This past weekend, Save Sag Harbor hosted the Sag Harbor Active Transport Workshop at St. Andrew’s parish hall, and an impressive number of residents turned out to offer their take on how traffic does (or doesn’t) work in this village.
It’s an interesting exercise, given we have a population that swells massively in the summer with cars, bikes and pedestrians all looking to share the same piece of asphalt.
Jonas Hagen, a native of Sag Harbor now pursuing his PhD in Urban Planning, led the workshop, which was largely focused on exploring creative ways in which roadways can be improved to accommodate vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists effectively.
He offered ideas that have been implemented in countries around the world and examples where citizens (in this country) took it upon themselves to reclaim streets given over to cars and trucks. All these efforts were directed at taking the focus off vehicles and putting it back on people, which is exactly where it belongs.
Honestly, many of the techniques we heard about at the workshop — bulb outs, roundabouts, share roads — were devices we have encountered in this village before. In fact, Sag Harbor has been at the fore of pedestrian friendly streets since the village was laid out in a pre-vehicle era. It’s winding lanes reflect that characteristic, ending, as they do, with all roads leading to Long Wharf where in the old days a sailing ship, not Route 27, was the quickest way out of town.
A lot has changed, of course, since the average velocity of traffic in the village was walking speed. These days, cars, trucks, buses, bikes and pedestrians all vie (and at times fight) to occupy the same space. And that means a nightmare — traffic backed up over the bridge, gridlocked on Main Street, or lined up as cars attempt to maneuver the nightmare that is the intersection of Jermain Avenue and Madison Street or the Bay and Main exchange.
But it could be worse.
Ten years ago or so, many Sag Harbor citizens, with help from State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, convinced the state DOT to put in some important devices to slow, not speed up, traffic when the state re-engineered Route 114 running from North Haven through the village.
The notion of slowing, rather than speeding up, traffic ran entirely counter to what the DOT had done throughout its existence; and to their credit, for the first time in history, they gave it a shot.
What we got was a new bridge with a fairly steep arc that limits sight distance and slows drivers, a fine example (in North Haven) of what a roundabout can do when given half a chance, some marked bike lanes and several bulb outs that narrow intersections to help pedestrians cross.
What we didn’t get was a roundabout at the foot of Main Street, which the newly converted DOT wanted, but, ironically, Sag Harbor’s powers that be did not.
And now here we are, honing in on the key areas that need to be looked at again — Long Wharf, Main Street, the awkward entrance at Mashashimuet Park, and yes, perhaps even a roundabout at the foot of Main Street. We hope that momentum and will is now on our side to make some big changes in how we use our public spaces.
Which is why we encourage the whole village to become involved in this effort. Community involvement is key and it’s not impossible. This is the time to imagine the possibilities without the partisan politics and the naysayers. It costs nothing to dream. A park at the end of Long Wharf? Yes! An occasionally pedestrian-only Main Street? Why not?
Just take a look at how many Manhattan streets have been rethought and reclaimed by people. Dedicated bike lanes are working well on the west side and Times Square has been totally reengineered with café tables and chairs, bleachers and planters in space carved out from the middle of Broadway.
Traffic calming….if it can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere.
It’s up to you.