One of the unexpected results of the coronavirus pandemic is the surprising number of people who have taken to riding bicycles. Shortages and long waits for new purchases have been reported. Some riders are choosing two wheels as an alternative to cramming onto risky public transportation. Others are doing so to stay fit since gyms have been closed. And, around here as well as resort locations elsewhere, bicycles have become a standard amenity at hotels and all but required at short-term rentals.
Now, adding to the confusion, low-key bike-share businesses are starting up; one in East Hampton Village has bikes distinctive for their yellow color and riders’ evident lack of skill. But almost everywhere, bikers add to the worry that the roads are something of an obstacle course, putting motorists and cyclists into potential conflict.
The surge in riders is here to stay. The number of inquiries from parents considering staying year round and putting their children in East End schools is an indication that the bump-up in population that began in March will likely last, and with it cycling. And, with a resurgence of the virus, gyms and other recreational facilities could remain shut for many more months before they are allowed to fully reopen. Given that bikes are not going to go away means that town and village governments must respond in due course — and that means creating safer conditions for cyclists. There are undoubtedly many people who would cycle nearly everywhere if they felt safe doing so. The bad news is that if local leaders only go far enough to look at federal guidelines, bike lanes might never happen. The State Department of Transportation recommends five-foot-wide lanes for cyclists, more than is likely to find enough public support on the East End.
However, the goal of separating motor vehicles and bikes can be accomplished with as narrow a lane as three feet. In many places, road rights of way extend well beyond the existing pavement, making new lanes a possibility. In European Union countries, one-meter-wide cycling lanes have been laid out, as narrow as the width of a single bike and rider. They need not be nearly as broad to be successful as thought appropriate by American bureaucrats
But actually creating bike lanes is a bigger hurdle, and politicians here know that. Many of the East Hampton roads popular with cyclists are in places where residents could make trouble. Along Bluff Road in Amagansett some years ago, for example, a few property owners were outraged when the town had a sidewalk installed between Atlantic Avenue and Indian Wells Highway. That the concrete had a pink tint at the time added to their irritation.
For a long time, this newspaper has called for bike lanes on county, town, and village roads in a general sense. Instead of just keeping to that, we now suggest that several specific roads should be considered for widening to accommodate bicycles. These include Bluff Road, Cranberry Hole Road, Atlantic Avenue, Indian Wells Highway, Old Stone Highway, and Town Lane in Amagansett; Ditch Plain Road and East Lake Drive in Montauk; Further Lane, Hand’s Creek Road, Abraham’s Path, Stephen Hand’s Path, and Cedar Street in East Hampton; Ocean Avenue in East Hampton Village; Wainscott Stone Road in Wainscott, and Fort Pond Boulevard, Springs-Fireplace Road, and Three Mile Harbor-Hog Creek Road in Springs.
Bike lanes would change the look of the streetscapes a little, of course, but if done right would be well worth it to encourage bicycling and accommodate the many, many cyclists we already have on our roads. As we said, they — we — are not going away.