Driving on the North Fork on a spring or summer weekend you might feel as if you’re in Fougères or Livarot, as you pass by more cyclists than you’d see in the Tour de France.
North, south, east, west — every direction you head there are men and women riding bicycles. Some appear to be riding on their own, others in large groups. They are on informal rides or sometimes participating in large organized tours or races.
It’s the latter, the ones taking part in events that occur here but are organized largely by outside interests, that has officials in Southold Town concerned.
At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Police Chief Martin Flatley suggested the town consider an outright ban on all bike races or tours except those organized by local community groups. The town currently has a policy in place stating that only nonprofits can host these types of events in town, but Southold officials admit it isn’t working.
Driving along Main Road and Route 48 the past two weekends, when a pair of major bike tours created unruly and hazardous traffic conditions, it’s hard to disagree.
At one event this past Saturday, children could be seen riding their bicycles inches from the traffic lanes along Main Road. Chief Flatley said that during another event the week before he watched as cyclists rode straight through a red light on Route 48, forcing drivers who wanted to turn onto Peconic Lane to slam on their brakes. The rules of the road, he said, are not being followed.
Group bicycle rides have become the No. 1 complaint on the roadways in Southold Town, the chief said. And despite the policy adopted in 2013, he added, the number of permits sought for these types of events is on the rise.
Among the biggest concerns town officials have with these tours, aside from safety, is whether they’re actually being run by nonprofits. Often, they believe, rides are being run for profit, with a small portion of the proceeds being donated to charity.
But how much is being donated? Who is really benefiting? And why do these rides have to be held on our roads if these organizations aren’t based here?
It’s difficult to monitor what’s actually happening with the money raised from these events. And it’s also a major challenge to ensure that cyclists follow the rules of our roads when there are hundreds of them riding the length of our town.
Chief Flatley is correct in urging the Town Board to consider a more stringent policy regarding bicycle events. The current policy is broken and needs to be fixed.
The time has come for new guidelines limiting bicycle rides or races on roads in Southold Town to events hosted by community groups based within the town — and all proceeds from those events should support charitable interests.
The only way to truly rid our roads of these bad actors is to prohibit them from using those roads in the first place.