Daphne Porter lives on Sea Oats Trail in the dunes of Southern Shores, at the road’s intersection with Hickory Trail.
During the June 23-24 no-left-turn (“NLT”) trial weekend, Ms. Porter and her housemate stayed home and worked in their yard, observing the traffic. “We were paying attention out in the yard,” she said.
Their opinion of the trial? “We absolutely loved it.”
Besides watching the flow of vehicles turning left from Hickory Trail on to Hillcrest Drive—the customary north-bound vacationer cut-through route—and on to their street, Ms. Porter and Cynthia Barth surveyed conditions on NC 12 : They have a bird’s eye view of Duck Road from their back deck.
When the traffic slowed on NC 12 to between 4 and 11 mph, according to Ms. Porter, who monitored it, WAZE, the free social navigation app that allows drivers to share real-time traffic and road conditions, directed motorists to Wax Myrtle Trail. But not that many Wax Myrtle “rerouters” accessed it via Hickory Trail, she said.
“We didn’t hear the traffic, and we didn’t see the traffic [on and near their street],” Ms. Porter told The Beacon in a telephone interview. The weekend “was nothing but positive for us. . . . It was fantastic.”
As most of you know, the left-turn prohibition at the U.S. Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection was in effect from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. June 23-24, during which time Southern Shores police officers implemented “zero-tolerance enforcement.” They issued 25 citations for illegal turns, all but three of them on Saturday, according to the Police Department’s “summary” NLT report, which is available on the Town’s website.
With the exception of Stephen Uperti, who lives with his wife Tina on Wax Myrtle Trail near its intersection with Porpoise Run—a hop-off point recommended by WAZE, according to a Duck restaurant employee—the cross-section of people in town whom The Beacon called for comment and the people who emailed The Beacon and posted on our Facebook page during the NLT trial and immediately afterward were exceedingly enthusiastic about its results.
“Everybody raved about it,” said Al Ewerling, who lives on South Dogwood Trail at its intersection with North and East Dogwood Trails. “I have not heard anybody on South Dogwood say anything negative about it. . . . [B]icyclists, people walking their dogs, people out jogging, they all said [traffic] was a lot better.”
Even Mr. Uperti, who said that the traffic off of NC 12, onto Porpoise Run, and then driving past his house was much heavier than usual, concluded: “It didn’t really bother us because there was no backup.” He and at least one of his neighbors, who placed an orange cone in the street in front of his house, were concerned, however, about the speed of the motorists, who came careening around the Porpoise Run/Wax Myrtle curve.
By the time the Wax Myrtle traffic reached Vincent Ferretti’s home, however, about a mile west of the Upertis, it was “light,” the former Maryland trial judge said. Mr. Ferretti did not notice the heavy traffic that Police Chief David Kole reportedly told The Outer Banks Sentinel some residents on Wax Myrtle Trail complained about. That’s not what he experienced, Mr. Ferretti told The Beacon. “The traffic was great,” he said. No problems.
On Sat., June 30, Nona Post, who also lives on Wax Myrtle Trail, posted on The Beacon’s Facebook page: “It was hell coming home. Please please stop left turns going forward.”
Indeed, the assessment of The Beacon’s sources, some of them obtained by random calls, contrasts sharply with the pessimistic analysis issued by Chief David Kole to local media on June 28, as well as public comments he reportedly has made—none of which reflects the peace and quiet, the relief, and even the elation that so many residents experienced.
“This has been a wonderful weekend with no backups in our neighborhood!” exulted Lori Harrell Worthington, who lives at the north end of Sea Oats Trail, where traffic backs up each summer weekend as cut-through motorists seek to enter the traffic flow on NC 12, often blocking the intersection and impeding the thoroughfare.
“I was wondering if I was on a different planet last weekend after reading” remarks by Chief Kole to the Sentinel, Ms. Worthington posted on The Beacon’s Facebook page.
According to Jim Kuykendall, traffic was backed up June 30 on 11th Avenue, the NC 12 “side street” where he lives, for 10 hours. On the NLT weekend, he reported on Facebook, “Traffic on our street was null!!!!”
The Police Department’s summary NLT weekend report contains vehicle counts that purportedly show a minimal impact on South Dogwood Trail traffic and an adverse impact on certain streets, including Juniper/Trinitie in Chicahauk. But John Booth, of Gravey Pond Lane, and Susan Dineen, of Deer Path Lane, told The Beacon traffic was “light” on Trinitie all weekend. They both said they kept an eye on it.
