New Law Offers Cushion, Enhanced Safety For Bikers

Clint and Elisa Greenbaum ride their elliptiGO bikes every day.

Suffolk and Nassau counties share the shameful record for most fatalities involving bicyclists in New York State, according to Daniel Flanzig, a member of the board of the New York Bicycling Coalition. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants to put the brakes on those numbers.

On Tuesday, April 27, Mr. Bellone signed legislation aimed at enhancing bicycle safety.

The first of its kind in New York State, the law requires motorists to leave 3 feet of space between their cars and cyclists traveling along the same road.

“That’s the industry standard,” said Barbara Oldak, who owns Amagansett Beach and Bicycle with her husband Lee.  She said that distance is what cyclists anticipate drivers would do. Now that it’s mandated, she said, “is a good thing.”

And the price of transgression? Failure to maintain the distance could mean a $225 ticket for the first offense, $325 for second offense and $425 any subsequent infractions.

“That’s really good,” Ms. Oldak said.

“Bike safety is really important out here,” she continued, acknowledging, “it is scary riding out here.”

Scary, where the roads are narrow and winding, like Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs or Noyac Road in Noyac. But also heaven, according to Clint Greenbaum, who rides 20 miles every day around Westhampton, Remsenburg, and Quogue with his wife Elisa.

“We live in a biker’s paradise,” he said. “This law is going to be hugely received by avid bikers. It gives us a level of protection.”

“It’s no secret people in Suffolk County love the outdoors,” the county executive noted at a press conference in Stony Brook last week. The love for the outdoors has only grown since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That, he continued, caused the sale of bikes to skyrocket. “For us in Suffolk County, where we love the outdoors, bikes are such a big part of it … we have to be sure cycling can be done safely.”

The county needs to be responsive to the desire of its residents to enjoy outdoor activities with an eye toward public safety, but also economics. The pandemic has caused a shift in how many people work; they learned they can work from home and, said Mr. Bellone, “live wherever they want.”

Providing the things people want and need, like safe roads for bicyclists, is a strategy for drawing and keeping a workforce.

Suffolk County Legislature Deputy Presiding Officer Kara Hahn agreed. “People look for places to recreate safely,” she said. “Our roads are going to be safer now.”

The law currently requires motorists to keep a nebulous “safe distance” from bicyclists. The 3-foot addition replicates laws 33 other states already have on the books, Mr. Flanzig explained. Mr. Flanzig and Mr. Greenbaum both pointed out that sometimes conditions on the shoulder of the road, like potholes or sand, force riders closer to the driver’s lane. The 3-foot rule will provide a cushion Mr. Flanzig said, adding the hope that the county’s law is the beginning of a wave that washes across the state.