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Safe roads for bikes and cars

A bicyclist on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

A bicyclist on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow. Credit: John Roca

Road-safety discussions have a way of descending into near-tribal emotional clashes.

An ever-growing number of bicycle riders raise their voices for free movement and respect. Motorists are vexed by two-wheelers who sometimes seem determined to test their alertness and patience.

The perennial question of who's menacing whom gets the group blame game going, especially in the wake of a near-collision. Think of the thousands of screaming matches not reflected in annual tallies of fatal and serious accidents.

Both groups have spurred local legislation around Long Island. Especially now, with Nassau and Suffolk counties trying to emerge from the pandemic, and with spring and summer activities rising, rules of the road take on more importance.

On one side of the bike ledger: Two summers ago, Babylon Village reacted to the ruckus about "ride-outs" where kids play "chicken" with cars, perform stunts and create swarms that intimidate drivers and pedestrians by adopting penalties for this knucklehead behavior. But the fad persists in various places with riders and spectators posting videos for a bit of web fame, sometimes with their faces out of the frame.

Nassau imposed new safety rules aimed at showoffs in 2019, which the sponsor, Legis. John Ferretti (R-Levittown), since called a deterrent. Suffolk's legislature approved a crackdown measure, too. Although County Executive Steve Bellone vetoed that bill in March, accepting cyclists' arguments that it was too punitive, elements of the proposal may be brought back.

Cyclists, too, have persuaded government to help their cause. Bellone signed a law last month requiring motorists to keep their cars at a three-foot distance from bike riders. Legis. Kara Hahn, whose husband was hit by a car while biking, sponsored the bill, said to be the first of its kind in New York State.

Appropriately, cyclists have been lobbying and agitating for the right kinds of bikeways. One worthy plan, beyond adding bike lanes here and there, would be to extend the Empire State Trail's 750-mile system of paths for both cyclists and walkers through Long Island. Carter Strickland, New York State director of the Trust for Public Land, is among those who've called for "a world-class trail from New York City through Bethpage State Park, the pine barrens, Greenport, and Shelter Island to Montauk, and all the unique places in between."

Traffic laws and infrastructure help, but common sense is so obviously vital that it too often goes unmentioned. Drivers need to slow down, avoid distraction and soberly accept that bikes and pedestrians will be sharing the road. Powerful vehicles require responsibility, as everyone in driver's ed is supposed to know.

Obviously, bicyclists cannot "win" in any collision with a motor vehicle. They should not ride abreast or play dumb games. They should avoid thin shoulders on winding roads, bike on designated park trails where possible, pay full attention, remove the earbuds, and wear a helmet.

How difficult is it to exercise common sense and self-control whether you're on four wheels or two?

— The editorial board