This newspaper has a long-standing opinion page feature called “Equal Time” (at least that’s what I call it), which gives outside contributors an opportunity to respond at length to something that’s appeared on our editorial or opinion pages. Today I beg your indulgence in stretching that concept a bit by responding to News-Review editor Mike White’s “Monday Briefing” posting on motorcycle safety on the Times/Review website. (For the complete text, go to http://riverheadnewsreview.timesreview.com/2012/04/36070/monday-briefing-whats-the-1-cause-of-fatal-motorcycle-crashes/.)
Summarized, Mike’s “briefing” is a plea for automobile drivers to be on the lookout for motorcyclists, two of whom were hit by cars this weekend on Long Island, and one of whom did not survive. In harkening back to his days in defensive driving courses, Mike writes: “We’ve been trained to look for cars as we’re turning left across traffic, but not for bikes. Bikes sometimes blend into the landscape. So if you and I make one adjustment behind the wheel, it should be to take heed of this No. 1 driving tip when it comes to driving with motorcycles: Look twice.”
Although I differ with nothing Mike wrote, I hereby request “Equal Time” on behalf of the motorcyclists out there, a group I think I fairly represent since I’ve been riding two-wheelers since I was 16 years old, some 50 years ago.
The first scooter was a 50cc Honda and the current one is a 108cc Honda. But in between there were some pretty big bikes, including a 1,200cc BMW that must have weighed close to 1,500 pounds when fully loaded with gas, gear and Mr. and Mrs. Gustavson. (When it tipped over on some loose gravel one time, it took two burly truckers to help us get it upright again.)
Before I started riding the bigger bikes about 25 years ago, I took a motorcycle safety course with my friend and fellow biker Bob Feger, currently superintendent of the New Suffolk School District. We learned a lot that weekend, and most of it is relevant to driving safely whether you’re on two wheels or four.
Basically, it comes down to the oft-cited motorcycle safety course slogan SIPDE, which stands for Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute.
So, for example, whenever I’m entering an intersection — either on my scooter or in my car — I have a plan of escape in mind in case an oncoming driver pulls a boneheaded move like making a left turn directly in my path. (Mike White correctly points out that this scenario is the most common cause of fatal auto vs. motorcycle mishaps.) If you routinely Scan, Identify and Predict, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to successfully Decide and Execute — and thus avoid an accident.
Something else I routinely do when I’m driving is constantly scan my rearview and sideview mirrors for danger approaching from the rear. This is not as critical when you’re in a two-ton car, but if you’re on a 200-pound scooter, it can make the difference between life and death.
And while we’re on the subject of cars vs. bikes, I’d like to send a shout-out for a speedy recovery to our friend Joe Pufahl, who was severely injured Friday while riding his bike on the North Road in Southold. Joe lives in Cutchogue and works in Riverhead at his family’s manufacturing plant, Adchem, and can often be seen riding his high-tech bicycle the length and breadth of the North Fork.
On Friday afternoon, he was heading east through a green light at Youngs Avenue when an oncoming van, also with the green light, made a left turn directly into his path. The other driver told police he was blinded by the sun, but at 4:58 p.m., 2 1/2 hours before sunset, something tells me failure to adequately Scan, Identify and Predict also might have been a contributing factor.
As this is written, Joe is recovering from his injuries — including a broken arm and concussion — at Stony Brook University Medical Center, and those of us who know him and love him are thankful that he was wearing a helmet and is such a tough customer.
Joe Pufahl’s accident has got me thinking again about the viability and wisdom of creating a hiking and biking path down the spine of the North Fork, from Riverhead all the way to Orient Point. You know, the sort of designated byway that is prevalent throughout Europe and in places like Nantucket Island. It could run through farmland and vineyards and along Long Island Rail Road and Long Island Power Authority rights of way, and any related land acquisition costs could be funded by the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund.
It might even be tied in to the Paumanok Path hiking trail, which runs through Riverhead en route from Rocky Point to Montauk. For a region that prides itself on its natural beauty and ecotourism attractions, it’s almost a no-brainer.
And if our current supervisors get behind the concept, we can even name it the Russell-Walter Scenic Byway. Or if you don’t like that, how about the Walter-Russell Scenic Byway?