warned me that officers were handing out tickets on the other side of the bridge. So I walked, which added about another ten minutes to my trip.
Indeed, I saw two of those officers. Fortunately, I had walked across. Today, I was thinking about whether or not to ride across when I saw two middle-aged male cyclists walking their steeds from the middle of the bridge. When I turned my head, I saw the reason why: Two officers were standing by a police van just outside the command center.
Being the upright citizen that I am '-), I walked. I saw no other cyclists besides those middle-aged men, which surprised me, given that it was neither oppressively warm nor humid, and there was absolutely no threat of rain. Then again, today is Tuesday, so one wouldn't expect to see as many pedestrians or cyclists as one would see on a weekend day.
Sometimes, when the weather is warm, the bridge's path is thick with pedestrian traffic on weekends, particularly on Saturdays--especially when they come during a Jewish holiday. There are fair-sized Orthodox communities on both sides of the bridge and, as they're not allowed to drive (or, depending on how their rabbis interpret Halakhik law, ride bicycles), they all walk. So, to be fair, I can understand more enforcement of the mandate for cyclists to walk their bicycles at such times. On the other hand, on a day like today, when both pedestrian and cycling traffic are much lighter (I only saw one pedestrian each time I crossed the bridge, and on my way back, I didn't see any other cyclists.), I should think that enforcement would be less of a priority. After all, even on that relatively narrow walkway, cyclists and pedestrians can easily steer clear of each other. And, as on the New York City spans, most are respectful and courteous.
Then again, from what I understand, Nassau County is in far more dire financial straits than the city is in. Call me a cynic or conspiracy theorist if you like, but I can't help but to think that's a reason why I (and others) have been seeing more constables on the Atlantic Beach Bridge lately.