Editorial: Long Island underspends on pedestrian safety

Long Island pedestrian safety

A group of parks and transportation improvement advocates recently called attention to a lack of state spending on sidewalks and bicycle lanes and trails in Suffolk and Nassau counties, saying the region lags behind the rest of the state.

The criticism was leveled by the Tri-State Transportation Committee and Parks & Trails New York, two organizations that recently completed an analysis of how State Transportation Improvement Program funds have been used by the Department of Transportation.

The groups found that of the $6.6 billion in STIP funding earmarked for Suffolk and Nassau since 2014, only about $35 million was allocated for sidewalks, bicycle lanes and trails.

While $35 million certainly sounds like a lot of money, the groups say that constitutes only .53 percent of STIP funding being spent on Long Island — the smallest percentage dedicated to such projects in any of the state’s 11 regions.

This issue is of particular importance on the North Fork, where motor vehicle collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians have become all too common.

Just this week, Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver in a hit and run that killed a man walking in the shoulder on Oliver Street in Riverhead. In September, a Greenport man was killed while riding his bike on Main Road in East Marion. Ten weeks earlier, a woman was struck by a police car while riding her bicycle on Main Road in Greenport. These are just a few examples.

Concerns about pedestrian safety led Southold Town to implement a policy prohibiting road races between May and September. For-profit races have been banned altogether in town.

In their recent plea to the state DOT, the Tri-State Transportation Committee and Parks & Trails New York, along with the smart-growth advocacy organization Vision Long Island, pointed to data compiled through the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System that shows 38 percent of fatalities on Long Island roads involve either a pedestrian or cyclist.

One way to improve on that statistic, they say, is for the DOT to increase the percentage of STIP funds designated specifically for sidewalks and bicycle lanes and trails on Long Island.

The organizations point to the region around Albany, where nearly $47 million of a possible $680 million has been earmarked for just such projects in the past four years, as the model for future investing.

The FARS data shows pedestrian fatalities in Albany pale in comparison to Suffolk. From 2010 to 2014 — the five most recent years detailing pedestrian fatalities across the state — 126 such deaths were reported in Suffolk County compared with just 26 in Albany, yet that region continues to outspend us on pedestrian safety projects.

While it’s encouraging that the state’s economic development council awarded nearly $750,000 in grants last week for trail projects in Riverhead and Southold towns, the analysis released by the Tri-State Transportation Committee and Parks & Trails New York clearly shows there’s more work to be done.

Photo: Main Road in Laurel. (Credit: Nicole Smith)