New York City has been receiving great praise this week for securing first place in Bicycling Magazine‘s America’s Best Bike Cities 2014, but there’s another side to this Best Bike Cities list that hasn’t been as widely reported. The nation’s worst place for biking is also here in the tri-state region, and despite not being a city per se, its reputation is bad enough to land it the title of “worst place to ride:”
So where is the worst place to ride? Well, it’s right near New York — Suffolk County, Long Island. Again, the magazine’s thinking was counter-intuitive, Strickland said: While people may think of flat, wide-open suburbs as conducive to cycling, the roads are really not built for cyclists.
“Really, right now, the worst city is in the suburbs,” Strickland said. “We picked Suffolk to be emblematic of that.”
“Suburban streets were made to move people out of their homes to stores, or out to work,” not for bicycles, he said.
The magazine found that 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.
The ranking was revealed in a Washington Post interview with Bicycling Magazine’s Editor in Chief Bill Strickland last week. The ranking is likely no surprise to anyone who rides a bike or walks in Suffolk County. Suffolk roadways repeatedly top Tri-State’s annual Most Dangerous Roads for Walking list of the most dangerous roads in the tri-state region, and some of the County’s elected officials blame their own bike riding constituents for getting hit by motorists without actually offering any solutions to make riding safer.
The good news is that there are other county elected officials who are diligently working to improve Suffolk County’s bike-friendliness ranking. In December of 2012, Suffolk County adopted the first countywide Complete Streets policy on Long Island and this just past June, Legislator Steve Calarco and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory were victorious in establishing a Complete Streets Implementation Fund for Suffolk County as a means of guaranteeing funding for street safety improvements. Suffolk County is also planning a ‘Bike Summit’ as part of the second annual Car Free Day Long Island later this month as well.
Despite these strong shows of leadership, Suffolk County can’t successfully turn its reputation as a haven for unsafe cycling and walking without a demonstrated commitment to safer streets by the New York State Department of Transportation. NYSDOT has yet to adopt the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide, and is instead operating under the antiquated Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guidelines. This hesitation to move forward into the 21st century of safe streets engineering means that NYSDOT’s outdated policies are actually interfering with Suffolk County’s move to implement its Complete Streets laws, and municipalities are clamoring for a greater show of institutional support.