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Bike Bill

Photo by Julianne Mosher

This week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) officially signed a new law stating that drivers must give bicyclists a 3-foot distance on the road.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

We think it’s great, and know how important it is to share the road. No one wants to hurt someone who’s riding for leisure or exercise.

But what concerns us the most are the riders who might feel entitled, who don’t follow their own rules of the road. 

Yes, vehicle drivers — especially on Long Island — can be awfully aggressive and distracted at times. But to play devil’s advocate, it isn’t just the car drivers. We have seen some aggressive bike riders, too. 

There are times that sharing the road on a busy street like Route 25A or Nesconset Highway is near to impossible. The driver of the vehicle slows down traffic to abstain from the biker, who is weaving in and out of their bike lane. 

Not all bike riders are bad, and again we think it’s great they are staying fit and not thrusting carbon dioxide fumes into the air. But, just as there are bad apples to everything, we are begging those riders to not take this new law in vain.

While car drivers are now more responsible for keeping a safe distance from a bicyclist, we are asking the rider to do the same. 

Please don’t ride your bike in traffic, and please pay attention, yourself. Please don’t be a nuisance to the people trying to get to work during rush hour, and please, please, please stop at stop signs, too. 

If we all abide by the rules of the road, all of us will be safe and laws like this won’t even have to be considered down the road. 

Use common sense. Be kind. Stay safe. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

A new law will now keep bicyclists safe on the roadways with its 3-foot rule.

On Tuesday, April 27, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and members of the biking community at Stony Brook’s Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn to sign it in officially. 

Bellone said the legislation will help ensure the safety of bicyclists while out on the roadways requiring drivers to pass on the left and provide the riders with at least 3 feet of space. Violations of this law are punishable by a fine of $225 for the first offense, $325 for the second offense and $425 for any subsequent offenses. 

It is the first of its kind in New York state.

“For us in Suffolk County, where we love the outdoors, many of the reasons why people choose to live here is because of our incredible natural resources: our parks, our open space and the beauty that we have here,” he said. “Bicycles are such a big part of that. We are committed to, and we have to be committed to, making sure that cycling can be done safely, and people are protected as much as possible.”

He added that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, bike sales have “skyrocketed.” People want to be outside more. 

“We’ve obviously been working on these issues for some time,” he said. “But the pandemic has only made it even clearer how important this is to people’s lives — and quite frankly, to all of us, even if you never get on a bike.”

Hahn added that Stony Brookside Bed & Bike Inn attracts bicyclists from around the world who come and enjoy the area’s paths, roads and trails.

“Our roads are going to be safer now,” she said. “But there is tremendous synergy between our environment and our economy, between what we have here to enjoy where we live. And who we attract to come here as visitors, who we attract to come here as businesses, and people — especially after the pandemic — are looking for places to live, places to visit where they can recreation safely.”

Bellone noted, though, that Long Island roads can often be dangerous, and he is committed to keeping the streets safe.

“We know that bicycling on certain roads in the county can be dangerous, but we’ve been working on that issue,” he said. “We’ve taken a number of significant steps to educate drivers and improve infrastructure to create a safer environment for bicycles on the road. So, today, our efforts go one step further.”

Attorney and board member of the New York Bicycling Coalition Daniel Flanzig said that currently only 33 states have this law.

“[NY] Vehicle & Traffic Law 1122-A currently exists, but only requires a motorist to pass a cyclist at a safe distance,” he said. “What a safe distance is to me is different to you.”

Flanzig said that the new law of a 3-foot distance is a tangible, recognizable number.

“I think 3-foot distance actually makes it easier to enforce,” Hahn said. “Now there’s a set difference. Previously, the law said drivers must pass cyclists at a safe distance and that wasn’t defined.”

The county legislature passed a bill to crack down on reckless bicycling this week, Port Jefferson officials created a village task force that will help prevent problems and keep patrons safe. File photo from SCPD

The Suffolk County Legislature recently approved a bill to crack down on “reckless biking,” which could stop riders from endangering themselves and others on the road. 

Sponsored by county Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic), the bill claims to crack down on trick riding — like popping wheelies and swerving into traffic — and biking while intoxicated.

While it was approved 13-4, Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) abstained from the vote.

“There were pieces of his bill that I really liked,” she said, “And there were some things I didn’t agree with.”

Hahn, who is still in public hearing with her complimentary bike bill, said hers focuses more on the education for drivers when put in contact with bikers on the road. 

