Following at least 30 motor vehicle-related fatalities on Long Island in August, Suffolk County police on Tuesday handed out free reflective bicycle vests and stickers to passersby in Patchogue. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday Staff; File Footage

Linda Schneider was doing her usual five-mile morning bike ride along Route 25A in Miller Place when she approached a car at an intersection waiting to turn.

Schneider waited for the driver to make her move, and waited some more. The driver was looking in only one direction, and not toward Schneider. Finally, Schneider started biking again. The driver suddenly pulled out, and bumped her.

“Luckily it was just a tap,” Schneider, a retired fourth-grade teacher, recalled on Tuesday. But “I was shaking like a leaf and I sat down on the side of the road a little bit just to get my composure.”

Her bike was OK, and she was able to ride home, “but it really scared me,” she said. “I’ll never forget that.”

Schneider was among those gathered Tuesday in Patchogue Village where Suffolk police and government officials spoke about a new effort to reduce fatal collisions of vehicles with bikers and pedestrians.

They said the problem is getting worse. Suffolk police and other officials took a step toward addressing it by handing out yellow reflective vests donated by Home Depot to anyone who believed a vest would help keep them safe while they walk or bike on roadways.

“This new initiative is very important to the residents of Suffolk County,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison.

It could also be lifesaving. In the first week of September, at least two people have been struck and killed by vehicles as they crossed streets in Suffolk.

Those two deaths followed a particularly deadly August on Long Island roads. At least 30 motor vehicle-related fatalities were reported last month in Suffolk and Nassau counties, according to information released by local police departments. Several of the crashes claimed the lives of pedestrians. 

A Newsday analysis in 2021 found that Long Island roads are among New York State's deadliest to walk and bike, but few drivers involved in crashes that kill pedestrians and bicyclists face criminal charges.

In 2022, eight bicyclists died after being hit by motor vehicles in Suffolk County, according to the Institute of Traffic Safety Management Research at the University of Albany. One bicyclist was killed in Nassau County in that same time period.

The numbers were even worse for pedestrians: In Suffolk, 52 were hit and killed, and in Nassau, the number was 21.

“Behind each of those numbers is a family mourning a loss of a loved one,” said Gerard Hardy, chief of patrol for the Suffolk County Police Department.

Dorothy Whelan of Patchogue said she came to the event Tuesday because she was worried about her 6-year-old granddaughter, Juliana Butler. The girl, who loves bicycling, rode her bike on a six-mile journey with her mother the other day.

Whelan said bad drivers are part of the problem, but she also worries about children not biking safely. Sometimes they “go crazy” and do “wheelies” in the street, she said. “That’s scary. They got to be a little more careful too, just like us. I always want them to stay on the sidewalks. They don’t always listen.”

At least one safety advocate said Long Island’s road infrastructure contributes to bicyclist and pedestrian deaths, and that the region needs to change to bring down the numbers.

“The real issue is to look at these roads — they’re designed for speed, not safety,” said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that has been examining the issue for 20 years.

“There needs to be a fundamental shift in how we look at our roadways," Alexander said. "It’s not just about cars going as fast as they humanly possibly can.”

Some simple solutions are available, such as installing crosswalks that force vehicles to slow down, he said.

The reflective vest option can be helpful, he said, but “the onus should be on first the physical road, then the driver, and the pedestrian is last, because they really are the most fragile.”

Schneider said she knows just how vulnerable she is on the road. After the collision, the driver got out and assisted her, she said.

She said she still vividly recalls the incident, as she waited for the driver to make her move.

“I figured, she’s not going, I’m going to go. And we both went at the same time … and sure enough I got clipped,” Schneider said.

With Matthew Chayes

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