06 September 2010

Bike Riding Illegal in Sag Harbor, NY

Sag Harbor, NY. Photo by Danielle Lobosco from Wikipedia.

Maybe we should be compiling a list of cities and towns that are bicycle-unfriendly. After the internet storm that followed the town of Blackhawk, Colorado's decision to ban bicycles, there are probably loads of towns with similar bylaws.

The bicycle activist and photographer known as BicyclesOnly on Twitter and Flickr was visiting Sag Harbor, New York (pop. 2313) and, according to this tweet:

#bikenyc riding is illegal on Main & Bay Sts. in dntwn #SagHarbor. Cop told us to dismount, sez law is 4 "safety reasons," wldn't give deets

Copenhagenize's friend and lawyer Kelly spotted this and decided to check it out. Was it really illegal to ride a bicycle on the street in the resort community of Sag Harbor, NY or was it just one cop having a bad bicycle day?

As it turns out, riding a bicycle IS illegal in the town. On Main and Bay streets, anyway. Imagine that. Here in 2010. Kelly looked up the code to find the prohibition. The law, passed in 1986, reads as follows:

50-7.B. It shall be unlawful for any person to roller skate, to use a skateboard or similar device or to ride a bicycle or any other wheeled vehicle propelled by gravity or by the use of the rider's feet between the curblines (that portion of streets normally devoted to the parking and operation of motor vehicles) of Main Street from the southerly line of Spring Street, as projected, to the southerly line of Bay Street.

Spooky use of the word "devoted".
(n) devotion, devotedness (feelings of ardent love)

Nevermind riding a bicycle, you're not even allowed to WALK a bicycle along Main Street.

50.7.D. It shall be unlawful for any person to walk a bicycle or any other wheeled vehicle propelled by gravity or by the use of a rider's feet between the curblines of Main Street from the southerly line of Spring Street, as projected, to the southerly line of Bay Street. This prohibition shall not apply to walking a bicycle or other such vehicle directly across the street (crossing directly from one side to the other side of the street).

Here's the website for Sag Harbor. http://www.sagharborny.gov/. Shouldn't we let them know that their bylaws are rather antiquated and deserve to be listed over at Dumb Laws?

Thanks to Kelly for the help.


Anonymous said...

While I think this law is both strange and stupid, you were a bit creative with the definition of "devoted".

Google define:devote

give: dedicate; "give thought to"; "give priority to"; "pay attention to"

Frits B said...

(1) Walking a bicycle along Main Street is allowed, just not between the kerb lines. Use the sidewalk - which I think is only prudent as walking a bicycle among cars is asking for trouble. I doubt that you would be allowed to walk your bicycle in the road in Copenhagen.
(2) Speaking from personal experience, lots of roads and streets in Holland - not known for adversity against bicycles - are off limits to bicycles, in the interest of traffic safety. What is the problem, other than that we usually provide alternate routes?

Green Idea Factory said...

Some disabled person who uses a bicycle could probably challenge that law in Sag Harbor... and to why it hasn't happened yet I would guess that all the disabled people in the area have cars or other motorized assistance.

Frits B: It is clear to me that cyclist-free spaces in the Netherlands simply work against all the positives. I have the same argument for Denmark: When cycle paths are provided, let cyclists who feel like it ride in the center of all roads (unless there are tram tracks or emergency lanes). This will make vehicles slow down and will make driving less interesting. And the same liability laws should apply.

Netherlands still has tons of traffic jams and I also see all the guys over at various Linked-In forums pushing electric private urban cars, so more alternatives are needed.

Carfree cities are best, but there will still be emergency vehicles and possibly buses and trams, so a more insulated space for e.g. children is still useful at the sides on very major roads. I suppose you can all this "optional vehicular cycling".

NYC seems to be copying this separated idea, i.e. like in most places IF there is a lane you have to use it. It's nonsense, but of course logical for these cities which still want cars to have a lot of freedom (I acknowledge that things are more restricted in e.g. central Amsterdam).