“Legislator Sunderman’s bike bill regulated dangerous behaviors by bicyclists, while my bill tries to clarify the laws about drivers and how they should pass bicyclists on the road,” she said. 

She added that motor vehicle law states that a driver must pass a bicyclist at a safe distance.

“My bill states drivers need to give them at least three-feet [space],” she said. 

Hahn said two legislators from the East End had some concerns regarding her bill, and she is “working to address them.”

The next general meeting is March 2 where Hahn hopes she can close the public hearing so the bill can move to the Public Safety Committee on March 11. If her bill passes, it can be voted on by the full Legislature on March 16.

Meanwhile, the Village of Port Jefferson has implemented their own policies. 

According to trustee Kathianne Snaden, a new code was introduced in the fall of 2019 to pre-vent problem bikers causing issues in the village. 

It started when Snaden and her daughter were outside and a young person was recklessly riding his bike in front of them, doing tricks.

“When the bicycle just about came over me and my daughter’s heads and landed in the street in front of a car, I said, ‘That’s it, I’m done. We need to do something about this.’” 

That’s when the village brought in the new code, which enforces code officers to confiscate a bike from a bicyclist involved in any type of reckless behavior. The bike then must be picked up and signed for by a parent. 

“Because of COVID, things were quiet in the village,” Snaden said. “But then we put together the outdoor dining and the ‘trouble’ bicyclists saw it as a beautiful stage to start performing their acts in front of the patrons.”

She said that’s when code enforcement “really put down the hammer and started implementing that code.”

Snaden said that since summer 2020, bikes have been taken and bikes have been returned to parents, with the majority of them “mortified by their children’s behavior.”

“I want to be proactive and just get them off the street, so no one gets hurt,” she said. 

Along with code enforcement, the village has recently started up a task force for business owners, the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the commissioner of public safety, the code chief, the village attorney and a representative from the Suffolk County Police Department. 

“It’s eyes on the street,” she said.  “And now we’re working more as a team.”

Teenagers across the North Shore have been seen playing chicken with motorists by cycling into oncoming traffic, popping wheelies in the middle of the road and more. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County lawmakers are looking to tackle bicyclists who have been intimidating drivers across Long Island. 

There have been several different reports of reckless bicyclists putting themselves and others in danger on the road, which included a group of teenagers who harassed a Terryville gym over the summer. 

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she had a “terrifying” experience first-hand a few years ago. While traveling down Route 25A at night, a person wearing all black began popping wheelies toward her car in the middle of the street.

“I wasn’t going fast,” she said. “I chose to stop in the middle of the roadway. It was really scary, and whoever it was, was recklessly trying to frighten me.”

Back in September, county Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) introduced a “reckless biking” bill, which he advanced from Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) who passed away from cancer that same month.

After talking with other towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, Sunderman said that although he represents the South Shore, the issue is widespread across the Island. 

“Other areas that we spoke to [with a bill in place] have already seen a decline in reckless biking,” he said. 

If Sunderman’s bill passes, it would prohibit cyclists from trick riding or weaving through traffic. Violators could also see their bikes impounded, receive $250 fines, or spend 15 days in jail. 

And on the North Shore, Hahn said she had been receiving complaints from other people from the area regarding similar concerns of packs of children doing similar things on Route 112, Nesconset Highway and Middle Country Road. 

“It’s dangerous,” she said. “The police aren’t able to do very much. They need a tool to confiscate the bike to individuals who do this.”

But along with concerned residents reaching out, Hahn said she was hearing criticism over Sunderman’s bill from bicyclist groups who use their bikes recreationally. 

“The intent is very good, and it is needed to curb this kind of [bad] activity,” she said. “The groups absolutely agree with the fact that anyone who rides in a pack and pops wheelies in traffic, that should happen. But because they’re experienced bicyclists, they see the real danger every day.”

Hahn said she is in full support of Sunderman’s reckless biking bill, but there were a few small pieces to his legislation that she wanted to suggest improvements. Her bill was laid out on Nov. 4. 

“Suffolk County is notorious for not being safe for bicyclists,” she said. “The purpose of my law is just to make drivers aware — give the cyclists the room, close your door when someone is passing you, people are not looking out.”

Her bill, which will go to public hearing on Dec. 1, will help drivers of cars and bikes be more educated of the dangers they both could face if they choose to act irresponsibly. A decision, or amending, of Sunderman’s bill will be decided on Dec. 15.