For all the promise Long Island has, we’re still held back by decaying infrastructure and congested roadways. If we want to usher in a brighter future, we have to embrace new mobility options that can serve as an alternative to cars and bolster connections to our commuter rail stations. We need to follow towns and cities across the world in welcoming “micromobility.”
Thanks to our partners in the state, our SUNY campuses are seeing renewed investment, ridership on the Long Island Rail Road sets historic highs virtually every month, and there are encouraging signs of growth in towns and cities that have embraced transit-oriented development.
All this could all be wasted, however, if we can’t retain talent and make Long Island attractive to both new businesses and a young workforce. Failure to do so could result in a strained tax base as more Long Islanders retire and live on fixed incomes.
One thing is clear: if we want to avoid this bleak outlook, micromobility is key. Micromobility is the popular term for the electric bikes and scooters that populate urban centers everywhere. They can help clear up roads, make commutes greener and enhance our downtowns, making them more vibrant than ever before. Gov. Andrew Cuomo first proposed legalizing electric bikes and scooters on streets throughout the state this session in Albany, and now, with the bill sitting on his desk, we’re just a step away from having a real alternative to the car for short and medium-length trips.
Electric bikes and scooters are working in cities as relatively small as Spokane, Wash., and as large as Paris. Even other parts of New York are seeing the benefits of a variation on these vehicles, electric pedal-assist bikes. These bikes are helping White Plains and Yonkers achieve local sustainability goals.
In the Town of Hempstead, we’re ready to embrace this future. We’re proud to be the first township on Long Island to issue a request for proposals for an e-scooter program, with an understanding of the benefits they offer. I’m proud to be joined by Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney in this push toward greener, less congested roadways.
These vehicles transform short, frustrating drives around town or to the train station into more pleasant experiences. There’s no need to look for parking, and you don’t have to sit in traffic.
They’re affordable, too, with most companies offering rides for only dollars, which you use to unlock an e-scooter. And best of all, they alleviate the need to buy gas or pay for parking, maintenance and insurance, and to replace them every few years.
Long Island is lucky to boast some of the best schools in the country. But once students graduate, many move away or to New York City because they don’t see opportunity here. They don’t feel like Long Island can help them build a career, settle down and start a family. We have to start providing a reason to stay, and getting with the times is a big part of that.
We’re learning quickly that younger Long Islanders are less interested in buying and owning cars. A status symbol for older generations is seen by millennials and Generation Z as a relic of the past. Cars are a burden to them. They’d rather live close to the train and walk, bike or, when necessary, use Uber to get around. That’s why certain areas of Long Island that incorporate transit-oriented development — the construction of housing and businesses close to LIRR stations — are successfully attracting and retaining young people, and their local economies are better for it.
Hempstead won’t be left behind. We’re ready to adopt this thoughtful approach to mobility and reap the benefits it yields. Once e-bikes and scooters are legalized, micromobility will help create more success stories in more places, boosting Long Island’s overall economy, and we’re ready to lead the way.
Long Island needs to shift the narrative and be seen as the domain of innovation and a multi-modal future that’s desirable to the talented young people our first-rate schools produce. Micromobility is an essential ingredient to reaching this goal. As cleaner and more efficient transportation solutions gain prominence beyond our borders, we need to take advantage of the possibilities micromobility provides, and with Governor Cuomo’s leadership, I’m confident that we can get it done. Our future depends on it.
Laura Gillen is the Town of Hempstead supervisor.