Southampton Weighs Bike Sharing

Suffolk County
Southampton Town is considering taking part in the two-year Bethpage Ride pilot bike-share program.

If you’re looking to connect your commute, avoid traffic, or find an eco-friendly way to get around, Bethpage Ride is the program for you.

The Southampton Town Board was going to hear public comment on a proposal to join Suffolk County’s bike-share initiative, which is in partnership with Bethpage Federal Credit Union and modeled after Citi Bike in New York City. The town would join Patchogue and Babylon villages in the program that kicks off next month.

“We’re not going to be widening roads. We’re not going to be creating new bypasses. We have to find ways to get around,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said, pointing to traffic along Route 27 and County Road 39. “I think the patterns here are going to shift.”

The Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee suggested the idea to the town board during an annual update July 11, and presented the program in detail July 18. Users can download the free mobile app Pace, registering and linking a credit card, to lock and unlock the Bluetooth-connected, five-speed orange bikes with white baskets at five locations around Hampton Bays — Good Ground Park, the post office, Ponquogue Beach, Tiana Bayside Facility, and Trustee-owned access road H off Dune Road.

The latter must be approved by the Trustees at their next meeting. Town long-range planner Michelangelo Lieberman said the Trustees have indicated they support the program.

“The goal is to help promote health and wellness, reduce traffic and carbon emissions, and provide access to the many destination points that Hampton Bays has to offer,” said Councilman John Bouvier, co-executive officer of the sustainability committee. “The program promotes public bicycle rentals that will be made available in hamlet centers and beaches, which is consistent with the action goals of the town’s sustainability plan.”

The partnership follows South-ampton receiving $750,000 in state funding to create a bike path connecting Red Creek Park to Good Ground Park. Schneiderman said he’d like to see an exclusive, safe bike lane all the way down to Ponquogue.

“We are also connecting the down-town area of Hamptons Bays with the beach, which I think is a link we need,” Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said.

While the supervisor was hoping to partner with a local company on a similar program, Councilwoman Julie Lofstad pointed to The Local Bike Shop, which is a two-minute walk from the Hampton Bays Post Office, and where users may want to purchase helmets, knee and elbow pads, and other gear. Schiavoni said restaurants may also be interested in partnering, something Suffolk County Director of Downtown and Transit Oriented Development Jonathan Keyes said was of interest to the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce.

“It seems like there might be opportunities, particularly as we promote healthy recreation,” Schneiderman said. “More people may turn to bikes as their preferred method to get around, and that might increase sales and rentals at these local shops, as well as maybe even create work doing maintenance on these bikes. I think it’s something to explore.”

Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins said it can also help the South Fork Commuter Connection service, acting as a way to bypass the shuttle or eliminating the need to be picked up.

The cost is $1 for every 15 minutes. Monthly memberships are available for $10, and annual ones for $60, and there’s also a student discount, and other discounted rates for those that need assistance. The monthly and yearly plans include unlimited 30-minute rides, where riders can dock and reset. The bikes can be locked up at any public bike rack for $2, or at Bethpage Bike racks for free.

According to Keyes, a request for proposals was done to ensure competitive pricing. Cambridge-based Zagster, a startup that designs, builds, and operates operating over 250 bike-sharing programs in 35 states, carries all liability, indemnifying the town. The two-year pilot program also comes at no cost to the town. The company has 15 days to rectify any problems, and if issues are not resolved by that time the town has the option to terminate the agreement.

A maintenance crew checks to make sure the batteries in the bikes are fully charged and tires fully inflated several days a week, Keyes said. While use distributes the bikes naturally, there will also be someone rebalancing when needed.

Security was a major cause for concern to Schneiderman. He was told all information is protected and encrypted, and a clause in the agreement says information cannot be sold to third parties. The county will only be tracking metadata — GPS locations — to see where the bikes are being used. The information is not able to be linked to a particular individual.

“That’s really important,” Schneiderman said. “We don’t want this data being used and abused.”

More than 100 rental bikes would be provided at the launch. Officials say they would aim to have at least 400 bikes available across the county eventually.

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