John Boyle said...

I haven't bicycled in nearby Southhampton Village NY since the early 1990's but bicycle riding on their main street was illegal and enforced.

Not sure if there are/were other bike ban laws on other Main Streets in the Hamptons (Westhampton, Amagansett, Easthampton)

William said...

All that is needed is for masses of hand-powered tricycles to descend upon Sag Harbor as clearly they would fall outside the stupid laws.

Also, while I have immense respect for skateboarders' skills I believe skateboards aren't so much vehicles as what they are objects of fun, or sport. And yes, there ARE skaters that go considerable distances on their boards, but they are the exception.
It is therefore telling that the powers-that-be who made this stupid law classifies bicycles more as toys, objects used in pursuit of leisure fun than a serious alternative form of transport.
I suppose to people that that I'm a freak of nature for having sold my car and cycling wherever I need to go.
As for you, Mikael, I believe they reserve a FAR worse classification than merely "freak of nature" because you a) exposed them, b) embarrassed them and c) are an active cycling advocate.

lagatta à montréal said...

There should be a mass cycle-in of all sorts of bicycles. I presume these two streets are open to motorised traffic, not pedestrianised zones (in the latter case, I'd have no problem with banning bicycles, with the exception of bicycles and tricycles used by disabled people who have difficulty walking, and small children's bikes and trikes).

That does not seem to be the case here, and as they are central streets in a town, they aren't superhighways (although streets in many small towns are part of "highway" systems, the traffic is forced to slow down). This is nothing but discrimination - is it class-based? That part of Lnng Island used to be mostly agricultural and only in recent decades has it been rebranded as "The Hamptons".

Frits and Green, yes, there are far too many private cars in the Netherlands, even in greater Amsterdam. I think private-car-free cities are best, but cities of a certain size do need trams, métros and other forms of rapid public transport.

Frits B said...

GIF: I think you're not quite aware of the situation here. We have roads that are free for all wheeled traffic, motorized or not. There are also roads that may be used by motorized vehicles only. This doesn't limit cyclists' rights in any way as there are always roads and cycle paths available nearby. And use of separate cycle paths next to a road is mandatory. Every summer the Dutch highway police catches bike tourists who think that our nicely wide emergency lanes are there for bicycles; they're not. Roadkill is messy, cycle paths are easy and safe.

The Dutch realised rather early that bicycles are no match for cars. There are lots of both of them, so the most practical solution was to give each its own roads. You cannot deny that the system works :-).

James D. Schwartz said...

When I visited Shanghai, there were some downtown streets where only motorized vehicles are allowed - and bicycles are banned.

Didn't bother me though, because they always had a nearby street where only *bicycles* were allowed - and cars weren't allowed.

These were primarily "through" streets, and not "destination" streets, so it isn't a big deal. The "destination" streets always seemed to include bicycle infrastructure.

However, banning bicyclists from "Main street" in a town of 2300 people is absolutely ludicrous, since Main street would presumably be a destination street where people on bikes would want to visit and shop.

It looks like there are a lot of businesses along this strip of Main street: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=sag+harbor,+ny&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=45.197878,93.076172&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Sag+Harbor,+Suffolk,+New+York&ll=41.001717,-72.295428&spn=0.001322,0.00284&t=h&z=19

It reminds me of the photos in the Netherlands from the 1960's that David Hembrow posted yesterday: http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2010/09/transformation-in-centre-of-hoogeveen.html

Anonymous said...

If one looks this up on google maps, it is approximately a 400 meter stretch of Main Street with lots of shops in a tourist town. This is not unusual and as others have pointed out many bicycle friendly cities have put streets off limits to bike traffic.

Let's not carried away and head for the barricades - that will gain no supporters for bicycling and will probably turn off quite a few.

Anonymous said...

The cars are allowed but the bikes are not?
Cyclist Neutron Bomb
Cyclist Neutron Bomb
Cyclist Neutron Bomb
Cyclist Neutron Bomb
Its gotta special radiation
That removes automobilitzation

Green Idea Factory said...

