“No One Should Ride a Bicycle” is Not a Solution to Crashes
17 year old East Islip resident, Matthew Cutrone, has had 4 classmates hit by cars while walking to school, two of whom were struck fatally. When Matthew’s mother was hit by a car while riding her bicycle, (she’s okay but still recovering from injuries she sustained) Matthew decided to do something about it. Last month, he wrote a letter to his county legislator, here in Suffolk County, and he got this response:January 29, 2014 Dear Mr. Cutrone, Thank you for your recent letter concerning bicycle safety and bicycle lanes. Let me at the outset express the hope that you mother will have a complete recovery from her accident in September while riding a bicycle in West Islip. I have lived in West Islip most of my life and my personal feeling is that no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle or a motorcycle. I cannot tell you how many constituents over the years have told me that they are taking up bicycling for pleasure and exercise. I have told them not to do so but they usually do not listen – 90 percent of those people eventually were hit by an automobile many like your mother with serious physical injuries. I have heard the suggestion of bicycle lanes and additional signage but unfortunately this would do little to solve the problem. Suffolk County is a suburban automobile community—drivers expect to see other drivers on the road not bicyclists and motorcyclists those areas outside of Suffolk County where a portion of the road is for bicyclists—they still get hit by motorists. Signage has limited effects—there are currently 135 signs between Montauk Highway and Sunrise Highway on Higbie Lane and Udall Road—most of them are ignored by drivers. Reality at a time can be difficult for some to come to grips with but giving false hope would be inappropriate. Very Truly Yours, Thomas F. Barriga County Legislator
I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk county. With the exception of a decade or so while going to college, grad school and holding my first job, I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m raising my sons and daughter here. I’m a proud Long Islander, and proud to be a resident of Suffolk County. Suffolk is close enough to New York City that it’s possible to commute for work (my husband does) and take advantage of all of the city’s cultural offerings. We have ocean beaches, organic farms, quality wineries, quaint villages, the beautiful Pine Barrens and a top research university. The rich and famous summer on Suffolk’s east end, in the Hamptons. It’s nice here. I’m not the only one who thinks so.
I also briefly lived in Nassau County, the county that sits to the west of Suffolk and borders the New York City borough of Queens, when my older boys, now teens, were babies. In Nassau, I felt a distinct pressure to “keep up with the Jonses”, and when I moved back to Suffolk, I found that stress was relatively imperceptible. Suffolk County it turns out, is also just far enough away from New York City that it has it’s own distinct character. In Suffolk I felt free to be myself and to make a life that suited me. When I took up cycling 8 years ago, I developed a renewed and even deeper appreciation of the rolling hills of Suffolk’s north shore and the beautiful open spaces of Long Island’s the east end. Still, it hasn’t taken one of those facebook surveys to tell me that, as a cyclist and someone who cares about the environment, that I “should be” living somewhere else, perhaps Portland, Oregon or Boulder, Colorado.
My house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, right off a highway. My mom bought this house when I was in high school and I’ll admit that among the reasons we moved back here were the economic and logistical advantages: It’s a legal mother-daughter house, and my mom’s next door. The location is great in that it allows my hubby hop into his car and get to the train station for his long commute with relative ease. It’s great because my kids could learn to ride bikes without my worrying about through traffic, and they can play basketball and run to the neighbor’s house. But that’s all. There’s nowhere interesting or useful to walk to. Just beyond our little cul-de-sac there’s just a double-yellow line road with no bike lanes, and the highway. So, even if by bike, my school age kids don’t have the maturity and skills to navigate main roads and ride to the next neighborhood or a nearby store. They’re stuck. Isolated. They are dependent on me to either escort them by bike or to drive them in our SUV to get wherever they need to be.
I’ve always regarded “walkability” to be one of the most desirable traits of a neighborhood. For us, circumstances have led, and kept us, in a quintessentially “suburban automobile community”. But that doesn’t mean that we should concede to double yellow lined roads and vast intersections as the default infrastructure and cars as the default means of getting around.
The environment and sustainability are causes that matter very deeply to me, and Suffolk County is desperately behind the times in terms of environmental initiatives, sustainability and public health. For Legislator Barraga to summarily discount bicycle riding as a valid and worthwhile means of transportation and recreation in Suffolk County is so painfully ignorant and backwards that I am saddened.
Walking and bicycle riding are the keys to improving the economic vitality and health of our communities. It’s common knowledge—don’t even make me cite from hundreds of studies—that walking and riding combat childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression and ADHD and, as a result, lower the costs of managing these health conditions.
Pedestrian and bicycle traffic increase commerce in downtown areas, as stores and restaurants benefit from a higher volume of customers who are able to easily access their businesses. It eliminates the challenge of finding parking spaces in proximity to a particular business and increases the frequency of spontaneous visits by consumers. And, walking and riding are good for our social well-being. Face-to-face encounters lead to feelings of belonging and integration with your community and neighbors.
Getting people on bikes and out of their cars will decrease CO2 emissions and air pollution (so let’s add decreasing the incidence of asthma to the list of public health advantages, while we’re at it). I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot freaked out by the polar vortex and change in the jet stream that have brought Alaska-like weather to the lower 48, and the simultaneous rapid shrinkage of snow cover in other regions. Climate change is accelerating and it’s all connected. We need to change the way we think.
It’s no longer acceptable to consider cars and automobile transportation as the default means of getting from place to place. It’s time to act. Our priority should be making our towns and villages safer and more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. Doing so is the key to the wealth, health and sustainability of our communities, our society and—yes—the world. Walking and riding can save the world. It’s that simple.
Please join me in writing to Legislator Barriga, Thomas.Barraga@suffolkcountyny.gov or your local and state officials. Let them know that you are in favor of increased infrastructure and support for pedestrians and cyclists in our communities. Suffolk County legislators’ contacts are here.
Live, Love, Velo,