In the days leading up to this past weekend’s ride to Greenport, Long Island, I noticed there was an uptick in anti-bicycling sentiments from officials in Southold, New York.
Growing up in California, particularly around Los Angeles, you were either within the city limits or were in an unincorporated part of the county. Since I moved “Back East,” on the other hand, it’s been maddeningly frustrating trying to learn the difference between a city, a town, a village, a hamlet, and a borough, in addition to each’s relationship to the county. Located in Suffolk County, the town of Southold includes all of the North Fork east of Riverhead. The last twenty or so miles of last Saturday’s ride to Greenport went through the town of Southold.
Since at least 2003, our “tour director and humble servant” Glen has organized a North Fork ride that begins and ends in Greenport. After 2013, he had to shut down the ride because the town of Southold essentially banned any for-profit rides that pass through that town. This year, he resurrected the North Fork Century by partnering with Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center. It was a clever workaround.
But now the town has banned all “race and bike events” between June 1 and November 1. It’s unclear if a club ride, such as a group ride organized by a local cycling club or an annual event such as the Suffolk Bike Riders Association’s Bike Boat Bike ride, is included in this ban. According to the town supervisor Scott Russell, “the blanket prohibition on running and bicycling events would help to put the brakes on the escalating problem, as bicyclists ride three and four abreast, running red lights and putting the public in danger.”
This ban, of course, won’t help to lift Suffolk County from its dead-last ranking as the worst cycling community in the United States, according to Bicycling magazine’s annual survey. Suffolk County is “always one of the most dangerous places in the United States to ride a bicycle. In 2008, the county was the site of 23.8 percent of all fatalities to cyclists in New York state, despite having less than 8 percent of the state’s population.”
Suffolk County being disproportionally responsible for mayhem on the roads extends beyond the roads not being “designed for bicycling.” Suffolk County is also the drunken-driving capital of New York, and last week, there was a ghastly fatal crash where an allegedly intoxicated driver killed at least four people in Southold. Strangely, the Southold police chief suggested that a limo being hit by a local driver was inevitable, seemingly downplaying the fact that a drunken driver plowed into the vehicle and was arrested at the scene.
As I reading through these reports, the Southold police and the town board are apparently discouraging any visitors to the town. This provincialist attitude was one of the things that bothered me about living in the Santa Barbara-Goleta-Carpinteria area, a region with 220,000 people compared to the 22,000 in Southold. It creates an us-versus-them mentality that isolates the community in a bubble. The town officials of Southold are prioritizing the rights of locals to speed on local roads—perhaps even while under the influence—at the expense of out-of-town visitors who might travel east by bus, limo, or bicycle on public roads.
It really makes considering another ride to the North Fork a disheartening prospect.