Categorized | Suffolk Close-up

First Steps

Posted on 06 September 2013

By Karl Grossman

A terrible tragedy occurred days before this summer was to arrive. A precious, brilliant, beautiful young woman, Anna Mirabai Lytton, 14, was riding her bicycle on Pantigo Road in East Hampton Village on a Saturday afternoon and was run over by a vehicle and died.

“Our hearts are collectively broken,” said Eric Casale, the principal of the Springs School, from which Anna, an eighth-grader, was to graduate the following week. “Anna was a bright and shining star who excelled in academics and leadership, and who was just an all-around good kid.”

The death of Anna, overflowing with talent, a writer and poet, cast a pall at the graduation ceremonies which included a special tribute to her. “Words cannot express the grief that we feel,” Mr. Casale said there.

At a subsequent memorial at the John Drew Theatre which overflowed with people, Anna’s parents, Kate Rabinowitz and Rameshwar Das, her brother James, her two grandparents, and others, spoke about the devastating June 15th tragedy and Anna’s life.

I vividly recall a day-trip on our boat with Kate, Ramesh, James and Anna — and the excitement of these highly curious, ultra-intelligent youngsters sailing the waters of Little Peconic Bay.

What a loss!

Through the summer, in the wake of Anna’s death, there has been discussion about the lack of safety for bicyclists in this area. And there have been other instances in Suffolk County of vehicles striking bicyclists including another fatal crash, this one in Terryville.

Bradford Packer, 51, a nurse, was killed. He had taken to commuting by bike after his car broke down a few months earlier. The motorist was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

To drive a bicycle in Suffolk County is taking your life in your hands — and this must change. East Hampton Village, in the wake of Anna’s death, has moved to adopt a program called “General Principles for Introducing Bike Lanes in East Hampton.” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said it was “a first step.” Indeed, it is.

“We have to have a cultural change in which bicycles and pedestrians are seen as part of the transportation system, not just an annoyance,” comments Sinead FitzGibbon, an avid bicyclist and a leader of the five-year-old group Spokespeople.

The organization has been advancing numerous ideas — far more bicycle paths for sure, and also what has become common elsewhere around the world: sharrows.

Sharrow is a term coined by Oliver Gajda of the San Francisco Bicycle Program that combines the words share and arrow. It means shared lane marking. The pavement of roads that vehicles and bicycles share are painted with sharrows — which combine the shape of an arrow with a bike symbol. Ms. FitzGibbon says sharrows have been found to be an excellent and inexpensive way of getting motorists to be aware of bicyclists using the same roadway.

Will sharrows be widely implemented here? Will other steps be taken to make bicycling and walking safe in an area in which, as Ms. FitzGibbon so accurately notes, “the car is king?”

Implementation of protective programs has been a big problem, says Ms. FitzGibbon.

She speaks of being for two years on an East Hampton Town committee on safety for bicyclists. “The town [government] seemed verbally committed,” but “the plans we drew up have not been implemented.”

Some good news: a three-mile bicycle and pedestrian path is now on its way to being built along the utility right-of-way paralleling well-trafficked Route 25A between Mount Sinai and Wading River. Congressman Tim Bishop has secured a $6.5 million federal Scenic Byways grant for it. (A similar and longer path advanced years ago for the utility right-of-way between Southampton and East Hampton never, unfortunately, happened.)

At a press conference two weeks ago that included Mr. Bishop, County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk Legislator Sarah Anker of Mt. Sinai, Ms. Anker told about how “for over 10 years” the project “has faced obstacles and challenges.” She declared that it “will be a tremendous asset to our community as it will provide a safe outlet for people to run, walk and bike….The project will create a green transportation alternative.”

It, too, is a start. So much more needs to be done to bring safety to bicyclists and pedestrians in Suffolk.

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