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Sep 4, 2018 3:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Traffic In 2018 Was Up, And Out

Traffic heading west on Sunrise Highway in the afternoon on Labor Day.  DANA SHAW Dana Shaw
Sep 4, 2018 4:31 PM

If it felt as though the traffic this summer was the worst it has ever been—well, that’s both right and wrong.

The total number of cars that entered the South Fork this summer via the main corridor was indeed up from last year—a volume record that is set perennially—but only slightly. And, in fact, the morning rush hour actually was substantially less congested during the traditionally peak periods of 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays than it was last summer—largely due to more drivers shifting their commute times to even earlier hours, it seems.

And yet residents of the South Fork have bemoaned a summer when traffic jams seemed longer, more widespread and seemingly ever-present during daylight hours. Stretches of roadway where traffic has slowed to a crawl at times over the years added miles, and even hours, to delays.

“There were some days when I was just, like, I can’t take this anymore,” said Julie Kelleher, a massage therapist from Amagansett who bounced between up to a dozen appointments a day this summer between Montauk and Bridgehampton. “I wanted to pull my hair out some days. I still don’t know the back roads all that well—I guess I should. But it made me want to get an office job. Seriously.”

Data collected by the State Department of Transportation counter that on Sunrise Highway, just west of the start of County Road 39, there was an overall increase in vehicles entering the South Fork of about 2 percent during June and July 2017 and 2018, compared to the previous year, with a high of nearly 37,000 cars rolling eastward on one July morning. That rate of increase is about on par with what traffic engineers guessed would be the expected growth rate.

Most notable, this summer’s “trade parade” of commuters from points west seems to have headed to work earlier than in the past. In 2017, the busiest single hour of commuter traffic entering County Road 39 was between 6 and 7 a.m. In 2018, the 5-to-6 a.m. hour was the heaviest on weekday mornings.

That shift to avoid the miles-long backups that build on Sunrise Highway as the morning wears on may account for a significant overall drop in the volume of traffic during the traditional rush hours of 6 to 9 a.m.—by more than 7 percent.

The delays this summer may have felt exponentially worse because back roads, in particular, seemed to have suddenly become awash in cars, and even remote intersections of two secondary roads had lines of cars waiting to take their turns.

“I don’t know if there were more people out here, but there are definitely more people taking back roads now because of Waze and Google Maps, so they are more congested, which makes it feel 10 times worse, because it’s harder to get around it,” said Bob Barzilay, owner of Proper Ph Pools in Springs, who travels between East Hampton and Southampton daily and has learned a network of routes well off the beaten path to dodge traffic—until this summer, when the mobile app Waze and other GPS-based systems appear to have sent more motorists to join him.

“I had never seen anybody on some of the roads I take, but this summer there were people in Porsches on dirt roads that are even bumpy for me in a pickup.”

Navigation apps, like Waze, Google Maps and Apple Maps, do appear to be to blame for a certain amount of the additional traffic on traditional back roads, and even on roads that previously few would have calculated to be a time-saver.

But with the apps tracking the movements of their users over nearly every inch of pavement they travel, all that is required for a road to be figured into the time calculation is for another car to travel down it.

Tested by a reporter over several days in August, some of the apps showed a tendency to take a driver down small residential streets to avoid even short stretches of slowed traffic to save a minute or two on total travel time. Others offered routes that followed only main arteries and major secondary roads like Stephen Hands Path in East Hampton and Scuttle Hole Road in Bridgehampton.

On one Friday afternoon, the Waze app took a vehicle heading west from East Hampton Village to Southampton Village at about 6 p.m. along Montauk Highway the entire way—except for a jog from just west of downtown Bridgehampton up to Scuttle Hole Road, via Maple Lane and Mitchells Lane, and back down to the highway in Water Mill, just to get around a long backup east of downtown Water Mill.

The app predicted the trip would take 27 minutes. Following Waze ended up taking 37 minutes, with one brief stop.

