Bike Sharing for Suffolk County?

bicycle New Suffolk
Suffolk County is exploring the possibility of a bike sharing program.

Bike sharing isn’t just for urban environments anymore. With recent advances in mobile technology that allow app-based purchases and GPS tracking, bike sharing programs, where people can borrow publicly owned bicycles along their commute, are becoming more feasible in rural areas.

Programs like New York City’s CitiBike, which was rolled out in 2013, rely on private industry to provide a service to a municipality, depending on sponsorship to cover the costs. While that financial model could translate well to an affluent community like the East End, the physical model, with bike docking stations installed throughout the city, is difficult to replicate here.

MTA Transit Solutions Manager Rosemary Mascali and Southampton Town Sustainability Committee member Nicholas Palumbo have been advocating for a regional bike sharing program with town and county leaders in recent weeks.

They told the Southampton Town Board at its April 20 work session that technology has advanced dramatically in the past five years, with locks that allow riders to drop off bikes without unwieldy docking stations and GPS chips in the bicycles that make it easier for compaines to keep track of the bikes.

They said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a runner and advocate for alternative transportation, was “very excited” about the idea when they approached him in mid-April, and has asked his community development planning specialist, Jonathan Keyes, to issue a request for information from vendors.

Mr. Palumbo said the system could work well near transit hubs, downtowns and beaches throughout the East End, as well as on our few college campuses.

“It helps with commuter connections and the first mile, last mile challenge,” he said.

Ms. Mascali said a program in Long Beach partners with local bike shops to maintain the bikes and reposition them to places where they will be found by riders.

The program is not inexpensive — it comes at a cost of about $1,600 per bicycle — but the costs could be recouped through grants, private sponsorship and rider fees, and could cost less if done on a large-scale, regional basis.

“We’re hoping there will be a single bid initiated by the county, with provisions for opt-in within the towns and villages,” said Mr. Palumbo.

Suffolk County is embarking on several transit projects west of here that include areas specifically for bicycles, including a bike lane on Nesconset Highway and a Rails-to-Trails project connecting Port Jefferson to Wading River.

“This could really move the needle on biking infrastructure across the county, and that could help everyone,” said Mr. Palumbo.

Councilman John Bouvier pointed out that infrastructure improvements in coastal areas, necessary because of climate change, could easily include accommodations for bicycle lanes.

“It’s important to reduce traffic,” added Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “Our roads are getting so bad and it’s so frustrating.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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