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Suffolk Closeup: Move to crack down on ‘risky’ cyclists

“Local Law to Prevent Reckless Biking in Suffolk County.”

That’s the title of a proposed law now before the Suffolk County Legislature.

Suffolk is not alone in this area in enacting such a law.

The county Legislature in Nassau County voted unanimously last year for a measure involving “reckless riding” of bicycles and also e-scooters and skateboards. The office of Legislator John Ferretti, Jr. (R-Levittown), author of the Nassau measure, spoke of it as addressing “a new trend that is occurring throughout Long Island where children are riding bikes and scooters recklessly, terrorizing drivers while doing wheelies and playing ‘chicken’ against traffic.”

It allows for impounding of bicycles and a misdemeanor charge.

Complaining about the Nassau bill, the organization Long Island Streets, which on its web-site, longislandstreets.org, says its mission is “advocating for safer streets for all people,” declared that the Nassau law is “not the answer to any problems.”

And in Suffolk County, also last year, the Village of Babylon, enacted a law permitting its code enforcement officers to confiscate bicycles from youths riding recklessly. 

At a public hearing, one Babylon resident said she encountered a group of about a dozen youths on bicycles blocking traffic, and riding head-on against traffic. She said that when she spoke to riders, they were rude, that they cursed at people who approached them. “This isn’t kids being kids,” she said, “this is risky behavior … They are children running head-on into a car.”

The Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union opposed the Babylon law saying it would violate riders’ due process. Long Island Streets complained, saying that if Babylon officials “are genuinely concerned about traffic safety, they’d use a data-driven approach instead of listening to cranky residents who cannot understand why any person would want to do ‘bike tricks in public.’”

The law is sponsored by Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley), and was originally prepared by Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Selden). Sunderman took it over after Mr. Muratore passed away recently.

“This legislature finds that some people operating bicycles in Suffolk County are doing so in a manner that is dangerous to cars, pedestrians and the bicyclists themselves,” it declares. It continues saying “reckless bicycling has become a problem in Suffolk County which puts the safety of everyone on county roadways at risk.”

It goes on that “there have been several instances of minors being seriously injured or killed in accidents associated with reckless bicycling here in Suffolk County in recent years.”

Thus, “in order to prevent harm to the people operating bicycles and those around them, rules must be put in place to ensure the safe operation of bicycles in Suffolk County.”

The measure requires, among other things, that “persons riding bicycles on a roadway shall ride not more than two abreast,” mandates that bicyclists have “at least one hand on the steering mechanism or handles,” prohibits “more than one person riding on a bicycle unless the bicycle is made for two or more,” makes illegal “trick riding, weaving, or zig-sagging … unless such irregular course is necessary for…safe operation.”

Penalties include a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a $250 fine “or by imprisonment of no more than 15 days, or both, per infraction.”

Legislator Sunderman said he has been “looking at a few concerns brought up” and is open to hearing “any concerns” about the bill. The focus, he emphasized, “is safety.”

His chief-of-staff, Tim Rothang, stressed that the measure is not directed at recreational bicyclists but that Mr. Sunderman’s legislative office, and, previously Mr. Muratore’s office, received complaints about “large groups of teenagers on bikes” blocking traffic and otherwise acting recklessly.

There is a set of New York State rules covering bicycling. These include some of what’s in the Long Island measures and also regulations beyond them. The state rules ban bicyclists “clinging to vehicles” to move along. They say, “No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the driver from keeping at least one hand upon the handlebars.”

They say no bicyclist shall “ride with his feet removed from the pedals.” They go on: “Every bicycle when in use during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible during hours of darkness from a distance of at least five hundred feet.”

Bicycling is regulated in New York State, and soon that could be more so in Suffolk.