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Editorial

Bike paths: Build them and cyclists will come

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It is a frightening statistic: Pedestrian deaths shot up by nearly 56 percent nationally between 2009 and 2018, from roughly 4,000 lives lost to cars and trucks to 6,227. That followed a long period of steady decline, from a high of 6,500 in 1990.

Long Island has its share of pedestrian deaths, averaging about 60 per year.

Frank Wefering, director of sustainability for the Babylon-based Greenman-Pedersen Inc., an engineering and construction firm, presented the statistics during an hour-long panel discussion, “Walking, Biking and Complete Streets,” that was part of the three-day Long Island Smart Growth Summit hosted last week by the nonprofit Vision Long Island.

If you think about it, every sixth day on the Island, a pedestrian or cyclist is killed on the roads. Does it have to be this way? “No” was the resounding answer during the talk, given by four panelists, including officials from both the Nassau and Suffolk County governments.

The thing is, reducing pedestrian deaths requires planning and a sustained financial commitment, as well as greater vigilance by motorists, the panelists said. We agree.

We have reported all too often on pedestrians or cyclists struck down and severely injured or killed by careless drivers, many times drunk or glued to a cellphone. This has to stop.

It’s not this way in many parts of Europe, where the pedestrian fatality rate is a fraction of what it is here, noted Wefering, who is from Germany. He cited several reasons for the disparity. In addition to intoxication and cellphone use while driving, motorists in the U.S. are driving heavier vehicles, often SUVs and pickups, which, Wefering said, “are killing people at a much larger rate.”

Additionally, he said, driver education and traffic enforcement are weaker here, and we simply don’t have the same infrastructure to protect pedestrians, including walking and biking paths, as there is in much of Europe — in particular the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It’s long past the point where Long Island should adopt transportation alternatives that would allow people to move around without their cars. The Island was, in many ways, shaped by the “car culture” of the mid- to late 20th century. The sprawling parkway system created by legendary developer Robert Moses determined the location of entire communities and was, in large part, responsible for the development of Long Island as America’s first suburb.

We need not, however, remain mired in the old ways. We can develop new infrastructure to encourage walking and biking — both healthy alternatives to driving, for our bodies and as well as the planet. The less driving we do, the less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, and the slower the Earth warms.

We can be thankful that both the Nassau and Suffolk County governments have awakened to this new reality and are steadily working to build the necessary infrastructure. We may need a while to match the Europeans, with their myriad transportation alternatives, but with commitment on all of our parts, we can someday soon get there.

Suffolk has long been ahead of Nassau in constructing bicycle paths, which now connect whole swaths of that county. There are hundreds of miles of bike paths to the east, while, we’re sorry to say, Nassau still measures its paths in the tens of miles. We have yet to develop the interconnected network of paths that Suffolk has, and that was evident in the two presentations that county officials made at the Smart Growth Summit. Nassau is “stitching together” mile-long segments of paths to eventually link its existing ones, while Suffolk is long past that point.

There are promising projects here, though: Nassau County is developing plans to create a network of bike paths that will run the length of the Long Beach barrier island, from Atlantic Beach to Point Lookout, in the coming years, which will connect with both the Atlantic Beach and Long Beach boardwalks.

New York state also plans to extend the 3.6-mile-long Ocean Parkway bike path, which begins at Jones Beach and ends at Tobay Beach, another 10 miles east to the Robert Moses Causeway, at a cost of $16.2 million. That project is scheduled for completion in 2021.

And there are about a dozen miles of bike paths around Eisenhower Park and the Nassau Hub. But right now, that’s about it for Nassau. Bringing more bike paths to our county will require continuous public pressure.