Frits B: Thanks, but I would not offer concrete suggestions for any place unless I had ridden a bike there and was familiar with laws and customs.

To clarify, I am not suggesting any concrete modifications to cycling infrastructure except one which allows cyclists to easily merge from paths to the other parts of the street and vice-versa. The rest is rules: Cyclists who want to can still use the separated path, but have the option of the whole road, though there might be something useful like a tram/bus/emergency vehicle lane on major streets. Speeds will need to come down: For example I know that some in Amsterdam are working on a citywide 30km/h speed limit.

It's about freedom, and my feeling is that the Dutch can handle it, and that it will make the system work even better.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused.
It would seem like the only option left to cyclists is to ride on the sidewalk.

Kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly said...

The ordinance appears to have been passed in 1986, probably for the convenience of auto traffic as well as out of a perhaps-misplaced concern for cyclists. I agree that in the Sag Harbor case it doesn't seem to be as draconian as the Black Hawk, CO ban. In addition, Sag Harbor does provide designated bike routes on other roads.

The problem with these bans is that they clearly assume that the rightful owner of the roadway is the auto. In 1986 in Sag Harbor that might have been the case. However, it is resort areas like Sag Harbor and the Hampton communities that could be great places to get more city visitors interested in the "practical" kind of biking that is taking root in NYC and other US cities.

Blocking off a main road of shops to bike traffic makes it less likely that cyclists will choose to ride, when their cars receive favored treatment. While I wouldn't head to the barricades, bike bans such as Sag Harbor's deserve to be exposed and examined by those who are interested in expanding bike use.

Anonymous said...

Dear Board of Trustees Members,

I am writing to tell you that, until you change ordinance sections 50.7.B & 50.7.D, my wife and I will not visit your town when we visit our family on Long Island.

Thank you for your time,


Anonymous said...

unless there is more here than meets the eye, it would seem that not only is walking your bike on the sidewalk still legal, but so is riding it on the sidewalk.

TrevorBooz said...

I just rode through Sag Harbor on a bike tour through Long Island, and my group of 5 cyclists were surprised to see the late teenage/early 20s traffic security person (no badge to be seen or other indication of a police officer) tell us we had to walk our bikes on Main Street. The cars on this Main Street were crawling along at less than 10 miles an hour and we were in the middle of the lane minding our own business looking for a place to eat. A bike lane over the bridge into Sag Harbor drops cyclists off right at the foot of Main Street, which made this seem even more absurd. There were no posted signs or any indication of the bicycle ban, so I don't even know how they can enforce this if people just passing through have no prior knowledge.

This law is remarkably absurd especially considering all of the bike lanes leading into down dropping cyclists off right at the foot of Main Street. Main Street is such a slow traffic street with so much activity cyclists are probably safer combined with all the low traffic speeds compared to the streets leading into Sag Harbor.

Doug said...

John Boyle: The law is both on the books, signed, and enforced in Downtown Southampton as well. That town also has some brand new car lanes, as well as signs directing bikes on the preferred routes to the beach, e.g.

Neil O said...

It's also against the law to jog on Main Street whether on the sidewalk or in the road.

Kokorozashi said...

The association of this ordinance not just bicycles, but also skateboards and other wheeled conveyances that are frequently used as toys by kids, makes me wonder if the law didn't result from either an accident that resulted in injury to a kid. That, or perhaps it may have been set down in an effort to curb pre-teens and teenagers from goofing off in the streets on skateboards and BMX bikes and local businesses' impacting insurance premiums, not to mention their own health.

Not that I'm saying that makes it right, or trying to blame the victim here -- it just so happens that I saw exactly that kind of legislation put through in the town where I grew up when I was about seven or eight years old. My next door neighbors' older son (about 16 at the time) was a competitive skateboarder and was really quite upset about it, which became one of my formative memories about civic process.

