The message conveyed by the 40 or so people who attended last night’s public forum on cut-through traffic at the Pitts Center was clear: The no-left-turn (“NLT”) weekend of June 2018 worked, and they would like to see the no-left-turn option implemented in the summertime.
The forum, organized by the Southern Shores Exploratory Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, was an opportunity for residents to share their ideas about controlling the northbound vacationer traffic on the South Dogwood Trail-to-Hickory Trail-and-beyond route, and to meet the committee, which is headed by homeowner Tommy Karole.
While residents suggested other means for relieving the congestion on N.C. Hwy. 12, such as reversing lanes, controlling pedestrian crosswalks in Duck, and stationing police en route to move the traffic flow, only the NLT option garnered what appeared to be a consensus—just as it did among the more than 100 residents who attended the October 2014 traffic-control workshop.
Although “gating” was mentioned as a means of minimizing traffic spillover on to other residential streets (e.g., Juniper Trail, Porpoise Run) occasioned by prohibiting a left turn at South Dogwood Trail, no one suggested gate-controlled access to Southern Shores.
Pete Born, who owns a second home on North Dogwood Trail, a street that is “relatively secluded,” brought up the past use of barricades to close access to town roads.
Mr. Born and his wife sold a second home in Duck and moved to Southern Shores, he said, to avoid traffic congestion.
Barricades, such as sawhorses, have been used to close streets during hurricane evacuations, but no one could recall using them at other times.
A vocal “old-timer” on the traffic problems, Norman St. Laurent, who lives on Hickory Trail and has spoken repeatedly at Town Council meetings about speeding on his street, cautioned the committee “not to reinvent the wheel.” Many, if not most, in the audience were longtime residents who showed little interest or patience in doing so.
Mr. St. Laurent produced from a thick file folder a copy of a report from a Town traffic-control workshop conducted in 2009, which, one of the committee members discovered upon skimming it, documented a flow of 1,500 vehicles on the residential cut-through route during a summertime weekend.
Al Ewerling, who lives at the intersection of South Dogwood Trail and East Dogwood Trail, advised the forum gathering that a state government employee told him that 8,500 vehicles traveled on the cut-through route on a July weekend in 2018. Mr. Ewerling approached a worker who was fixing a roadside counter in Southern Shores and was referred to someone in Raleigh for an official count.
Several speakers remarked on the worsening of conditions during the past 10 years.
According to Paulette Jones, who has lived on South Dogwood Trail for 24 years and walks along that street “365 days a year,” this past summer “was the worst year” she has experienced. Mrs. Jones said she was stopped by one motorist who asked why Southern Shores does not make it easier for vacationers to get through the residential area.
Said Mark Dailey, who lives on Sea Oats Trail near its intersection with Hillcrest Drive, the cut-through traffic congestion has “gone on too long.”
“If we can’t get a solution to the traffic,” he suggested, “we should find a way to monetize it.” He did not mention the word “toll,” however.
JUNE 2018 NLT WEEKEND
During what was a very informal 90-minute discussion, only newly elected Town Council member Matt Neal, who lives on Wax Myrtle Trail near Porpoise Run, shared a negative experience with the no-left-turn weekend of June 23-24, 2018.
That weekend, U.S. Hwy 158-eastbound motorists were prevented from turning left on to South Dogwood Trail between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. To effectuate this restriction, the Town had to have the cooperation of the Town of Kitty Hawk, which has jurisdiction over Hwy. 158 in this area, and the assistance of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation.
According to Mr. Neal, an increased amount of traffic diverted to Wax Myrtle from Duck Road via Porpoise Run, and drivers were speeding “up to 50 miles an hour” on his street.
Despite the heavier flow, he said, traffic did not come to a standstill, blocking driveways and preventing people from coming and going to their homes, a situation that Mr. Neal said he would find intolerable.
“I can empathize,” he said.
Newly elected Town Council members Elizabeth Morey and Leo Holland also attended the forum, as did Mayor Tom Bennett and current Council members Jim Conners and Fred Newberry. Among them, only Mr. Neal participated actively in the discussion.
There were no Town staff members or police officers present.
Mr. Newberry has served as the Town Council’s sponsor to the committee since the Council unanimously approved its formation in June. Mr. Neal would seem to be an excellent replacement for Mr. Newberry.
His comments about the 2018 NLT weekend echoed those of his former neighbor, Steve Uperti, whom The Beacon interviewed the Monday after the trial occurred. Mr. Uperti and his wife formerly lived on Wax Myrtle Trail where it connects with Porpoise Run.
On July 6, 2018, in an overview report of the NLT weekend, The Beacon quoted Mr. Uperti as saying that the traffic on Wax Myrtle was heavier than usual, but “It didn’t really bother us because there was no backup.”
