Cities around the world have been becoming more friendly to bicycles in the past decade, but out here in the traffic-clogged country, many people who would otherwise love to ride a bicycle have decided riding here is just too dangerous.
Hampton Bays-based artist Andy Morris would like to see a change in public policy for bicycle infrastructure here, and he’s formed a new Facebook group, South Fork Active Transportation Initiative, to start a public groundswell for change in the way we think about bicycle infrastructure here.
His proposal would take advantage of about 100 miles of rights-of-way alongside the Long Island Rail Road and power lines that run down the length of the South Fork, relying also on the creation of small bicycle-only ferries connecting sections of Shinnecock Bay and Cold Spring Pond.
The key to this concept, said Mr. Morris as he showed off a hand-drawn map of his proposal in a mid-April interview at Ponquogue Beach, is to separate cars from bicycles.
“I’ve been out here my whole life. I know where to bike and where not to bike,” said Mr. Morris. “This could be a bicycling utopia. We could go from the worst to the best.”
Bicycle lanes on the East End’s roads have long taken the form of a narrow strip of striping on each shoulder of wide thoroughfares like Route 114 from North Haven to East Hampton, or sections of Flanders Road.
But most places that have successful bicycle lanes actually pick a different tack. Instead of putting the bike lanes adjacent to the car lanes, they compress the bicycle portion of the road to one side, with a barrier, either of concrete or a landscaped median, between the vehicle and bicycle traffic.
Mr. Morris and his wife, Mary Anna, have bicycled all over the world, and they’ve seen examples of bicycle infrastructure that works. In each of those places, bicycles are distinctly separated from cars.
These concepts have been working for decades in Germany and Amsterdam, which have long had a bike-friendly culture, but they’re also working much closer to home, said Mr. Morris. From New England to Cape Cod to Bethpage to the Brooklyn waterfront, bicycle infrastructure has come a long way since the East End last took a serious look at bike paths.
The Long Island Rail Road is even turning the old railroad line from Port Jefferson to Wading River to a Rails-to-Trails path.
While decommissioned railways are a prime site for bike paths, paths can also be built within rights-of-way of railroads that are still in service.
The public demand for bicycle paths has been documented by Southampton Town in the past.
The town’s 1996 Comprehensive Plan Update points out that a 1995 poll conduced by Southampton College showed that bicycle paths “were rated a #1 recreational priority for town action above all other park and sports amenities.”
The Comprehensive Greenways System chapter of the plan also notes that “29 percent of respondents to the Visual Preference Survey indicated that they would be willing to take a bike path to the village, train station or beach as an alternative to the car, and 58 percent either strongly agreed or agreed that sidewalks and bike lanes are an important part of our transportation system and should be provided even if it takes taxpayer dollars to do so.”
Tourists and summer visitors to the South Fork would be the prime people to take advantage of the routes.
One of Mr. Morris’s favorite sections of the network he’s proposed is the ferry connections between Dune Road and the mainland, and across the Shinnecock Inlet, connecting two sections of Dune Road, and eliminating a great deal of overland travel.
The ferry across Cold Spring Pond, at The Lobster Inn, would eliminate the need for cyclists to ever travel on County Road 39, the four-lane heavily traveled road at the entrance to Southampton that is known for being a pedestrian death trap.
The Morrises recently invested in two German “Bulls” brand Class 1 e-bikes, which have a belt-driven battery assist that gives riders the extra umph they need to get up hills, making it easy for a recreational cyclist to ride all day without getting tired.
New York City recently made it legal for these types of “pedal-assist” bicycles to be used on its network of bike lanes and bike paths.
“It’s all about efficiency and mobility,” said Mr. Morris. “There’s a feeling of power when you eliminate hills and eliminate getting tired. It’s going to change everything.”
While Mr. Morris has heard criticism from many tradespeople who say there’s no way they could commute by bicycle with all their tools and equipment, he believes there are enough people who would rather pedal along through the woods at speeds in the mid-teens than sit in traffic traveling at the same speed.
The added benefit of power line and rail routes is that they are often the most direct route when commuting a long distance.
“We spent all our money on highways, and our big return is we get to sit in traffic jams,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s an end-all to commuting, but if you build it, they will come.”