Despite a last ditch plea from a representative for a popular triathlon on the North Fork, the Southold town board voted unanimously last night to ban all race and bike events from June 1 to November 1, effective immediately.
“Basically, we’re blacking out dates,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said at yesterday’s work session. “We’re telling people, ‘You are welcome, but we’re trying to move you to a time of year when we can accommodate you, so we won’t have to have a huge number of race participants on the roads during the busy season.'”
At last night’s town board meeting, Chris Pfund, a representative of the Mighty North Fork Triathlon, explained how his organization donates funds to Community Action of Southold Town each year, is finished with the event by the early morning hours, and promotes a healthy lifestyle for local residents. Scheduling the event for earlier or late in the season, he said, would basically put their group out of the game, due to the water component. Russell said perhaps they could consider a new business model and schedule the event for another time.
“We simply had no choice,” Russell said this morning. “This isn’t about regulating bad behavior. This is about asking private businesses utilizing public roads to schedule their events at a time of year when they can be better managed.”
The supervisor said no public hearing was necessary because it’s a policy adopted by the board with no amendments to the town code.
Community organized parades are still allowed.
In addition, organizers and participants of bicycle and/or running events must fully adhere to the rules of the road. Organizers of bicycle and/or running events must post a deposit of $1,500 to ensure roads are returned to pre-event conditions.
Also, if the event has an expected number of participants, and/or running the special event may impact the health, safety and welfare of the public, the town board, upon the recommendation of the chief of police, may require the applicant to reimburse the town for costs of increased police protection, public safety oversight, and public works facilitation.
All bicycle and/or running events will be limited to 600 participants.
The town would still have the right to take legal action and deny a future permit if a group refuses to comply with the town’s cleanup policy, Russell said.
Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley will be printing up rules of the road for bikes to be distributed to event participants by organizers.
Councilman Jim Dinizio said there may be some who just go ahead with events without a permit and said those in violation of rules of the road should be ticketed.
Some might feel the new restriction might be “too draconian,” said Councilman Bill Ruland, but any time you put large groups in an area on bicycles or in vehicles, “there’s a large chance something can go wrong,” he said.
The board agreed to grandfather in some not-for-profit events, such as the upcoming Wounded Warrior events, that are coming up and have already been approved for this year.
Councilman Bob Ghosio said he was afraid the town might be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” and putting the brakes on popular, not-for-profit events.
Councilwoman Jill Doherty said she understood the concern but it’s impossible to “pick and choose.”
At a meeting organized by the Kenny’s-McCabe’s Beach Civic Association on Saturday at the Southold Town recreation center on Peconic Lane, Russell discussed the proposed ban.
“Originally, we thought the ban would be from May 1 to October 1. But now it looks like it’s going to be from June 1 to November 1,” he said.
That’s because October is one of the busiest times on the North Fork, Russell said. Police Chief Martin Flatley told him it would be easier to manage events on roadways in May but October has proven to be a time when local roads are packed with pumpkin pickers and others who’ve headed out to enjoy the shoulder season.
“This is a really popular destination for bike rides and marathons, with flat roads and scenic vistas. And with other towns cracking down, we’ve become the path of least resistance for a lot of these groups,” Russell said, explaining why he pitched the idea for the ban. “We simply can’t host them, particularly because we have to close roads, and we can’t close roads in the busy sesaon. Sooner or later, we have to say that we just can’t do it.”
Last month, as swarms of bicyclists continued to flagrantly disregard the rules of the road, putting motorists and themselves in jeopardy, Russell proposed the ban on all bicycle and race events on town roads during the height of the summer season.
The supervisor said the blanket prohibition on running and bicycling events would help to put the brakes on the escalating problem, as bicyclists ride three and four abreast, running red lights and putting the public in danger.
The supervisor said races could be allowed in the fall and winter months. “I realize there are a number of popular events that will be affected but they may need to change their model a bit, with no swimming and have them off season. They’re popular but need to take place at a time that’s not inconveniencing people and risking safety,” Russell said.
Earlier last month, Flatley addressed the town board to say that now, two years after the Southold Town board adopted a policy that only not-for-profit 5ks, bike and road races would be allowed on town roads, the problem is worsening.
In recent weeks, Flatley said, riders participating in certain events have been involved in accidents; others have blatantly put themselves at risk, one race participant even standing alone, directing traffic on Route 48, while cars whizzed by at 50 miles per hour.
Russell said the problem is that although the board adopted a policy in May, 2013, stating that only not-for-profit bicycle and 5K races would be allowed on town roads, as it stands now, some might make a partial donation to a charity, but that’s not the sole purpose for the event.
“I don’t know if our roads can support it anymore,” Flatley said. “The number one complaint we get now is about bicyclists on the roads, riding four or five abreast, not following the rules of the road.”
Russell said today that while the current policy was created to promote public health, safety and welfare, “we don’t have the ability to provide public safety during these events, and they take place during our busiest season.”
The sheer number of race participants, between 600 and 800, is too much for the police department to regulate during the height of the season.
“You need police and it’s an expensive proposition,” Russell said. “It’s not just enforcing the rules, it’s ensuring there’s safety for everyone. The logistics are just too difficult at the height of the season.”
Russell reminded that the existing policy should also remain in place, with only not-for-profit events allowed on town roads, not “a private organization looking to hook a wagon to a charity but putting the logo of a charity on their ad and charging a $175 event fee.”
Doherty said the town needs to stop waiving event fees; even not-for-profit events cost the town funds for cleanup and other issues and leave taxpayers bearing the burden.