LI's first Car Free Day happens Friday

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Public transportation providers are hoping Nassau and Suffolk residents leave the driving to them Friday -- Long Island's first Car Free Day.

Long Island joins 1,500 cities in 40 countries around the world in observing Car Free Day, which began in 2000. Organizers said that by Thursday 2,300 people had taken the pledge to leave their cars at home.

The event has been organized by the Long Island Rail Road's Transit Solutions program and the New York State Department of Transportation 511NYRideshare program, and has been supported by businesses and transit providers, including the Nassau Inter-County Express and the North Shore-LIJ Health System.

"Driving less will help reduce traffic congestion, reduce harmful emissions, improve fitness and reduce parking problems," Transit Solutions manager and event co-chair Rosemary Mascali said at a kickoff event in Mineola Thursday. "It's about Long Island taking action to have a positive impact on our environment."

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Mascali asked drivers to consider all options other than driving, including taking a train or bus, bicycling, walking or telecommuting. For those who absolutely need their cars, she recommended reducing driving by combining errands or only driving to the nearest train station.

"We want you to try the train," said LIRR president Helena Williams, adding that the railroad isn't just greener than driving, it's more relaxing. "If you sit on the Long Island Rail Road, you can be texting safely. You can be emailing. You can be reading your Kindle."

Organizers acknowledged that, for some, regularly commuting on Long Island without a car is unrealistic. Mascali, who lives in Manhasset and has to attend a meeting in Hauppauge Friday morning, said it will take two trains, three buses, and nearly three hours to complete a trip that takes a little more than a half-hour by car.

But, organizers said, several projects in the works, such as a bus rapid transit system along the Route 110 corridor, and more frequent LIRR service via its East Side Access and Double Track plans, should make future Car Free Days easier.

"It is a poor plan for the future of Long Island if our businesses continue to ignore the damage that crowded highways, pollution and fuel costs are doing to our economy and the quality of our lives," Melville Chamber of Commerce president Michael DeLuise said.

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