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Spokes Folks Aim To Promote Cycling As Healthy Hobby On East End

Originally Posted: November 24, 2008

Brett Mauser

A strong nucleus is at the center of Spokespeople's plan of action: from left to right, Howard Lebwith, Mike Bottini, Dennis Loebs and Sinead FitzGibbon. Photos by Brett Mauser

Sag Harbor - As a woman who cuts through darkness on her way to work via bike and regularly competes in local roadraces, Sinead FitzGibbon has witnessed a decline in conditions both physically and perceptually on the East End. Instead of settling for such standards, FitzGibbon and Dennis Loebs have put their ideas in motion. They formed Spokespeople, a new cycling advocacy group that aims to promote a bicycle-friendly community.

A group of 15 bike enthusiasts met at Hither Hills State Park to repair a trail
that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.

More than two dozen bike enthusiasts assembled at Manual and Sports Physical Therapy in Sag Harbor for the inaugural meeting. It's just the first step in changing the quality and the view of cycling in the Hamptons according to organizers FitzGibbon and Loebs.

"We want to change the culture of it being a pestilence to being a primary choice of recreation and transportation," FitzGibbon said. "It comes back to educating the community and participants. This is borne from the desire for a more pleasurable cycling experience."

According to the League of American Bicyclists, New York State ranks 34th out of 50 states in a study of bicycle-friendly communities, having "a signed and mapped route network, but no accommodation or complete streets policy and slow progress on safe routes to school." Of all places, New York City is the only area recognized as exceptional in the entire state, receiving a bronze designation.

Spokespeople is eager to change all that. According to its mission statement, the group's goal is "to enhance the quality of life on the East End of Long Island via the promotion and facilitation of road and trail cycling among citizens of all ages and all physical ability for recreation and transportation." The bullet points on Spokespeople's action plan span from fundamental safety to innovative events. It includes but isn't limited to:

 • Trail Maintenance: Establish crews and assign to areas throughout East End to encourage cycling on trails; work with other committees to create multi-use trails.
 • Bike Racks: Initiate campaign for installation of bike races in villages; create design competition with special awards for village-related designs.
 • Mapping: Improve maps of safe cycling routes and increase availability of maps.
 • School Locker Campaign: Coordinate with schools to ensure locker space is sufficient for students who bike to school.
 • Light Up A Roller: Work with bikes shops and local businesses to collect and distribute free lights and reflectors for night and winter riding to commuters.
 • Bike Vs. Car: Organize bike vs. car race from Southampton Village to East Hampton Village on a summer weekend.
 • Trek to Montauk: Multi-day mountain bike ride from Pine Barrens to Montauk Point to raise awareness for Paumanok Trail.
 • Adopt A Trail: Set up program modeled after highway program where individuals or companies take ownership of trail maintenance.

Among those who support Spokespeople's efforts is C.L.I.M.B., or Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, which is headed up by Mike Vitti.

Also among Spokespeople's concerns is the revival of the Safe Routes To School plan to build and maintain a network of bike paths from Mashashimuet Park to Pierson Middle/High School. Trails along Noyac Road, Scuttlehole Road and Ocean Road are on Spokespeople?s radar as well.

Several trail riders have already made ground on their efforts to improve the conditions. On Oct. 25, FitzGibbon, local outdoors expert Mike Bottini, Tom Dees of East Hampton Parks and Recreation, and others were joined by Mike Vitti, president of C.L.I.M.B. (Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists) to help preserve a trail in Hither Hills State Park overlooking the ocean. According to FitzGibbon's blog, "the existing trail was suffering from severe erosion, creating gouges, spilling sand, exposing roots and generally becoming a headache for all."

A safety-conscious bike community is eager to makes changes to the
existing conditions on many trails on the East End.

A crew of 15 smoothed the terrain and cut back vegetation, while also rerouting one portion of the auxiliary trail, considered non-redeemable in its existing state, back to the main path.

From Bottini's experience, gaining the support of local government can oftentimes be achieved simply by expressing one's interests. "Public officials want to do the type of things we need to do," Bottini commented. "They just need to know that the public is behind it."

Gene Makl of the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society reported that his group has 625 dues-paying members, many of whom have interests that intersect with that of Spokespeople. In addressing the meeting's attendees, he said that the society's challenges, due to the age of many of its members, related to performing the physical labor necessary for trail maintenance.

"We can't keep the trails as nice as we'd like to," Makl said. "There's a lot of erosion. A lot has to be done. There are many trails you can still walk on that I'm embarrassed to say you can no longer bike on."

The next Spokespeople meeting is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, at Ziggy's Food and Drink in Bridgehampton. For further information about the advocacy group, e-mail Sinead FitzGibbon at sineadpt@optonline.net.




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