6/23/22: TO THE DEFENSE: MAYOR, POLICE CHIEF RESPOND TO COMPLAINTS FROM ‘UPSET’ RESIDENTS ABOUT CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC, OFFER NO NEW IDEAS, CHANGES.

Traffic backs up on Hickory Trail from Duck Road east to Ocean Boulevard last Saturday around 4 p.m. (Photo courtesy of a Southern Shores homeowner)

Responding to complaints about cut-through traffic from angry and frustrated residents, Mayor Elizabeth Morey admitted publicly for the first time Tuesday that the Kitty Hawk Town Council “declined to support implementing” the no-left-turn at the U.S. Hwy 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection this summer, “so, therefore, we’re not doing it.”

Ms. Morey also brought up at the Town Council’s Tuesday morning workshop—half of which was devoted to evaluating the Town’s traffic mitigation plan so far—overtures she made to Duck officials for help with moving weekend traffic through that town. Both Police Chief David Kole and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn contributed to this critical discussion about traffic.

Councilmen Leo Holland and Mark Batenic did not attend the meeting.  

(The Beacon reported 5/13/22 on Kitty Hawk’s refusal to participate in the left-turn prohibition, which was in effect in 2020 and 2021 during the surging pandemic summers. For other background on the Town’s plan, see The Beacon, 4/27/22, 4/29/22, 5/10/22, and 5/15/22.)

In his presentation, Chief Kole first disputed complaints his department has received from residents on South Dogwood and Sea Oats trails about speeders on their streets.

“People’s perceptions are obviously sometimes misguided,” the Chief said, before citing average speeds on South Dogwood and Sea Oats that have been at or below the speed limit.

He also cited a vehicle count on South Dogwood Trail last Saturday that was nearly as high as the highest vehicle counts on that street last summer, when pandemic weariness and the no-left-turn were in effect. According to the Chief, 4200 vehicles traversed South Dogwood Trail on June 18, as compared with 4581 on July 4, 2021, and 4206 on July 11, 2021. (The 2021 dates were Sundays; perhaps he meant the Saturdays of these weekends.)

Sea Oats Trail apparently had 3,800 vehicles last Saturday, as residents there, the Chief said, were “getting slammed.

Town Manager Ogburn, who has been instrumental in trying to curtail cut-through traffic with the use of “local traffic only” barriers, characterized them as having had “less of a negative impact [last summer, for both residents and tourists] than they’re having now.”

Mr. Ogburn referred to residents’ “anger and resentment” toward the Town and to “conflict” and “tension” arising because of the orange, water-filled barriers, which themselves “are creating an issue.” (Both resident and non-resident drivers do like to move them and complain about them.)

Mr. Ogburn said, discouragingly, “I’m not sure they’re having the positive impact we would want.” He no longer believes, he added, that two of every 10 northbound vacationers are being deterred by them—a low threshold that he always thought made them worthwhile.

Chief Kole was blunter than the Town Manager about the barriers. They are “not working,” he told the three Council members.

“[Vacationers] are driving around the barricades,” he said, because “GPS is telling me to go” on a street that is either closed (as Hickory Trail was for two weekends) or closed to non-local traffic.  Once one motorist transgresses, others follow suit.

The July 4th weekend is “going to be a hoot,” the Chief said. “Trust me.”

MAYOR’S COMMENTS

The Mayor made no mention of Kitty Hawk’s refusal to back the left-turn prohibition, which the N.C. Dept. of Transportation required before it would permit a blockage, at the Town’s April 26 public-information meeting on summer traffic mitigation.

She didn’t bring it up at the Town Council’s May 3 meeting, either, when Mr. Ogburn discussed the traffic plan/campaign endorsed by the Mayor, which is heavy on road signage and other communication designed to keep motorists on U.S. 158 and N.C. 12.

But the Mayor is now on the defensive because of complaints from what Mr. Ogburn referred to as “upset residents”—many of whom are calling the police—and she spoke as openly at the Tuesday workshop as we have ever heard her speak about the Town’s efforts to mitigate cut-through traffic.

At the April 26 meeting, she stated simply that the no-left-turn would not be in effect. Period. No explanation. She left the Town Manager to respond to questions about why not. On Tuesday she elaborated upon the safety problems that arose last summer, with the 7-Eleven being used as a turnaround and people making U-turns in the middle of U.S. 158, and mentioned traffic accidents at the 158-South Dogwood Trail intersection, although she didn’t quote any statistics.

Ultimately, however, she seemed to lay any blame on Kitty Hawk.  

Also Tuesday the Mayor said she had reached out to “elected officials” in Duck, as she claimed Mayor Tom Bennett previously had, to ask them to reduce the number of pedestrians impeding traffic flow on Hwy. 12 during summer weekends.

These officials, she explained, “choose not to implement anything to mitigate the effect of pedestrians blocking the cars from moving through the Town of Duck in a faster, safe way.”

We wish the Mayor had told the public exactly what cooperation she sought because in explaining the officials’ decision, she mentioned pedestrians only at the “south end” of Duck.

Duck, she said, had a traffic study done of the south end, where the speed limit drops to 25 mph, and it concluded that “pedestrians aren’t the problem.”

We agree they’re not the problem at the south end; the speed limit is. We also guarantee that if you funneled all pedestrians on N.C. 12 in Duck from 13 crosswalks to three, the traffic would move faster. And if you put a police officer at each crosswalk, you would not have pedestrian stragglers holding up the traffic flow. It’s simple physics.