At the same time, the Apple Maps app offered two suggestions: taking Montauk Highway the entire way, for 41 minutes, or taking Route 114 to Sag Harbor and then Noyac Road and North Sea Road down to Southampton Village, which it said would take 44 minutes. The Google Maps app suggested taking Route 114 to Sag Harbor then cutting down to Scuttle Hole Road, a 34-minute trip.

“Oh, is that what’s going on?” exclaimed Carol Chazen, who has rented a house on Maple Lane in Bridgehampton for several successive summers, when asked if she’d noticed an increase in traffic on the road this summer. “There’s always been traffic and a lot of cars when the trains come in, but it has seemed like there’s a lot more, I don’t know, all the time now.”

To a certain extent, navigation apps guiding cars down creative routes can ease pressure on traditionally congested roads by simply reducing the numbers of vehicles on them. But, depending on whether, or where, those vehicles re-enter the main flow of traffic, they can worsen backups.

“Cars pulling in from side roads—that is a problem,” said Tom Neely, transportation director for Southampton Town. “A car turning onto a main road creates friction. Someone has to stop to let somebody in, and when they start moving again, not everyone moves uniformly, and you get what’s called the ‘rubber band effect,’ which can last for a long time after that one car pulled in. Multiply that by dozens or hundreds, and you get a traffic jam.”

And, as more cars are led onto back roads, slowdowns and long lines at intersections can build up very quickly, even as an app is still calculating that a trip down them will be quicker than the main highway.

“Main thoroughfares have wider shoulders, few driveways, fewer conflict points, and are wider and straighter, which promotes safety and speed,” Bill Hillman, chief engineer for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works. “When you get on back roads, the curves, driveways, conflict points, all tend to create congestion, and they will back up quickly.”

Officials are hopeful that additional morning and afternoon commuter trains, and bus service in each of the South Fork hamlets and villages, scheduled to start next spring, will help ease congestion somewhat and give those frustrated by daily delays a relief valve, if it is an option for them.

For the thousands of commuters and locals going about their daily lives whom the trains will not help, there is little hope that substantial relief is on the horizon, beyond the changing of seasons. Even that seems to be less and less of a relief than it used to be.

“Tongue in cheek, I used to tell people the solution to our congested traffic was October—which became November,” Mr. Neely said. “Now it’s January.”

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Seems a lot of commuters from Oklahoma, Illinois, and Virginia are clogging up the roadways, with nearly 7% of all passenger vehicles in the eastbound morning commute being registered out-of-state.
By SDG1776 (114), Southampton on Sep 7, 18 9:50 AM
2 members liked this comment
They visit all year as well.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Sep 7, 18 11:35 AM
Thats because the insurance is cheaper in every other state
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Sep 8, 18 5:55 AM
Automobile exhaust smells bad.
By Aeshtron (431), Southampton on Sep 7, 18 10:41 AM
Only if it's running rich or burning oil.

