The Melee: Forget Roundabouts, This Is How You Negotiate Downtown Sag Harbor

I have really come to appreciate the lack of a traffic circle down at the end of Main Street in Sag Harbor where Long Wharf, Bay Street, Division Street, West Water Street and Ferry Road, uh, collide.

Years ago we didn’t have a traffic problem at this major intersection. I am talking many years ago. If a car full of tourists drove down Main Street in Sag Harbor, everybody would come out of the stores to see it, wave hello and shake American flags at it.

Now, of course, it’s a terrifying experience down there where everything comes together. And it should be. Everybody is within inches of having a fender bender. I think this is great.

Perhaps I should review the recent history of what the authorities thought ought to be done about this so-called problem.

Around 2000, the State of New York sent the transportation department down to the Hamptons to have a look at not only this corner but also the road that goes between East Hampton and Sag Harbor, which is Route 114. They came up with a plan, presented it to the state and got the funding for it. All that had to happen was that Sag Harbor agree to it.

The plan called for a way of “traffic calming” the drivers as they came careening toward town on Route 114 past the churches and the three schools.

They would do this by putting a small center island at the line where East Hampton Town meets up with Sag Harbor Village to let people know they were coming into a populated area. After that, bicycle lanes would be put in on both sides, making the one lane in each direction a single lane where it would be impossible to pass. You’d have to slow down.

But it would be pretty, with plantings on the side of the road and nice curbing. To enjoy this, the speed limit would be 25 miles an hour. And it would be strictly enforced.

And then, when you got to the foot of Division Street, which is Route 114 when it gets down to Bay Street, Long Wharf, West Water Street, Main Street and Ferry Road, there would be this wonderful traffic circle to keep things orderly. Then there would be, when you got to the bridge to North Haven there, a dividing island with flowers in it to keep things even more orderly. The transportation department had it all figured out.

The Village of Sag Harbor met. They said they liked everything, but they weren’t so sure about the traffic circle. They asked if they could approve some things but not others, and the Transportation people said no, it had to be all or nothing.

A further series of meetings was held. And ultimately the Village said they couldn’t do this. They just didn’t think the traffic circle would work. With the circle there, there would be limited pedestrian access from town to Long Wharf, the centerpiece and pride of the town. Also, the authorities said, they didn’t think a traffic circle would even work there. But the DOT man said we did the study. It needs a traffic circle to be there.

Time passed. A second year went by. Then a third. Then a strange thing happened. A new law began to be enforced which said that when people were in this particular kind of crosswalk with the yellow cones marking it, all traffic had to stop to let the pedestrians through, even if it wasn’t on a corner or there were no traffic lights.

Suddenly, it seemed, the responsibility for life and death, in East Hampton on Newtown Lane, in Bridgehampton on Main Street, in Sag Harbor on Main Street, in Southampton on Jobs Lane and Main Street and all over the place, was now handed over to the motorists and pedestrians who were those needing to be regulated.

As you know, there are lots of high fives and waves and thank you very muches involved in this, and it works.

The year after this new way of doing things came in, which was now three years after the impasse between Transportation and the Sag Harbor Village Trustees, the Transportation officials reappeared and said, You know what? We’re with you. We’ll do all the other fixing up on 114, on Ferry Road and elsewhere, and we won’t do the traffic circle.

And so now we have a very humane, I guess you could call it that, melee. We have motorists slowing down when they get to the entrance to Sag Harbor, we have bicyclists having their lanes, we have flowers and center islands and where all these roads meet up at the foot of Long Wharf we have this terrifying, but very satisfying almost at any moment near collision situation.

You don’t even need policemen to direct traffic down by the wharf. They’d only be in the way. You enter the melée, very cautiously, looking both left and right, then left and right again, being aware of the young lady with the baby carriage in front of you, the cement truck on your left, the Porsche convertible on your right, the bicyclist facing you, the flatbed truck with the fishing gear also trying to sneak in and then this older man who you know who has one hand on the hood of your car and is swiveling around in front of your grill.

Charlie!” you say. “Haven’t seen you in a dog’s age.”

“How ya’ doin,’ Dan?”

And so, you move on through, and, just in time to get out of the way, making your hair stand on end, a Vespa comes zigging and zagging along, over to get out of the thing next to the 7-Eleven. Once again, nobody has been killed. You’re going to the post office.

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