Southold Town looks to curb bicycling events

Bicyclists return to Pindar Vineyards in Peconic from Bicyclists return to Pindar Vineyards in Peconic from the American Diabetes Association, Tour de Cure. (June 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Southold Town officials have clamped down on large bicycling events, complaining they attract swarms of riders who congest the North Fork, with its scenic farms and vineyard vistas, spend no money and tax police resources.

The policy enacted this month bans for-profit companies from getting any more special event permits, citing residents' long lists of complaints about rides that can draw upward of 1,000 cyclists a day.

"We are a sponge," town Supervisor Scott Russell said last week at a town board meeting. "And the sponge is full. There's only so much we can absorb as a town."

Officials say the North Fork is inundated with requests for bike events that sap police resources and create a headache for locals. Residents fear the North Fork could become too much like the South Fork.

Event organizers contend the rides boost the local economy and aid charities.

The policy has caused one race organizer, Glen Goldstein, to say he will have to cancel a popular cycling event, the North Fork Century, slated for August, if a waiver isn't granted.

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Russell said cyclists aren't spending money.

"They [the events] don't bring tourists out. They bring bicyclists out," he said. "The expenditures are nominal, other than the occasional sale of a bottle of Evian water."

Professional event organizers argue that they contribute to local charities, from a nonprofit that helps low-income residents to the Greenport Fire Department.

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Goldstein, who runs North Fork Century, said at the meeting that even without events, cyclists will come.

"With us, we can help control it," he said.

At the meeting last week, residents ticked off a long list of annoyances cyclists cause.

Those include cyclists riding two or three abreast, encroaching into car lanes. Cyclists also sometimes use beach restrooms unprepared for a heavy influx of cyclists.

"The septic systems are not equipped for that kind of usage," said Doris McGreevy of Mattituck.

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There are even bike wine tours, she noted. "It's booze and bikes," she said.

Jason Cohen, owner of Pedal and Pour, which runs regular tours not subject to event permits, said most of the riding takes place before the vineyard stops. The company's website suggests riders "See-Swirl-Sniff-Sip-Spit-and-Savor." But just in case, a driver is on hand.

James Dinizio Jr., a Southold councilman from Greenport, on Sunday recounted trying to pull onto Main Road on Mother's Day, only to be blocked for at least five minutes by cyclists.

"This is not anti-bike," he said. But the town can only handle so many large events.

And then there's the perceived lack of ability of some cyclists. "You'll have 50 to 100 people at a time, and half seem like they've never rode a bike before," said Brian Keller of Mattituck.

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Still, Kate Williamson, 59, of Laurel, defended the Mighty North Fork triathlon, which received its permit for this year's event before the new policy took effect. She did her first race eight years ago, because it was a local event. "The town should be promoting healthy activities," she said.

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