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Suffolk’s Three-Foot-Law: A Safer Way to Share the Road?

In March, Suffolk County passed its first-ever three-foot law (Resolution 1830-2020), under which drivers can be fined anywhere from $225 to $425 if they fail to leave at least three feet between their cars and cyclists when passing them.

On April 27, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed the bill, officially making it law.

Many bike advocates are long-time proponents of the three-foot law— the standard in many other states— and advocates have been working to enact this law in New York for years.

“The official passage of this new legislation is a win for cyclists and bike safety advocates alike,” says Cynthia Brown, Executive Director of the New York Coalition for Transportation Safety. “While not everyone shares this perspective, this law reiterates the fact that motorists and cyclists must share the road, for everyone’s safety.”

Some opponents of the three-foot law feel that it infringes on drivers, such as Bill Alderman of East Meadow who described the law as “a misguided act of motorist discrimination” in a letter to Newsday. Mr. Alderman’s letter went on to say, “bicycles on Long Island should be left as recreation and not as transportation.”

Regardless of opinion, the current New York State laws surrounding cyclists do require them to abide by many of the same laws to which motorists must adhere, just short of licensure and vehicle registration. Cyclists are legally prohibited from biking on sidewalks, and infrastructure inconsistencies or lack of infrastructure altogether often leave those using bikes for transportation with one option: riding on the roadways. The majority of Long Island’s infrastructure is very car-centric, and those with barriers to owning a vehicle or using public transportation do rely upon their bicycle as a means of transportation.

While other individuals may share Mr. Alderman’s view, many are of the belief that the road is to be shared, such as the author of a recent editorial in the Riverhead News-Review. The piece argues, “You might be irritated that the line of bike riders along the shoulder slows you down for a few seconds, but they have every right to share the road, which all of our tax dollars helped pay for.”

Another Newsday opinion piece by Daniel Flanzig echoes this sentiment that the roads are meant to be safely shared, citing Suffolk County’s astronomical rate of bike-related fatalities and reasoning, “This number can be reduced by safe passing laws. A 3-foot law is the way to accomplish both.”

Regardless of one’s school of thought on this issue, the last sentence of the Riverhead-News Review editorial is a message that motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians should all be able to get behind: “Be very careful out there. Lives depend on it.”

New York State is taking numerous measures to tackle the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety, all of which culminate in the New York State Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP). The plan emphasizes making streets safer by implementing the “Three Es—” engineering, enforcement, and education.

Walk Safe Long Island is part of the third “E,” education. Check the News page of our website for information about upcoming installments of our “Staying Safe on Our Streets” Virtual Workshop Series, which aims to educate our local communities about cyclist and pedestrian safety.

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