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Suffolk lawmakers OK bill giving bicyclists more room on the road

Hal Tarry of Smithtown, left, and Gary Blum

Hal Tarry of Smithtown, left, and Gary Blum of Commack ride their bikes on North Country Road in Smithtown last month. Credit: Barry Sloan

Motorists in Suffolk County may soon have to give bicyclists extra room on the road under a new county law that backers say would be the first of its kind in the state.

A majority of Suffolk County legislators voted Tuesday in favor of the bill, under which drivers could be fined $225 to $425 if they do not leave at least 3 feet between their cars and cyclists when passing them.

Supporters of the measure say it will make biking safer in a county that ranks among the most dangerous for the activity in the state.

"This is a concrete step we're taking for safety for bicyclists in Suffolk County," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who introduced the item.

The New York Bicycling Coalition, which advocated for the law, praised the bill's passage. "I have no doubt that this is going to be a lifesaving measure," coalition board member Daniel Flanzig said.

Flanzig said no other county in New York has a 3-foot law.

The measure must still be signed by County Executive Steve Bellone to become law. His spokesman, Derek Poppe, on Tuesday did not respond to a question about whether Bellone will sign.

Two Suffolk lawmakers voted against the measure, while four abstained.

At a subsequent public hearing, one of the dissenters, Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) expressed concern about the feasibility of enforcing the 3-foot requirement on narrow, heavily trafficked roads in his North Fork district.

"If you have bicycles on either side of the road going in opposite directions, traffic would never be able to ever pass the bicycle," he said.

The passage of the 3-foot rule came a week after Bellone vetoed a measure, introduced by Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley), that would have penalized reckless bicycling. Bellone's administration argued the bill was too broad and redundant with existing law.

On Tuesday, Hahn introduced her own reckless-cycling bill that she said was more narrowly targeted than Sunderman's.

The impetus for both scofflaw cyclist bills were so-called "ride-outs" — large groups of teenagers riding bikes together in ways motorists have found dangerous and threatening.

Another Hahn measure, the subject of a public hearing Tuesday, would require motorists to also give 3 feet of space to other "vulnerable road users," including pedestrians, highway workers and people in wheelchairs.

Long Island is among the most dangerous places for pedestrians and cyclists in the state, data shows.

In 2019, Nassau and Suffolk were the second and third deadliest counties in New York for cyclists, after only Kings County, Brooklyn, according to data collected by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research. They were the third and fourth deadliest counties for pedestrians, after Queens and Kings counties.

Twenty-six cyclists and 120 pedestrians were killed that year on Long Island, the data shows.

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