Southold not so safe for cyclists

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |


A bicycle accident victim is airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital from the Southold High School athletic fields two weeks ago.

Nasty bicycle accidents are on the rise in Southold Town.

According to Southold Town Police records, bicycle accidents involving injuries have more than doubled over the past two years, and this summer, hardly a week has gone by without another report of an accident involving a bicycle.

In 2008, there were only seven such accidents reported in Southold. Four of them involved injuries, and one bicyclist later died from her wounds.

Though there has not been a fatality in the past two years, bike accidents climbed sharply in 2009, when 23 were reported, though just 16 involved injuries. This year, 12 bicyclists have already been injured in 14 accidents in little more than half the year.

The records give a wide variety of reasons for the accidents. Some involved children or young riders who inadvertently swerved into traffic. Many took place at intersections where motorists did not see cyclists as they attempted to make turns, particularly on Route 25. Many accidents have involved bicycle riders who were vacationing here and may have been unfamiliar with the roads. And more may have gone unreported.

Just in the past three weeks, two men were airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital after they were injured in separate bicycling accidents on Route 25 in downtown Southold.

“I think there’s been more this year than years past,” said Greg Williams, owner of Country Time Cycle in Mattituck, which is the only bicycle shop in the town. “I’ve seen a number of post-accident estimates and I’ve heard about more. I think that we are experiencing a fitness movement now and a movement in green transportation. That could explain the increase in accidents.

“Typically, the back roads have less traffic, but on the North Fork, there are only two roads to chose from that go east to west,” he added. “You have to be on Route 25 or Route 48 at some point.”

Members of Southold Town’s Transportation Commission designated three scenic bicycling areas in 2001, in part to encourage bicyclists to use alternative back roads, despite the fact that New York State and Suffolk County have designated Route 25 and Route 48 as bicycle routes.

Neboysha Brashich, who spearheaded development of the routes as chair of the transportation commission, said that he has noticed an increase in the severity and frequency of bicycle accidents. He believes they’re the result of an increase in traffic on the main roads, he said.

“It’s a dilemma. We have too many cars,” he said. “How do you stop America from loving a car?”

The alternate routes that he helped develop include one 14-mile loop that originates at Bailie Beach in Mattituck, travels on back roads to New Suffolk, then up Depot Lane to Oregon Road and back to the beach. Other routes are a 19.5-mile loop beginning in downtown Southold and taking in the back roads along Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, and a 5-mile loop through Orient that relies more heavily on the state bike route on Route 25 than the other two.

“There’s much less traffic on those roads and people understand the signage,” said Mr. Brashich. “I think they’re safe. We haven’t had any accidents on them.”

Route maps are available as PDFs under the tab “Seaview Bicycle” on the home page of the town’s website at

Mr. Brashich urged cyclists to ride single file to avoid danger, even on the back roads.

“I’ve seen a father, a mother and two children ride along Oregon Road with the two children between the parents,” he said. “Even with the best intent and will, things will happen.”

He also urged bicyclists who must ride on the main roads to stay farther from the traffic than many avid cyclists tend to ride.

“People are afraid things will derail them, but the state is good at keeping the road free of debris and sand,” he said.

Country Time Cycle is also offering free bicycle safety courses. The next one will be held this Saturday morning, Aug. 21, at 8 a.m.

“People need to know the rules of the road. It’s very important that people ride single file,” said bike shop owner Mr. Williams. “We stress the importance of wearing a helmet. The number one injury in cycling accidents is head trauma.”

Mr. Williams said that drivers should be aware of the high rate of speed of serious bicyclists.

“I’ve heard that a bunch of times. People don’t understand that a bicyclist is going 23, 24 miles per hour. They say, ‘I didn’t know how fast he was going,’â” he said.

Mr. Williams said he cautions many friends on group rides to always use extreme caution and try to make eye contact with drivers so that both cyclist and driver are aware of what the other is doing.

“I ride 150 miles a week, and there are times when I come up to intersections where a car is making a right turn and the driver is looking and looking and doesn’t see me,” he said.

“In an accident where there’s a bicycle versus a car, the car will typically win,” he added. “You may have been right but there’s little solace in being right when you’re sitting in a hospital bed.”

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