Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bicycling in Suffolk County

A 17 year old kid named Matthew Cutrone wrote a letter to his local legislator in Suffolk County because his mom was hit by a car while riding her bike. This was the fifth incident where someone he knew had been struck by a car. Prior to his mother's accident, four classmates were struck by cars; two did not survive. He asked his legislator, Thomas F. Barraga, about what the county was doing to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. What he got was this. Because I drink 3 gallons of carrot juice daily, my eyes can overcome the blurriness of that photocopy. For those of you with less-than-Superman vision I've transcribed the body of the letter below:    


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 your 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 motorcycle 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. Even in 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 time can be difficult for some to come to grips with but giving false hope would be inappropriate. 

Very Truly yours, 

Thomas F. Barraga County Legislator 


You can arrive at your own opinion but I had just 3 thoughts I wanted to share: 

1. Thomas Fartface Barraga (I think that's what the "F." in his middle name stands for) is not doing his job. His job isn't to share his opinions (I'm a blogger, that's MY job, actually it's not a real job, but still). His job is to create legislation to solve problems and ensure the safety and well-being of ALL his constituents. If he feels so strongly that bike lanes and signage would do little to reduce accidents then he should take his own advice and remove all the traffic signals at every intersection in Suffolk County. By his logic, people will get into car accidents at intersections anyway so there's no point in having traffic lights since drivers will probably ignore them.

2. Travelling freely is a right. You can ride a bike, walk, take the bus or moonwalk without anyone stopping you. Driving is a revocable privilege. If motorists cannot drive safely or heed road signage without hitting other road users with their cars, they should lose that privilege. Thomas Fartface Barraga seems to think that bicycling is just something people do for "pleasure and exercise." I suppose he can't imagine that some people may have no other choice but to ride their bikes to work, despite living in a "suburban automobile community". 

3. Thomas Fartface Barraga recently sponsored a bill requiring all cyclists to wear helmets in Suffolk County. Unfortunately, his noble gesture won't be much help when you consider a helmet will do nothing to protect you from a 4500 lb vehicle being driven by a negligent driver. The only way to truly reduce accidents is to enforce existing laws requiring drivers to act responsibly and install cross-walks and bike lanes wherever feasible. If improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure isn't effective why would cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York spend millions of dollars on new projects? There are independent studies herehere, and here showing that bike lanes decrease the frequency and severity of accidents. 

Best of luck to anyone riding in Suffolk County. The only reality that needs to be confronted is that Suffolk residents bear the responsibility of making sure Thomas Fartface Barraga is not re-elected. 

Best of luck...