He also said that one of his neighbors—Mr. Neal, whom The Beacon did not previously identify because we did not speak directly with him—placed an orange cone on the street in front of his house to slow down the speeders. Mr. Neal said last night that he indeed used this traffic-calming device, which could easily be used elsewhere in town.
The Beacon also interviewed at random Daphne Porter, who lives on Sea Oats Trail at its intersection with Hickory Trail and monitored the traffic throughout the NLT weekend. She told The Beacon that when the traffic slowed on Duck Road to between 4 mph and 11 mph, the free navigation app, WAZE, directed motorists to Wax Myrtle Trail by “rerouting” them to Porpoise Run.
No question, WAZE, which provides information about real-time traffic conditions, is a factor for the committee to consider.
Beacon correspondents traveled throughout Southern Shores during the NLT weekend, keeping a particularly close eye on the Hwy. 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection. We extensively reported on the results in blogs of June 25, June 29, and July 6, 2018.
Our observations coincided with those of Hendrik Pepler, who said last night that he biked to the intersection and observed traffic there for 30 minutes, seeing little evidence of drivers turning around “at Starbucks” and returning to South Dogwood Trail to make a legal right turn. We, too, did not witness many “work-arounds” of the left-turn obstacle, either coming from the Marketplace or turning around on Woods Road.
Mr. Pepler, who currently lives in Kill Devil Hills, is building a house on Beech Tree Trail.
Mr. Ewerling said he believes the green and red lights on the left-turn arrow at the intersection remained functional throughout the NLT weekend, confusing drivers, some of whom attempted to turn left from a through lane, ignoring the barrels that blocked the left-turn lane.
“It was incredible how well [the NLT weekend] worked,” said Ed Graham, who lives at 289 Duck Road. “The traffic flowed. . . . People who cut in [from the residential streets] just slow it down.”
In prohibiting a left turn at South Dogwood Trail, Mr. Graham said, “We’re preventing people from cutting in line.”
DIVERSITY IN RESIDENCE
The residents who spoke at the forum gave home addresses on Sea Oats Trail, South and North Dogwood trails, Hickory Trail, Hillcrest Drive, Ginguite Trail, Beech Tree Trail, Tenth Avenue, Wax Myrtle Trail, and Duck Road.
In selecting the cut-through traffic committee, Mr. Karole said he tried “to get a diverse group of people who live in different parts of Southern Shores.”
He said he did not know four out of the five people whom he chose, citing Linda Lauby as his only acquaintance. The other members were recommended to him.
In addition to Mr. Karole, who lives on East Dogwood Trail near South Dogwood Trail, the committee members are:
Ms. Lauby, a former resident of East Dogwood Trail who now lives on High Dune Loop in Chicahauk;
David Watson, who lives on Hickory Trail and is a longtime employee of Southern Shores Realty Co.;
Bill Timberlake, known as “T.”, who lives on South Dogwood Trail between Tall Pine Lane and Yaupon Trail;
Vicky Green, a resident of Hillcrest Drive, near the SSCA tennis courts; and
Jim Monroe, who lives on Ocean Boulevard near the East Dogwood Trail beach access.
Committee members may be reached by email at email@example.com.
Mayor Bennett, who said he had not intended to speak, gave a few remarks at the end of the forum. He related that he and others in the Town government are not “oblivious” to the problems and are “sympathetic” with residents.
“We’re all tuned into it,” the Mayor said. “. . . We’re aware of it. We’re conscious of it. . . . None of us wants to see this traffic through our neighborhood.”
Traffic is a problem, he said, that the Town will be dealing with in the next two to three years.
Compounding the traffic congestion is the increase in the number of Airbnb and other homeowner-controlled rentals in Southern Shores, a fact the Mayor observed, but neither the committee nor the forum audience discussed, although Mr. Watson mentioned it.
Mr. Watson, who is the broker in charge at Southern Shores Realty, said that the rental-house turnover days for his company, which manages about 450 properties, are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Sunday being “the biggest day.”
He said there is “no appetite” among renters for weeklong rentals that start on any other day, although people who rent through Airbnb are not so selective. They may choose to rent during the week and avoid the weekend traffic.
Mr. Karole explained that the committee would be submitting its traffic-control proposal(s) to the Town Council in February or March, well ahead of the Town Manager’s preparation of a fiscal year 2020-21 budget.
He did not indicate when the committee might be meeting again in public, or even if it would be. The committee must observe N.C. open-meeting laws, which require all meetings of three or more committee members to be public and given notice.
The Beacon invites and encourages everyone who attended last night’s forum to give us their impressions of the proceedings either in comments to the blog or in posts on the Facebook page. Thank you.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/20/19