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Town, County Consider New Rideshare, Bikeshare Programs

Sharing rides and bicycles would help to ease traffic congestion, serve as a boon to the environment, and keep people active, some say.

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SOUTHOLD, NY — With the North Fork continuing to emerge as a tourist destination, Southold Town is seeking alternatives to help solve traffic congestion issues and help visitors and residents traverse area roadways more easily. To that end, at Tuesday’s work session, the board discussed two proposals, one, for a ride sharing program (rideshare), and the second, for a Suffolk County regional bike sharing program (bikeshare). Paul Spreer, regional project manager of 511NY Rideshare, conducted a presentation on a ridesharing portal now available on the Southold Town website.

“Once you register you’ll have access to thousands of other users as well. From carpooling and vanpooling to transit and bicycling, no matter where you live, there are alternatives to driving alone. Ridesharing can be a convenient, money saving travel experience. Check out all that we have to offer — ridematching for carpools, resources and information for transit, park and ride, bicycling, walking, and other options,” the site reads.

Spreer, regional project manager of 511NY Rideshare, said the goal of the program, run in conjunction with the New York State Department of Education, is to work with municipalities to reduce single occupancy vehicles around Long Island, something that’s beneficial from an economic and environmental standpoint, with an eye toward improving air quality in the area.

The website, he said, serves as a central location to inform both residents and visitors about their transportation options in town. Those who log in can find quick ride matches to meet their needs, he said. “It’s kind of like a match.com for car poolers,” Spreer said.

Those who sign up can log on and find someone to ride with, making plans to meet and commute together. The MTA is looking for options for SUV lanes, with an eye toward getting more than two people into a car to head to the city or another destination, he said. Success has already been found with larger organizations including hospitals, he said. The entire program is free of charge, Spreer said. “We all live on Long Island and we all know how important having a car is,” Spreer said. “We’re not putting anyone’s feet to the fire,” but anything that can lessen traffic on the roads is a plus, he said. Those who sign up online can fill out a profile including their “likes” for a commute, including whether or not they like loud music or coffee on the drive. The website also features local bus routes. “It’s kind of a one stop shop for people to find out what they need,” he said.

The riideshare might be particularly useful for various North Fork events such as the Strawberry Festival or for visiting popular businesses such as the lavender farm, Spreer said.

He added that a trolley coming to the North Fork is important to embrace from a strategic standpoint. “Under the heading of Captain Obvious, for every full trolley, that takes potentially 40 cars off the road,” he said. And, he added, as of June 29, Suffolk County residents will be able to utilize Uber and Lyft, which can be used to transport individuals as a “last mile solution,” perhaps picking up groups at designated exits on the highway with large vehicles that can be shared by 6 to 8 passengers. Spreer said the town should speak to local merchants and Chambers of Commerce to share the information about the new service; ridesharing is only as strong as the data it offers on the website, he said. Already, the company is working with the Huntington and Patchogue Chambers, he said.

In addition to rideshare, Spreer said the company has been working with Patchogue Village on a parking shuttle program, bringing visitors and up to 500 employees on a busy night to the popular and bustling Main Street. Issues such as gas money and liability would be dealt with by the town, Spreer said. Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said a joint meeting with local Chambers of Commerce would be organized to see if they have “buy in” for their own sites.

Not only rideshare: Bike sharing options

Next, Nick Palumbo, executive director of sustainability for Suffolk County Community College, discussed a Suffolk County regional bike share program with the board. “Bike sharing is really growing worldwide,” he said, adding that there are more than 850 systems internationally, and that he’s been working on the idea of a regional bikeshare program across Long Island for six months. One of the reasons the idea has become more popular is because of smart phone technology, he said. Benefits include getting people out of their cars and more active, a boon for public health, stress reduction and weight loss. He said those who are worried about impacts on local bike shops needn’t be; those shops benefit from the program and have even become involved with regional bike sharing. So far, the only bikeshare program on Long Island is in Long Beach; there are others in Albany and Buffalo, Palumbo said. The cost of the system varies depending upon the size of the program, he said. The hope is that Suffolk County would serve as a lead agency, with an umbrella contract that would allow local municipalities to opt in, he said. The county will be issuing a request for proposals for a bikeshare company in the coming weeks, he said. “The region has not been bike friendly but we see that starting to change, and we think a regional bikesharing program would facilitate that change,” Palumbo said. For example, he said, a dedicated bike path has been installed on Route 347, and a new rails to river program just opened in Port Jefferson; a dedicated bike lane could be coming soon to Nichols Road, Palumbo said. The goal is a commuter connection, that would let people use trains and then bike the last mile to hamlet centers, public libraries and other locales. The bikes would also be a good idea in areas where tourism is seasonal, he said. Bikes could be sited at existing bike trails, beaches, schools, health care facilities and train stations, Palumbo said. At Suffolk County Community College’s three campuses, of the 28,000 students, approximately 6,000 don’t have vehicles and rely on other forms of transportation; bikesharing allows them the possibility to rely upon public transportation and not have to own a car, Palumbo said. “We see the county’s role as being important in this effort,” Palumbo said. He added that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has shown support for the initiative. The idea could work in Nassau County, too, he said. Palumbo said he’s also presented the plan to the Riverhead and Southampton town boards, as well as various villages, and will soon speak to East Hampton.

Costs of bikesharing

Startup capital for the program is estimated at a cost of $1,600 per bike, which includes technology built in to the bikes, and collection points where bikes will be collected estimated to cost another $450. Funding sources include sponsorships, rider use fees and memberships, and grants, Palumbo said. In Portland, Nike sponsors a successful bike sharing program, he said. Local sponsors could also be sought in Southold, he said. “We think the time is right for Long Island to get on board with this,” Palumbo said. Russell asked about the specifics of the program, such as where sites would be located. Palumbo said a contract would be awarded by the county and towns would have the ability to opt in; town officials would work with vendors in the planning effort to identify locations that would be suitable for bikesharing. It’s up to the vendor to rebalance the system, bringing bikes to a docking site that has none; incentives could be provided to encourage individuals to retrieve a bike and bring it back to the train station, for example, Palumbo said. Councilman Jim Dinizio said most of the town’s train stations are not located near main hamlet hubs and said many roads are not wide enough for bike lanes; he asked how the program would work in that situation. While Long Island doesn’t have many biking trails to date, Palumbo said the new program could create change. “We see this as an opportunity to address that. When you provide bikes, you provide the rationale for creating biking infrastructure. It’s not chicken and egg. We want to do both things simultaneously. Hopefully, having a system across Long Island will make it more viable,” he said.