The Beacon has reason to question the relevance of the police vehicle data, as well as their manner, means, and location of collection. Let’s look at the numbers.
NUMBERS ARE INSIGNIFICANT; GO WITH THE FLOW
The police NLT report provides vehicle counts on June 23-24 for northbound traffic on South Dogwood Trail, NC 12, Trinitie Trail, and Sea Oats Trail. It further compares these counts with counts from the previous Saturday and Sunday, June 16 and 17, 2018, and counts from the “same weekend” in 2017, June 24-25.
As hackneyed a phrase as it is, it is appropriate here: The Town is comparing apples and oranges. I will elaborate below. Before I do, though, I have to examine the methodology of the data collection. I can only go so far in such an analysis, however, because the Town has not provided necessary operational facts about the counting process.
What The Beacon has learned is that 1) these counts were obtained at the following locations:
182 South Dogwood Trail
NC 12 (Ocean Blvd.) and Skyline Road
56 Trinitie Trail
286 Sea Oats Trail (between Hickory Trail and Hillcrest Drive)
. . . and 2) the counts were made by visual or sensory or other means of detection by the speed-limit devices that you frequently see on the side of the road. (See the photos above.)
This equipment apparently can calculate the number of vehicles that pass on the road, going in a certain direction, but how? Is it sensitive enough to count only motor vehicles, or does it sense and count bicycles, joggers, and pedestrians, too? How does someone set the counting mechanism on the device? Can traffic be counted for just a specific 10-hour period, or must the count be for a full day? If a counter malfunctioned, how would the Town know? How often are the devices checked during a test period?
I would like to know a lot more about these devices than I currently do. I also would like to know if the same equipment was used the previous week in the same locations during the same times and on June 24-25, 2017 in the same locations during the same times. If you can’t compare apples to apples, then there’s no point in comparing at all.
In past years, the Town has used strips across the road for counting vehicles. If the Town used the strip method on June 24-25, 2017, then a comparison of data between the years is impossible. That’s a fact that a high-school science student would immediately grasp.
I heard Chief Kole explain to the Town Council at one of its meetings that vehicle counts collected by the strip method on South Dogwood Trail were not valid because whenever a vehicle reached a particularly low speed—8 miles per hour comes to mind—it didn’t get counted! I thought this problem arose just last year. If so, then the numbers provided for 2017 may be gross underestimates.
Regardless, here are the Police Department’s vehicle counts for this year, versus last year:
South Dogwood Trail: 1,722 (June 23, 2018); 2,113 (June 24, 2017) [reduction]
981 (June 24, 2018); 1,116 (June 25, 2017) [reduction]
NC 12: 11,201 (June, 23, 2018); 10,843 (June 24, 2017) [increase]
11,273 (June 24, 2018); 11,227 (June 25, 2017) [increase]
Sea Oats Trail: 825 (June 23, 2018); 1,967 (June 24, 2017) [reduction]
215 (June 24, 2018); 275 (June 25, 2017) [reduction]
The Police Department did not provide vehicle counts for Trinitie Trail in 2017.
I frankly don’t see a reason to compare the NLT counts with counts from the June 16-17, 2018 weekend because, traditionally, mid-June is not the high season. Nor, for that matter, is the third week in June, but it’s getting much closer.
Speaking as a Southern Shores rental cottage owner of 27 years, I’ve often had trouble renting early- to mid-June weeks, because schools either are still in session or just letting out for the summer. Speaking as a homeowner on Hickory Trail, near East Dogwood Trail, for the past 20 years–of which only the past eight years or so have been marred by the traffic–I take mid-June traffic in stride, and prepare for traffic backups thereafter.
(Of course, my experience is only anecdotal evidence, just as any opinions on the traffic on Friday, June 22, 2018, which some have suggested was heavier because of the NLT weekend, are. They’re personal anecdote and conjecture about motorists’ motivation.
(I noticed no increase in cut-through traffic on Hickory Trail while I was home Friday evening. Mayor Tom Bennett may have detected an uptick in vehicles, as The Sentinel reported, but I didn’t.)
