You hear it a lot, that traffic this year is the worst it has ever been on South Fork roads. Anecdotally, at least, the people who make this remark are correct; every passing season, the number of vehicles seems to increase — but by how much and if there is anything local leaders can do about it are the big questions. As in making a medical diagnosis, information is key. Unfortunately, there is next to none.
Factual numbers about the population and work force on the South Fork are nearly impossible to come by. Even the United States Census is only really a shot in the dark, providing a count of residents every 10 years during the relatively quiet month of April. Nor does even the number of homes and businesses really mean anything in a place where the houses can be gigantic and the scale of the service industry that has evolved to tend to them massive. No one can say the true number of people — or vehicles on the move — here. The problem is that, without data, speculation about how to reduce road congestion and, along with it, the air pollution that results, is just that, speculation.
With smartphone maps, there are no back roads anymore. Long tie-ups at the usual places, such as where Bay Street, Main Street, Hampton Road, and Long Wharf meet in Sag Harbor, compel drivers to try alternate routes. But these alternates mostly cannot handle the added flow, and still more tie-ups are the result.
Drivers in the summer have learned to avoid Amagansett because of bumper-to-bumper slowdowns on Main Street. It is the same thing in Montauk, and motorists frequently detour south of Route 27 onto narrow streets without sidewalks, where hotel visitors and people going to the beach must jostle with passing cars. Employees often work odd hours, delaying going home up west until the evenings when traffic just might have died down. It is a sprawling mess that diminishes the pleasure of living and visiting here.
Turning back the clock on traffic is impossible; all that we can hope for is that officials and civic groups work not to make things worse. That means limiting further development. Few to none of us would say out loud that what the South Fork needs is more cars and trucks on its roads. Getting an accurate picture of how many vehicles are here, where they come from, and where they are going is essential to begin to confront the traffic problem head-on.