Pictured Above: Sound Avenue at Harbes Family Farm on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in July — a far cry from the congestion found there on fall weekends.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell floated a potentially game-changing proposal to ease the North Fork’s fall traffic nightmare at the town board’s July 16 work session: bike lanes that could be used seasonally as a bypass to increase vehicle traffic flow.
The lanes would be closed to bicycle traffic during that time.
Congestion from pumpkin picking traffic on Sound Avenue just west of Southold Town has reached such drastic proportions that farms east of the bottleneck have experienced new difficulties in recent years: day trippers en route to the North Fork never get past the Mattituck bottleneck, leaving the farms with few customers at a time of year that used to be a major boost to business.
“This has been going on too long. The traffic far exceeds the infrastructure to handle it, and the venues that are creating the backups, most of them aren’t even in Southold Town,” Mr. Russell told the town board. “The businesses east of the choking points are starving in the fall…. What should be the most robust part of the season for Southold businesses is becoming the least lucrative. They’re [customers are] not getting here.”
Mr. Russell said that there is no public support for turning Sound Avenue, a scenic country road that many residents have worked to designate a historic corridor, into a four-lane highway.
But one thing there is a great deal of public support for, at the county, state and federal level, is bike lanes, which could provide a widened road that could be used by the police to set up better seasonal traffic flow at the bottleneck points, like at Harbes Farm in Mattituck.
Though Southold Councilman Bill Ruland said at the work session that his definition of Sound Avenue was “bicyclist suicide,” the scenic corridor had once been a favorite of local bicyclists before speeding, nonstop traffic, with little to no shoulder, made the roadway so dangerous.
“Bike lanes provide a year-round benefit, and off-peak it’s creating something that everybody says is a priority,” said Mr. Russell. “It’s time for everybody to sit down and pony up, including Southold Town, spending money on a road that’s going to have a dual purpose…. It’s not going to be a cure-all, but at least you’re going to get through there.”
Part of the problem, said Mr. Russell, is the patchwork of ownership along the bottleneck section of Sound Avenue. Southold Town owns about a mile-and-a-half west of Cox Neck Road in Mattituck, he said, after which Riverhead Town owns a section of the road before it moves into a section owned by New York State.
He recommended that Southold work to get all the interested parties into a room to hash out the details.
In the meantime, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said he’s working with his counterpart in Riverhead, Chief David Hegermiller, on temporary solutions such as routing westbound traffic down Aldrich Lane in order to make Sound Avenue two lanes heading eastward during the height of the midday fall pumpkin rush.
“The next step is to get all the representatives in a room,” said Mr. Russell road. “The town, state and county own a lot more of that right of way than is currently asphalt. We’re pushing for road widening of eight to 10 feet on each side. We don’t have to get into eminent domain claims. We can get pretty far out without getting into those issues.”
“Enough is enough,” he added. “I don’t want to hear any more about ‘we’re going to study it for another five years. We’ve gotta get it done.”