The data analysis report that the Town’s traffic engineering consultant gave via Zoom last Thursday at its update meeting with the citizens’ cut-through traffic committee confirmed what we already know:
- N.C. Hwy. 12 is operating over-capacity—what technicians with J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning of Waynesville, N.C. called “forced saturated flow”—during the peak-season weekends.
- Because N.C. 12 is operating over-capacity, traffic “cascades” on to alternating routes that impact Southern Shores neighborhoods, the techs observed in a slide presentation titled, “Southern Shores Traffic Data Analysis.”
- South Dogwood Trail, East Dogwood Trail, Hickory Trail, Hillcrest Drive, and Sea Oats Trail all experience “significant” cut-through traffic on peak-season weekends.
- Congestion on N.C. 12 stems from the Town of Duck, where the traffic backup begins.
The Duck bottleneck, caused by that town’s 25-mph speed limit and pedestrian crosswalks, is “the common denominator of all congestion that is formed in Southern Shores,” said Engineering Technician Forrest Lundgren, who conducted the slide presentation remotely with Teague Engineering Director Will Thompsen.
Mr. Lundgren further observed a fact that we also know quite well: “Southern Shores is not the destination of most of this traffic.”
Curiously, neither analyst spoke about traffic count data from the no-left-turn weekends conducted this past summer. The impact of this mitigation effort was not included in Teague’s analysis nor was it discussed until Town Manager Cliff Ogburn asked about how and whether the consultant can “model” the traffic flow when changes, such as a left-turn prohibition at South Dogwood Trail, are introduced.
Mr. Ogburn has previously explained that Teague will run all of the data through its computer “models,” which use specialized software and enable the technicians to propose “multiple mitigation measures.”
Both Mr. Ogburn, who served the meeting well as both a moderator and an advocate for town residents, and Mr. Lundgren described the “wealth of traffic data” and other reports, including minutes from cut-through committee meetings and media accounts, that the consultants had to process and analyze.
They analyzed traffic-count data submitted by the Southern Shores Police Dept. and the N.C. Dept. of Transportation, which has assessed the traffic volume and flow on N.C. 12 during the tourist summer season for years.
Mr. Lundgren also made a field visit to Southern Shores on Oct. 9 and took photographs of street signage, road conditions, traffic patterns, etc., as well as videotapes.
(We are unsure from what the Teague analysts said whether or not most of the data they relied upon came from traffic conditions documented in 2020, which, with the changes made to the spring and summer rental seasons during the COVID-19 pandemic, was an aberrant year.)
Mr. Thompsen is described on Teague’s website as a transportation specialist with 33 years of planning experience. Mr. Lundgren is not profiled. (See Traffic Management Planning & Engineering Firm: Serving Southeast US. (jmteagueengineering.com).)
At the conclusion of their slide presentation, Mr. Thompsen said, “We’re continuing with examining different strategies to cope with that cut-through traffic, as we were tasked within our scope of services.” He did not offer any now.
See the You Tube videotape of the Dec. 10 meeting at Southern Shores – YouTube. It runs 47 minutes.
OUR ANALYSIS OF THEIR ANALYSIS
As we said in our blog 10/14/20, when we announced the Town’s hiring of J.M. Teague to conduct a $7500 traffic study, we do not intend to be either facetious or skeptical in this article. We support every effort to ameliorate Southern Shores’ traffic nightmare, especially on the residential cut-through roads.
The meeting last Thursday was for the purpose of giving the citizens’ committee and the public a “progress report,” and we thank Mr. Ogburn for being inclusive in this project and affording us the opportunity to hear from the consultants.
The overriding perception that we took away from the meeting was that since Teague’s hiring, its technicians have spent their time getting up to speed on the traffic problems in town—quantifying them, identifying the arterial overloads, and essentially scoping out the who, what, when, where, why of the town’s traffic crisis.
It’s little wonder. Even people who live in Southern Shores—especially those who do not live on a cut-through road—do not “get” the full context of the misery traffic causes.
Both consultants came across as reasonable, earnest, and competent people. No doubt they are aghast at how deep the hole is that Southern Shores, Duck, Dare County, and Currituck County have dug for themselves by ignoring for years the summertime traffic burden on the inadequate infrastructure that exists.
N.C. 12 is at capacity during the week days in peak season, they informed us. That is Monday through Friday. We imagine that the conditions on peak-season weekends are unfathomable to reasonable people who regularly engage in planning and problem-solving. They certainly are to us.
We found most interesting Mr. Lundgren’s turn-the-tables perspective that since N.C. 12 is grossly over-capacity on summertime weekends, traffic is “almost being forced into the neighborhoods.”
We can appreciate the spin that tourists really have no choice but to cause residents misery.
Mr. Lundgren presented the tourists’ point of view, as a matter of “what tourists are getting on their GPS,” he said.
On a July Saturday, he explained, 20,000 vehicles travel on N.C. 12, a volume that is “beyond capacity” for a two-lane road: It is very congested all day.
Such conditions are a “strong push for a visitor to look for alternative ways” to travel, he said. We certainly would be looking.
“Vacationers almost always use navigation apps to get to their destination as easily and as quickly as possible,” he continued.
Google owns WAZE, Mr. Lundgren explained, and they both use the same algorithms. They only show the fastest routes.
Short of widening N.C. 12, an idea that caused alarm among Southern Shores residents years ago when it was proposed, and persuading/coercing Duck into cooperating with Southern Shores in a manner it has never been inclined to do before, what can be done?
We look forward to hearing the consultants’ recommendations, its “approaches,” as they call them, which should be submitted by Feb. 12, according to Mr. Ogburn.
THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS BY TOWN MANAGER, COMMITTEE
After the slide presentation, the Town Manager raised some very thoughtful questions about how to ensure that Teague’s recommendations are “not data-centered so much.” He asked about independent factors that are worthy of consideration in the consultant’s modeling, such as driver morale and the use of navigation apps.
Mr. Ogburn brought up adjusting the traffic light signals on N.C. 12; changing the check-in days for the rental companies; and prohibiting turns, such as the left turn on to South Dogwood Trail from U.S. Hwy. 158, asking whether Teague could “model” the effects any of these changes would have on traffic flow.
The consultant responded that assumptions can be made—such as a change in rental property change-over days and times, or traffic light signal times—to adjust the quantifiable data in a given traffic scenario, but it is difficult to introduce into the models non-quantifiable changes.
Mr. Ogburn basically asked whether recommendations could be based on something other than data and received a response of “not really.”
Cut-through committee member David Watson also posed an intriguing question, asking: What if you eliminate the cut-through traffic, i.e., keep people on N.C. 12? Would the situation be any worse than it is now if drivers were prohibited from entering the residential neighborhoods?
“N.C. 12 can’t really get any worse than it is,” Mr. Thompsen replied.
Regardless of the volume of cut-through traffic, he said, there is “basically just a long queue” of vehicles, stretching from Duck to U.S. Hwy. 158, the Wright Memorial Bridge, and farther west.
Mr. Watson was one of three committee members who attended the meeting. The others were Vicky Green and Chairperson Tommy Karole.
Mayor Tom Bennett and Councilmen Leo Holland and Jim Conners attended the meeting, and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey joined by Zoom, according to Mr. Ogburn.
Mr. Karole asked if his committee could meet remotely with the two consultants to share with them homeowners’ observations “in the trenches.”
Both Mr. Thompsen and Mr. Lundgren said they would welcome hearing from locals “on the ground.” Mr. Ogburn is expected to coordinate this session, which must be public.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 12/14/20