NUMC summit stresses cyclist, pedestrian safety

Daniel Flanzig, a personal injury attorney and New York Bicycling Coalition board member, and Cynthia Brown, executive director of the New York Coalition for Transportation Safety, were among the featured speakers at the second annual Walk Bike LI Summit at Nassau University Medical Center June 20, at which bicyclist and pedestrian safety was front and center. // Photo by Scott Brinton/Long Island Advocate

By Scott Brinton

The following is part four in a series.

Retired high school teacher Martin Buchman, 65, was talking up the Long Island Greenway Trail June 20 outside the amphitheater at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, a table full of maps, charts and pamphlets before him.

The cycling advocate and enthusiast, a board member of the New York Bicycling Coalition, said ground will be broken in 2025 on the nearly 200-mile-long cycling trail, with work beginning at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow and construction taking place in five sections across the length of Long Island from Manhattan to Orient and Montauk Points (see sidebar for more).  

“The real hope is to get bicycle infrastructure that does not compete with cars,” said Buchman, who taught history at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School.  

Buchman was at NUMC for the second annual Walk Bike LI Summit, at which “vulnerable road users” such as bicyclists and pedestrians were the primary point of discussion. He understands all too well the dangers that cyclists face on the Island’s heavily trafficked roads — and the need for safe spaces of their own.  

Buchman has been hit twice by cars while riding his bike over the last seven years. The first time was Bike-to-Work Day in May 2017. He was cycling 25 miles from Stony Brook to Plainview-Old Bethpage High School when a left-turning driver ran into him. He broke his collarbone. He was one of three cyclists who wound up in the same emergency room together, all biking to work, he said. The second time he was struck in 2022, he cracked his fibula and needed 45 stitches to repair a gash in his lower leg.

Daniel Flanzig is a personal injury attorney at the Mineola- and Manhattan-based firm of Flanzig & Flanzig who represented Buchman. Flanzig, a NYBC board member and legal adviser, was among the featured speakers at the Walk Bike Summit. 

A number of crash victims who enter NUMC, including pedestrians and cyclists, do so “hoping to walk out,” Flanzig said, but “a lot of people do not . . . When my phone rings, somebody’s never having a good day.”

In 2023, Nassau County recorded 37,728 crashes, in which 12,533 people were injured and 62 were killed, according to state statistics presented at the summit. Of those accidents, 421 involved bicyclists, with 358 injured and one person killed.

That is, the injury rate involving vehicle-on-vehicle crashes was roughly 33%. The rate when a vehicle struck a cyclist was 85%. 

A trail for all of Long Island

When complete, the Long Island Greenway Trail, a multi-year-, multi-million-dollar effort, will stretch from Manhattan to Orient and Montauk Points, measuring nearly 200 miles in total, 60% of which will be off-road. The trail will connect with the Empire State Trail, which begins at the Battery in Lower Manhattan and runs 750 miles to Buffalo.

The Greenway Trail will connect with 60 bus routes and 46 train stations, and will be within a 10-minute walk of 27 Long Island communities, according to the Trust for Public Land, which is spearheading the effort to construct the pathway. The project is to be funded through a combination of public and private support. 

The trail will be developed in five phases:

Section 1: Eisenhower Park to Brentwood State Park, 25 miles
Section 2: South Fork, Riverhead to Montauk, 50 miles
Section 3: Riverhead to Brentwood, 40 miles
Section 4: Riverhead to Orient Point, 35 miles
Section 5: Manhattan Connection, 38 miles

Megan Ryan, of North Merrick, Nassau University Medical Center’s interim CEO, president and chief legal officer, explained that most anyone who has suffered a traumatic injury in a crash throughout Nassau County, in particular a cyclist or pedestrian, will be sent to NUMC because it is a Level I trauma center. 

Ryan, who sits on the North Merrick Board of Education, spoke of a high school student who was recently hit while riding his bicycle in her neighborhood and was rushed to NUMC. Last Thursday, the day of the summit, a 12-year-old was hit by a car while riding his bike on the North Bellmore-Wantagh border. He was airlifted to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, where he was reported in stable condition.   

“Pedestrian safety, bicyclist safety, it’s very important. It’s something that I think is overlooked,” Ryan said. “We try to teach [pedestrian/bicyclist safety] for younger children, but it’s very important for the older students, older children, and adults as well.”

Wendy Tepfer, executive director of the Community Parent Center in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, was in the audience for the summit. She came to hear any suggestions that might help improve the Parent Center’s driver-education programming. 

The center, Tepfer said, stresses the need to stay focused on the road, without distractions, in large part to protect cyclists and pedestrians. She noted that when drivers are distracted by cell phone calls, they are only able to focus 35% of their attention on the road, so their mind zeroes in on the cars in front of them while limiting their peripheral vision. Pedestrians and cyclists, however, are most likely to be found on the sides of roads — that is, in drivers’ peripheries. 

“We talk about distractions all the time,” Tepfer said.

Cynthia Brown, executive director of the Westbury-based New York Coalition for Transportation Safety, said redesigning roads to improve safety is tough, if not impossible, because doing so often involves condemning properties to make way for new infrastructure. “The only thing that you can really try to change is driver behavior,” she noted.  

Tips for staying safe

Given the 2.2 million cars in the region, cycling on Long Island involves a degree of risk, experts say. Risk can be mitigated, though, with these safety tips:

• Always ride to the right with the flow of traffic.

• Leave three feet of space between you and parked cars to avoid opening doors.

• Wear a helmet.

• Use bike lights.

• Use hand signals when turning. 

Source: The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the print edition of Garden City-based Herald Community Newspapers.