Good, clean OBII exhaust smells a bit sweet or like nothing at all when it's tuned proper.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 7, 18 10:33 PM
LIRR tracks right of way should be ripped out and paved for a dedicated bus service of lots of buses that constantly runs East West from Speonk to Montauk and have added bus stops at strategic points plus flexibility to go into Main Streets w/ passengers as-needed. Buses could run every 15 minutes from every station 12 hours a day, and can pass in opposite directions easily. Trains twice a day won’t cut it at all. And add a bicycle lane alongside it the length of it.
By Non-Political (125), Hampton Bays on Sep 7, 18 1:42 PM
2 members liked this comment
Good idea but look at the map of Water Mill. There isn't enough land there for a road. The tracks really run through a narrow strip of wetlands where Mill pond drains into mecox bay. I doubt there is enough political will to build a modern highway through that stretch
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Sep 7, 18 2:51 PM
Mo' people, mo' problems...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 7, 18 10:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
Let's face it. Traffic volume will never decrease and trips will be longer. Don't waste money on more traffic studies. It will be better spent to make traveling calmer and safer.
By A Great American (103), East Quogue on Sep 8, 18 12:29 AM
Side roads are becoming out of control and ruining the way of life around here for many locals who’s quite roads and neighborhoods have become either a speedway or a traffic jam.
By toes in the water (884), southampton on Sep 8, 18 7:40 AM
The Great Peconic Causeway...The most beautiful ride in America. Build it and they will use it..
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Sep 8, 18 10:47 AM
1 member liked this comment
Don't even expect a response from this crew V.Tom
By joe hampton (3461), The Hamptons on Sep 9, 18 1:45 AM
1 member liked this comment
Another problem with using the LIRR right of way is bridges and over passes , no room for roads
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Sep 9, 18 4:49 AM
Light rail with several trains constantly running between stations from Speonk to Montauk every 15 minutes on schedule 12 hours a day 7 days a week. Turn Jobs Lane and Main St Sag Harbor into pedestrian-inkjet plazas and ban cars like Times Square successfully did recently. That is proven to increase business because it attracts people instead of traffic jams. People can walk and bike into their towns. The light rail is needed along with pedestrian and bicycle friendly infrastructure. Catering ...more
By Non-Political (125), Hampton Bays on Sep 9, 18 7:29 AM
1 member liked this comment
We encourage car pooling for our employees west of the canal and compensate them for doing so. It cuts down on traffic, emissions, depreciation/wear and tear on their personal vehicles, and they save a lot on money on gas, upwards $600/month for each employee.
By SDG1776 (114), Southampton on Sep 9, 18 8:18 AM
If you think it is bad now, just think if that small number (but very loud and aggressive) group of NIMBY's who want to close the airport got their way! Imagine piling on a couple hundred thousand more cars and trucks to the already gridlocked roads each weekend all spring, summer and fall.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Sep 9, 18 1:08 PM
Local, that’s the most disingenuous argument. You know full well the noise from the helicopters is basically the north and south forks complaining. It effects everyone. I can’t believe your still pushing that false narrative.
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Sep 9, 18 1:25 PM
Please explain exactly how it is false and disingenuous? If they won’t be using the roads, then how exactly do you think the couple hundred thousand passengers who use the airport will arrive in the Hamptons - by teleporter?? Maybe all of those helicopters (and hundreds more since only fixed wing planes will be affected) will all now show up in your backyard at the SH heliport. Or will those people just not come at all? If so, what kind of effect do you think the loss of a couple hundred thousand ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Sep 9, 18 3:01 PM
Or were you referring to the size of the group seeking to close the airport? How big is that group - 10 people out of the hundred thousand+ that live out here? Let’s look at the published numbers: In 2016 the number of people who filed complaints and could be verified to live on the East End (north fork, south fork and general area) dropped to only 375. Of the verifiable complaints, 35% came from just FIVE people, and 58% came from just TEN people. Or are you making the ridiculous claim that ...more
By localEH (427), East Hampton on Sep 9, 18 3:16 PM
Local, people from North Sea, sag harbor, north fork. It’s a quality of life thing. Good one with the teleporter. Ok, suppose it is just 15 people complaining. If there’s 10 helicopter flights a day, that’s 150 complaints . It does add up. I was in sag harbor on a job, 7:30 in the morning, beautiful calm day. In a matter of 20 mins , 3 helicopters and 2 seaplanes came over. What they were wasn’t quite. You can stick to your 20 or 15 people complaining, it’s way , way ...more
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Sep 9, 18 4:06 PM
Local, a few posts for the noise argument.
The rise in traffic from private jets and helicopters traveling to the Hamptons is causing residents grief.

The introduction of new ride-sharing helicopter companies, most notably BLADE, has made air travel there more convenient. But that means noise many residents aren't happy about, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The service, which has been called "Uber for helicopters" costs as little as $695 for a one-way seat to the Hamptons ...more
By Fred s (3321), Southampton on Sep 9, 18 6:23 PM
The town has been studying the traffic problem for years and has comprehensive plans to deal with it. What we lack is leaders who care past their own next reelection and take a risk on long term solutions. The buck stops with the local electorate. We get the leaders we deserve.
By CPalmer (122), Southampton on Sep 11, 18 11:54 AM