I guess what I'm saying is that I suspect it may be simple ignorance, rather than classism or hostility towards bikes, that puts laws like these on the books. The best way to change things, in that case, is to be visible, responsible, law-abiding cyclists out there in the world.

It does bug me, though -- a lot -- that the US has been so slow to get its head around the idea that bikes aren't just toys (and that a few drivers out there have a really hard time understanding that bikes aren't necessarily traveling more slowly than the rest of traffic!).

Kokorozashi said...

Just off-hand ... one of the reasons I have never owned a car is that I used to have seizures. Laws in New York State justifiably make it difficult for folks with seizure disorders to drive (Kentucky's laws on the same topic are much more lax, and neither state actually makes it impossible).

However, NY's laws do not restrict people who have seizures from riding bikes. At least, they didn't when I lived there :)

I'd guess the justification is that one who has a seizure while driving risks injuring a lot of people, not to mention causing a great deal of expensive damage, while one who has a seizure while riding a bike is really more likely only to injure him- or herself and to cause only minor property damage. It's easier to dodge a couple hundred pounds or so of bike and rider going 25 MPH than a couple tons of car going 45 MPH.

I would guess that, because a bike is orders of magnitude more effective as transportation than a couple of feet in shoes or even in-line skates, one could make a valid ADA accessibility case if there happens to be even one person with a seizure disorder living in Sag Harbor (unless, of course, good mass transit or truly viable alternate routes exist).

My only concern is that such a case might backfire, and result in people with seizure disorders being banned from cycling :(

Traffic Bikes said...

Good post.

I live and work in nearby Southampton, and have worked with a local bike advocacy group (Spokespeople) to try to get Sag Harbor officials to allow cycling in Main St. There has historically been a lot of resistance, but recently there have been signs of hope.

A similar ordinance (mentioned in John Boyle's post) in Southampton prohibits bicycles on Main St. (between Hampton Rd. and Jobs Ln.) and Jobs Ln. (between Main St. and Windmill Ln.). My impression is that the political climate in Southampton offers a less optimistic position.

While I think the bans are absolutely the wrong way to address people-moving in the villages, I almost think that the lack of provisions for cyclists wanting to get from one village on the East End to another are in more dire straits. Nobody wants to bike on Montauk Highway (my feeling is that it's maintained spottily but generally safe, if unpleasant, to cycle on) and the backroads (e.g. Noyac Rd., the David White's/7 Ponds/Head of Pond/Scuttle Hole corridor) are extremely narrow and very heavily trafficked, with many blind turns and anxious drivers.

It's my position that the villages should do whatever they can to encourage pedestrians and cyclists, and everything they can to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Unfortunately, the reality of rural life is that unless cyclists are provided with a means of getting from one town to another, you'll be hamstrung in your efforts to make cycling a mainstream choice.

Spencer Wright
Traffic Cycle Design
Southampton, NY

PS- If you read the letter of the Sag Harbor ordinance closely, you'll notice that it bans cycling on Main St. up to the southerly line of Bay St. but doesn't ban cycling on Bay St. itself. @BicyclesOnly says on twitter that there are signs on Bay St, and it's possible that I'm mistaken - but my impression is that Bay St. is not only legal to ride on, but is the designated bike route across the north end of Sag Harbor, heading towards North Haven. In my dealings with the Village Board and the Police Chief, I never heard otherwise.

Peter said...

Thanks for your post. I have to disagree, but only because I have been to Sag Harbor, NY many times.

It is a quaint little "downtown" on a very narrow and busy road with too much traffic, especially on weekends in the summer, sidewalks that are too narrow and very congested with pedestrians and no land to add, build, or expand, even if you could afford it. Add to all this, there are dozens of high-end boutiques in a very short stretch of downtown that is measured in feet/meters, not miles/kilometers.

Taken out of context be someone who has never visited Sag Harbor the law seems silly, but for anyone that has ever visited, you would be insane to even want to ride your bicycle on the streets where the law applies.