Nassau County has a clear and pressing need for better investment in pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure in a coordinated and transparent process. A county-wide Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is the best way to ensure Nassau County and its associated municipalities realize the promise of Complete Streets and invest in the health and well being of our citizens and communities.
Biking and walking for transportation on Long Island is difficult.
Nassau County comprises two cities, three towns, 64 villages, and more than 60 unincorporated hamlets. Within each of these units is considerable variety in government composition, which leads to confusion among citizens regarding who is responsible for roadways when asking for improvements such as bicycle lanes and sidewalk accommodations. Furthermore, the patchwork of control results in some communities, such as Freeport and Baldwin, making major investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, while neighboring towns do not, resulting in bike lanes that supply only a short stretch of roads and then dump bikers unceremoniously into traffic once they cross municipal boundaries. So too sidewalks that begin and end without warning and leave pedestrians stranded, sometimes on dangerous roadways, without options but to turn around.
These constraints make Long Island difficult to walk or bike around except for the bravest or most desperate of pedestrians and cyclists. However, we can see from interest in the Jones Beach Path and the Long Beach Boardwalk, among others, that plenty of citizens on Long Island crave opportunities to walk and bike safely, including families with young children, the elderly, those with disabilities, and others. Though investment in recreational infrastructure has been improving, very little has been done to invest in infrastructure that promotes transportation across the Island. This is despite the fact that most citizens must cross municipal boundaries to go to work, shop, worship, attend school, and more. The demand for transportation across and around Long Island is high—we can see it demonstrated in the significant congestion present on our roads. Providing alternative forms of transportation, such as walking and biking, serves the dual benefit of improving the health of citizens and improving the wellbeing of communities, by increasing foot traffic in business districts and decreasing the worst effects of congestion and traffic.
Why Nassau needs a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).
A BPAC is composed of citizens, advocates, legislative and executive branch representatives, and planners. Its mission is to provide advisement on plans being proposed for roadway, park, and other system maintenance as well as comprehensive planning. The BPAC also offers a forum whereby citizens can learn about proposals and be provided opportunities for input.
Nassau County has committed to Complete Streets investments, but the current state law merely requires projects to “consider” pedestrian and cyclists in planning. The process is opaque, leaving citizens to wonder if Complete Streets are, in fact, being planned. The BPAC provides clarification on what consideration looks like and offers a forum for presenting proposals and making recommendations publicly.
Because of the patchwork nature of the municipalities in Nassau County and the demonstrated inconsistencies in the types and quality of infrastructure provided for bicyclists and pedestrians, the county is the best municipal level at which to institute a BPAC. Smaller government units will not have the same power to direct comprehensive planning and inter-municipality investments.
Communities across the United States are instituting BPACs at state, region, county, and city levels. These existing BPACs serves as models for Nassau County and as sources of Best Practices in establishing a BPAC.
The League of American Bicyclists has released a Best Practice report that is instructive as to the variety of ways a BPAC might be composed and the benefits and challenges of each. http://www.advocacyadvance.org/site_images/content/bpac_best_practices(web).pdf