SPEEDING DISPUTE

In addressing speeding reports, Police Chief Kole told the Council that “We are continuously getting calls from certain people on South Dogwood that claim cars are going 50 mph, and at the same time it’s bumper-to-bumper traffic.”

The same, he said, is true on Sea Oats Trail: speeders, but bumper-to-bumper traffic.

We see no inconsistencies in these reports. Clearly, motorists can’t speed when the traffic is at a standstill, but they can, and they do, when the traffic opens up during non-peak hours on the weekends.

Average speeds obtained from radar don’t tell the tale. There is no way to know whether a northbound motorist travels at 50 mph at noon on a Saturday and a late-arriving motorist travels at just 15 mph or less at 4 p.m.

We were unable to view the speed data that the Police Chief displayed on overhead projection at Tuesday’s meeting because the videographer did not zoom in on them. Based on what Chief Kole said, we believe the data showed the weekly number of vehicles on these streets and the speed at which radar detected all of them.

Somehow Chief Kole was able to say that the average speed on South Dogwood Trail at the cemetery for one week when 8909 vehicles traveled there, was 25 mph. We urge the Chief to post his data on the Town website for all residents to see.

Chief Kole also offered the report of an officer who “conducted a lot of radar” on South Dogwood Trail last Saturday for proof that the average speed was 20 mph, and there were “no speeders,” but he did not say exactly when the officer patrolled the road. He wasn’t there for his entire 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift.

Apparently, when this officer, who was working overtime, according to Chief Kole, moved over to Ocean Boulevard at the Duck Road split, he and another officer were able to cite four or five motorists for speeding. This makes sense to us if the officers were near the SSCA parking lot just north the tower, where the speed limit drops to 25 mph, but the Chief did not say. He also didn’t give times for the citations.   

‘TRAFFIC IS TRAFFIC’

Mr. Ogburn said that the vehicle counts on N.C. 12—from Skyline Road in the south to 13th Avenue in the north—“look relatively consistent from weekend-to-weekend” since Memorial Day. But the volume of traffic on the “northern end of town” is “increasing a lot.”

Mayor Morey attested that while she was out walking last Saturday around 3:30 to 4 p.m., she saw only one car turning left (north) from East Dogwood Trail through the Duck Road traffic light during a green cycle. Not good.

She again called upon rental property managers to arrange more Friday-to-Friday and Sunday-to-Sunday rentals, even though managers tell her, she said, “We already do that.”

“Do more” is the Mayor’s response, she said.

We wonder if the Mayor has looked at the rental numbers for the different turnover days. It used to be very easy in the uncongested old days to pick up a rental brochure (now called a vacation planner) from Southern Shores Realty Co. and see immediately which homes rented from Friday-to-Friday and from Sunday-to-Sunday. It now takes a more painstaking effort to separate them out from among the hundreds cataloged, but they are numerous.  

The houses that SSR rents in Seacrest Village have long been Friday-to-Friday rentals. We counted 38 of them in SSR’s 2022 vacation planner.

We don’t think the turnover-day approach is a promising one.

Nor do we believe that advocating for the Mid-Currituck Bridge, which is on hold because of federal litigation, and filing an amicus curiae brief in the litigation between the NCDOT, the Federal Highway Admin., et al (there are multiple named appellee-defendants) and the non-profit anti-bridge groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center will speed up the construction process.

(The Town posted the amicus brief on its website today. Amicus curiae is Latin for “friend of the court.” The Town is not a party in the case, which is now in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Town’s brief, which is joined by the Town of Duck, Currituck County, and other entities, essentially says we agree with the appellee-defendants’ argument, as did the lower U.S. District Court, which ruled in their favor on summary judgment. Summary judgment means that the NCDOT/FHA case is so strong that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, without having a trial.)

We respect attorneys who have a different opinion about filing this amicus brief, but we much prefer to consider practical, here-and-how traffic mitigation techniques. After the District Court’s ruling last December, the NCDOT announced a delay in the bridge project until early 2025. After that, pre-construction alone will take one year, according to the NCDOT.

Councilwoman Paula Sherlock, who has spearheaded the amicus brief effort, said Tuesday, “We are doing what we can do, but the traffic is the traffic.”

When asked by Mayor Morey whether he could think of any changes for improving the traffic, Chief Kole said, “I don’t have the answers. . . . But I can tell you that eventually we’re just going to have to say that we’ve done everything we can.”

We disagree with both of these conclusions. We’ve heard many other suggestions over the years—everything from speed humps to gates to police moving traffic along Hwy. 12, like a stadium event—but past Town Councils have ignored them.

Instead of discussing cut-through traffic at a 9 a.m. workshop with only 3/5 of the Town Council present, doesn’t it make more sense for the Town to hold a public forum to solicit ideas that it will actually consider? Or have we become so angry toward each other that we can’t even talk?

We all know the complaints are only going to multiply and get worse as the “after-school” crowd arrives and can legally turn left at South Dogwood Trail. Last summer we had the benefit of both staggered arrivals, because of remote school instruction, and the turn prohibition.

In explaining Kitty Hawk’s and Duck’s decisions to do their own thing, Mayor Morey reminded us that that’s democracy for you. Democracy is all we’re talking about here, too.

Mayor Morey will host a chat in the Pitts Center Wed., July 13, at 4 p.m.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 6/23/22

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