Skip to main content

Slow Down on the Traffic Circle

Wed, 06/26/2024 - 18:10


Should we be shifting heavier, faster traffic off Montauk Highway and onto the back roads? That is the question that the East Hampton Town Board should have asked before it greenlighted a roundabout in the countrylike setting where Stephen Hand’s Path, Long Lane, and Two Holes of Water Road converge.

Since a fall approval, the traffic-circle plan has come under increasing scrutiny from members of the public concerned about its suburban, UpIsland look, which is badly out of place adjacent to hundreds of acres of publicly preserved farmland. Aesthetics are an issue that could be addressed by redesigning it thoroughly with a lower profile and less suburban, more rural, feel. But the Stephen Hand’s Path traffic circle poses another and potentially more serious problem: It could increase both the rate of speed and the number of vehicles there and on the surrounding back roads.

Two weeks ago, we reflected on the ways roundabouts pointed to the town’s failed effort to control community growth; now, we would like to raise the question of how the Stephen Hand’s Path plan might, in fact, encourage heavier use of the roadways in that part of town. “Allowing for a better flow of traffic” is how one town official put it. Faster flow and increased flow is how we’d put it.

Once upon a time, South Fork residents defeated a proposed highway bypass that would have eased conditions on Route 27 by creating an alternate route around the hamlet and village centers. The Star was pro-bypass, but a fear at the time was that if it were built, “they” (more and more vehicles) would come. Well, it was not built, and they came anyway. The result is that the route from Water Mill through Amagansett serves not only as the region’s Main Street but as its most heavily used roadway. Now, with a roundabout at the Stephen Hand’s Path-Long Lane nexus, the town is poised to shift more of that intense main-artery traffic onto what have traditionally been our back roads.

Just up the way, the traffic light at Stephen Hand’s Path and Route 114 is already the site of massive backups. How would a roundabout at Long Lane and Two Holes of Water Road impact that crossroads? Would it serve to funnel more cars there, increasing the long waits at the light? And what might the reverberations be, as more eastbound drivers coming from the Sag Harbor end divert onto Whooping Hollow Road, then onto Two Holes of Water, headed for the new traffic circle which they know will allow them to get to destinations in Northwest, East Hampton Village, or Springs with much less frustration? And then there is Cedar Street. Passenger vehicles and heavy trucks alike would pour from the planned roundabout onto it. Cedar Street residents already have to bear more than their share of traffic headed elsewhere.

The primary argument for a roundabout at Stephen Hand’s Path is that it will increase safety at what is most definitely a dangerous intersection. It’s absolutely true that something must be done to make it safer. The consultant’s presentation on the plan didn’t go very far in convincing us it would be a big win for safety, however. The design is being done to accommodate the largest of trucks, for one thing.

And the consultant’s projected speed for vehicles entering a roundabout, 15 to 20 miles per hour, could still be lethal to people on foot or bikes (as two fatal accidents here involving slowly moving cars prove). How will bicyclists, pedestrians, and the hugely increasing number of young and inexperienced e-bike riders navigate the intersection? Furthermore, the landscaping on the roundabout might make it impossible for drivers and bikers to see around it, which surely is a dangerous idea.

Stop signs are already in place for vehicles coming from Two Holes of Water Road and Long Lane. Two more stop signs — a four-way stop-sign layout — should be tried before undertaking a costly public works project the effects of which have not been adequately studied. A simple stop-sign plan would slow traffic, rather than speeding it up, which is a better place to start if safety is the primary concern.

Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.