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At Dangerous East Hampton Turn, When All Else Fails, Try a Net?

Thu, 06/27/2024 - 11:28
One way to keep speeding cars from missing the sharp turn where Woods Lane meets Main Street and plowing into the Hedges Inn would be to install a vehicle access barrier, essentially a long metal net, that could be concealed with plantings.

Searching for a fix to prevent speeding vehicles from flying into the Hedges Inn at the 90-degree turn where Woods Lane meets East Hampton’s Main Street, the village board contemplated a large metal net at its meeting on Friday.

In just the last 18 months two cars have crashed into the inn at a high speed, and since 2010, 12 vehicles haven’t been able to manage the turn, some ending up submerged in Town Pond. In a crash this January, a middle-of-the night police chase ended with a car full of teenagers coming to rest on the inn’s front porch.

“The biggest threat is the people who go totally straight,” said Robert Bove, an engineer at L.K. McLean Associates. “That’s the thing we most want to prevent.”

“It’s like a big rubber band,” Mayor Jerry Larsen said of the net, also referred to as a vehicle-arresting barrier. “We do need to do something before we have a fatality. If this is the best way to do it, the next step is pricing.” Mr. Bove did not return a request for comment about the cost, but Mayor Larsen indicated it could run well into the tens-of-thousands of dollars.

The net has “proven effective in restraining vehicles ranging from motorcycles to 40,000-pound trucks,” according to a report the engineering firm presented to the board. The barrier can have a low profile and the amount of resistance it offers can be tweaked.

There were other suggestions from Mr. Bove. Upgraded signs, strobe lights and reflective backplates on the traffic lights, and “driver feedback” signs that let drivers see how fast they are going, were a few. Rumble strips leading up to the intersection have been worn down, are no longer effective, and could be replaced. Of the 12 crashes, eight happened at night, leading Mr. Bove to think lighting conditions could also be improved.

“I don’t care what you put up,” said Christopher Minardi, the deputy mayor. “If someone falls asleep, they’re going straight through.”

“Crashes of the nature that are the subject of this study are typically speed related,” said Mr. Bove. L.K. McLean measured speed from March 11 to March 18, but found for the most part, it wasn’t a factor. The average travel speed of vehicles approaching the intersection is 36.2 miles per hour. In fact, 85 percent of vehicles approaching the intersection travel below 40.8 miles per hour. “The 85th-percentile speed is reflective of driver comfort with roadway characteristics, and the 85th-percentile speed is also utilized in determining appropriate speed limits,” according to the L.K. McLean report. Mr. Bove said over 8,000 cars passed through the intersection daily during the study.

“It is clear that a sizable number of vehicles are exceeding the speed limit, although less than one half of 1 percent of vehicles were recorded as exceeding 50 m.p.h.” The Hedges Inn is over 150 feet away from the intersection and L.K. McLean surmised that “Those vehicles that left the roadway and struck the inn building are likely to have been traveling at speeds significantly above 50 m.p.h.”

Like Mr. Minardi, Mr. Bove allowed that even if signage were improved and rumble strips beefed up, it would have no impact on drivers who were either asleep and going 90 miles per hour, as was the case in a November 2022 crash that knocked part of the inn off its foundation, or running from the police with their headlights out, as was the case with the most recent crash in January. The best option to deal with those drivers is to create barriers that would stop their cars before they left the road. That’s why the net and other barriers dominated the discussion.

Mayor Larsen ruled out a hard barrier, like bollards or boulders. “You’re giving someone a death sentence,” he said. Likewise, a dead-end guide rail could also lead to driver injury and would be unsightly.

Mr. Bove said it wouldn’t be difficult to screen the traffic net with plantings and that doing so would not reduce its effectiveness.

Edwina von Gal, founder of the Perfect Earth Project and a landscape designer, said in a text that matching plantings to the nearby bioswale on the other end of Town Pond, near Guild Hall, could present the village with a win-win situation. “Common winterberry, marshmallow, and many native shrubs like viburnums. Big native flowers like Joe Pye, ironweed, and coreopsis.”

Regardless of Mr. Bove’s presentation, Marcos Baladron, the village administrator, said he didn’t think the village would be installing the barrier any time soon. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions and we have to see when we can fund it. What is this going to cost? If a car hits the net and it needs to be reset, what is the upkeep on that? This year I don’t see it.”

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