My opinion aside, here are the week-to-week numbers:
South Dogwood Trail: 1,722 (June 23, 2018); 1,739 (June 16, 2018) [reduction]
981 (June 24, 2018); 1,004 (June 17, 2018) [reduction]
NC 12: 11,201 (June 23, 2018); 11,321 (June 16, 2017) [reduction]
11,273 (June 24, 2018); 11,214 (June 17, 2017) [increase]
Trinitie Trail: 1,109 (June 23, 2018); 841 (June 16, 2018) [increase]
825 (June 24, 2018); 781 (June 17, 2018) [increase]
Sea Oats Trail: 825 (June 23, 2018); 841 (June 16, 2018) [reduction]
215 (June 24, 2018); 153 (June 17, 2018) [increase]
The only statistics that strike me as at all significant are those for Sea Oats Trail, but only because they don’t add up.
Chief Kole has been citing the “more than doubling” of vehicles on Sea Oats Trail from June 16 to June 23, 2018—321 to 825—as a downside to the NLT trial. A closer look reveals this result to be more than a little curious.
The Sea Oats Trail counter was placed only two-tenths of a mile north of Daphne Porter’s house, in the block between Hickory Trail and Hillcrest Drive. Ms. Porter described her experience that weekend to The Beacon as “incredible” and “fantastic.”
I can think of no good reason for vacationers to travel this stretch of the road. If you cut through on South Dogwood Trail, you’re going to take Hickory Trail to Hillcrest Drive and then catch Sea Oats Trail off of Hillcrest; and if you jump off of NC 12, you’re going to take Wax Myrtle Trail, not Sea Oats Trail.
Constance LeSueur, who lives near 286 Sea Oats Trail, did not notice the traffic during the NLT weekend. “We have a problem every now and then,” she told The Beacon, “but not much.”
Over on Hillcrest Drive, Stefan Herzog, who lives about a half-mile north of the Hickory-Hillcrest intersection, noticed that the “traffic was lighter” that Saturday. There was a slight slowdown near his driveway about 4 or 5 p.m., he noted, but it didn’t last long.
The NLT weekend “cut into my neighbor’s lemonade stand,” Mr. Herzog wryly complained.
Where, I wonder, did the 1,722 vehicles that reached 182 South Dogwood Trail that day go? Why would about 800 of them skip a lightly traveled Hillcrest Drive and opt for Sea Oats Trail instead? I certainly didn’t see a diversion to Sea Oats Trail when I drove through the dunes, checking the traffic.
Even more vexing to me is the apparent 58-percent drop in traffic on Sea Oats Trail between the June 24, 2017 count (1,967) and the June 23, 2018 count (825). It makes no sense. There’s no way that 2,113 vehicles drove up South Dogwood Trail, and then 1,967 of them bypassed Hillcrest Drive and got on Sea Oats Trail off of Hickory, instead.
Apples and oranges. The 1,967 figure must reflect traffic on the northern end of Sea Oats Trail, where it always backs up and where a counter should be located; and this year’s count calculates vehicles elsewhere or, perhaps, incorrectly.
TOWN COUNCIL MUST ACT
Daphne Porter would like to see the left-turn ban in effect for about a month to six weeks each summer, starting in late June.
“The traffic was calm,” she said, “and I was calmer.” I agree, and that’s a very good thing.
In previous blog posts about the NLT weekend, I’ve reported that traffic appeared to move at speed on both U.S. Hwy. 158 and NC 12 for most of Sunday, if not all day. (See The Beacon, June 25 and June 29, 2018.) It may well be that the NLT option would inure to the benefit of arriving vacationers, keeping them calmer and less aggressive on and off the road.
All traffic has to merge eventually on to Duck Road and then get through the Duck bottleneck. The speed of the traffic flow on the thoroughfare is not contingent alone on the volume of traffic. The merging of side-street traffic substantially affects it, too.
After Chief Kole gives his summary report on the NLT weekend at the Southern Shores Town Council’s July 10th meeting, the Council must define a next step for securing cut-through traffic relief on our residential streets. This trial cannot be a “one-time deal,” as our police chief called it at the Council’s May 1 meeting. There’s plenty of the money in the budget to fund another NLT weekend this summer or to exercise another option. It’s a question of priority. (See The Beacon’s budget report, May 29, 2018.)
The community-at-large needs and deserves action, and if our elected officials are truly listening to their constituents, they will deliver it.
Please attend the Town Council meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center behind Town Hall. If you can’t make the meeting, please let Mayor Bennett and the Town Council know what you think: Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, July 6, 2018; updated, July 7, 2018
(Joe Van Gieson, Geri Sullivan, and Ursula Bateman contributed to this report. The photographs are courtesy of Peggy Irvin.)