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Cyclists push for bike safety

Advocates remember crash victims at boardwalk gathering

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A group of bicycle safety advocates called for bike lanes and other measures to protect cyclists and pedestrians at a gathering on the Long Beach boardwalk last Sunday, at which they honored the lives of those killed in traffic collisions.

More than a dozen cyclists and members of the Long Island chapter of the New York Bicycling Coalition, an Albany-based nonprofit that promotes pro-bicycle policies and funding, gathered at National Boulevard and called for the creation of bike lanes in Long Beach and other communities, as well as state legislation that would require drivers to give cyclists three feet of space when passing.

“The goal was to come together to organize people on Long Island — and recognize, for the first time, that this needs to stop,” Long Beach resident Allison Blanchette, the chapter’s coordinator, said, referring to the growing number of incidents involving bikes and motor vehicles. “The fatality statistics on Long Island are shocking — almost one-third of bike fatalities last year statewide were on Long Island.”

The event was held on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, the third Sunday of November.

According to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2014, the latest figures available, there were 5,827 collisions involving bikes and motor vehicle statewide, 47 of which were fatal. All of the fatalities were cyclists.

Last year there were 350 such collisions in Nassau County, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, 343 of which resulted in injuries and five of which were fatal. Overall, there were nearly 60,000 crashes involving vehicles in 2015 and 92 fatalities in Nassau, up from 69 in 2014, according to the institute.

The Bicycling Coalition’s push for enhanced safety and infrastructure comes on the heels of the enactment of New York City’s Vision Zero Action Plan and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $110 million plan, announced this year, for pedestrian safety improvements across the state over the next five years.

“Currently, 26 states in the country have a three-foot law,” said Dan Flanzig, a coalition board member and an attorney in Mineola who represents bicycle and other crash victims. “It’s a cultural change, and that’s what’s going on in New York City as much as it is infrastructure.”

Blanchette and other advocates say that Long Island is behind the times when it comes to adequate bike and pedestrian infrastructure and planning. “We don’t have a sense of urgency in our government leadership to change things,” she said. “The change is happening, but it’s so slow. You look at New York City, where it’s a priority and Vision Zero is an actual thing. We’re advocating for an all-hands-on-deck approach to look at these numbers. We need to get these numbers down to zero.”

In Long Beach, where many residents and visitors use bikes, Blanchette and others called for the creation of adequate bike lanes. Though the city recently created shared lanes for bikes and motor vehicles, and while there are dedicated bike lanes on Broadway and Lido Boulevard, advocates say they are inadequate.

“Bikes and cars should not be sharing lanes on Park Avenue,” Blanchette said. “There should be physical dividers.”

There were no bicycle or pedestrian fatalities in Long Beach last year, and there have been none so far this year, she acknowledged.

“In comparison to other parts of Long Island … we’re actually not doing that bad,” she said. “But we still average 1,000 crashes a year here, and that’s still not OK.”

“We have over 200 bikes parked at the train and bus station, and yet there’s no safe way to get there,” said Roy Lester, an attorney and a former school board president who joined the Bicycling Coalition last Sunday. “It’s absolutely frustrating.”

Lester and others have also called for painted bike lanes on the new boardwalk instead of signs. 

“The thing that spurs the action is when the city gets sued — and then all of a sudden they’ll do something,” Lester said. “And it’s going to happen on the boardwalk, when a bike hits someone strolling down the center lane.”

But as Patricia Bourne, the city’s director of economic development and planning, pointed out, paint does not adhere well to ipe, the tropical hardwood used to reconstruct the span after it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy. “We understand that the type of wood that provides long-term protection doesn’t lend itself to be painted,” Bourne said. “We do have signage, and we’re looking at what other communities are doing in terms of signs as well.”

City officials emphasized that the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists has been a priority since the administration took office in 2012. It has reduced speed limits across town, and is implementing measures aimed at improving traffic flow, as part of a Complete Streets initiative.

Those measures will include bike lanes on Edwards Boulevard and Park Avenue, funded by $1.6 million in state and federal grants. Bourne said that the public would be asked for feedback before work on the project, which has yet to receive final be approval, begins. City officials said that they fought for several years to receive the funding.

“The priority from the City Council and city manager is to pursue funds that will provide safety and accessibility for people who are biking and for pedestrians and motorists,” Bourne said. “On Broadway we have some striping, and we’d like to see more, and we have applied for more funds. The process has gotten longer because our federal and state legislators want to make sure the money is well spent, and there are a lot of details involved in getting the funds.”

She also said that the rental service Social Bikes has been a popular addition to the boardwalk. It began with 100 bicycles in 2014, and now has 200. “Social Bikes … has proven very successful,” Bourne said, “and they help promote where the bicycle lanes are to a lot of visitors.”