Driving a Gauntlet On Main Street

The danger posed by the close proximity of moving traffic to parked cars in the business district is serious

   During a meeting of the East Hampton Village Board last week, two members of the public spoke of the dangers that the continuing increase in automobile and truck traffic poses to pedestrians and bicyclists. Among other things, they suggested that bike lanes were needed. Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. told them to take their ideas to Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen. This is something that should be explored, but it will take more than a knowledgeable law enforcement officer to figure out how to solve Main Street’s problems.
    The State of New York owns the road, and it is therefore incumbent on the village to get the state involved. The danger posed by the close proximity of moving traffic to parked cars in the business district is serious. In recent years there have been a number of incidents in which motorists struck open car doors when drivers failed to check if the road was clear. It is harrowing for all involved. The sudden appearance of a person getting out of a car can bring traffic to a dangerous stop. Fortunately, no one has been killed — yet.
     Traffic laws are designed to protect drivers from themselves. So are safety rules, such as staying one car length behind the car in front of you for every 10 miles per hour of speed. State law makes it the parked-car driver’s responsibility to look before opening the door, which sounds like common sense, except that drivers are not conditioned to such narrow lanes. The Main Streets of Sag Harbor and Southampton, and essentially all the other main drags from Water Mill to Montauk, are single-lane roads that, perhaps paradoxically, allow for more space between parked and moving cars. Only the Village of East Hampton has two lanes each way, which sets the stage for too many close shaves.
    Given how wide East Hampton’s Main Street is, traffic engineers ought to be able to come up with a better scheme than wide center turning lanes, which may, in fact, exacerbate the problem. Would eliminating them provide space for bike lanes? Would narrowing sidewalk aprons be feasible? It’s undoubtedly too late for many changes to take place this season. Let’s hope for improvements by summer 2014 and, in the meantime, keep our fingers crossed that no one is hurt.