by George Cork Maul
Everybody heading East on Sunrise Highway from up West is used to going 65 miles per hour until they reach the Lobster Inn in Shinnecock Hills, where the signs change to 35 miles per hour and the long crawl through a variety of Hamptons all the way to Montauk prevails. It’s been that way for many years and it seems to have tabled off at impossible.
I remember back in ‘70s, leaving Rockville Center in Nassau County on an early release from Friday work and spending four hours getting to Montauk. In recent years, it seems that the only increase in traffic on the South Fork has been in the number of helicopters that have become a steady stream from Manhattan to the East Hampton airport.
Up on the North Fork, the natives seem naively stunned at the changes that are taking place around them, as the inbound summer visitors have wised up and are stalking Greenport, Orient and New Suffolk as the accessible alternative to sitting bumper to bumper in Amagansett on a Saturday night at 11 p.m. waiting to get past the mob outside of The Stephen Talkhouse.
Down in Flanders, the traffic has steadily increased in the last few years, as the trade parade servicing the South Fork has become a ritual, clogging Riverhead at 6 a.m., causing workers who live in Riverhead but work in Southampton to leave for work before 6 a.m. and sit in their empty offices drinking coffee rather than sit in traffic for two hours for a 20-mile ride. The scene has been made much worse by the two new traffic lights that have become operational on Route 24 this year. The afternoon rush isn’t any better. When people who live in Hampton Bays have to plan their Riverhead shopping trip around the flow of service personnel returning from the greater Hamptons to their less expensive apartments in Riverhead, Calverton, and even Mastic, something very strange is going on.
At a recent Southold Town meeting I heard Scott Russell, the Southold Town Supervisor, refer to how thorny and complicated (like pushing on a balloon) the town’s summer congestion problems are. Whenever you try to solve one problem, you cause another. And Southold planners don’t seem to understand it’s their job to think about the long-term changes that are just now becoming clear. Obviously, if more cars are driving out here, we need more places for them to park.
The North Fork would benefit from taking a ride down to the South Fork and seeing how they have been dealing with congestion for the past 50 years.
But there are some rays of hope.
The Town of Southold recently stopped selling non-resident beach passes at New Suffolk Beach. And Town Councilperson Jill Doherty is conducting a study of the town’s boat ramps to determine how much money the town would like to charge for a season boat ramp permit. Over the last few years, people from up west with boat trailers have been laughing as they put their boats in the water for free on the North Fork, while ramps in the Town of Brookhaven have been charging big fees for years. Now all of that is changing.
The signs are unmistakable. There seem to be a large number of slow-driving native North Forkers who are still in confused denial at how to make a left hand turn onto Route 25, when it means waiting for so long that they just give up and make a right turn instead.
The Orient Service Center just reported that their appointment book for automobile service is the busiest it has ever been, as the influx of summer residents bulges beyond all previous seasons. Greenport is a gaggle of hipsters and it seems a very strange sight to see a line on the street outside of Lucharitos restaurant with a podium and a book and a girl saying “50 minutes wait” that is reminiscent of the Upper West Side.
The July 16 Sunday New York Times boasted another article about how younger people are finding 500K homes on the North Fork “affordable.” What on earth is happening to the East End and will it ever subside?
We need to see the writing on the wall and begin to understand and plan for what is coming, and its coming a lot quicker than we all realize.
As long as the stock market continues to rise and the flow of Monopoly money keeps flowing, as long as people work too hard and continue to need a respite from their lives of quiet desperation, the East End will continue to crowd up more and more and more.
When I first moved to Patchogue on a treed acre 40 years ago, there was an owl in the front yard. Today Patchogue is a bevy of international food choices and Riverhead is trying desperately to imitate it with of a series of Thursday “Alive At Five” events downtown.
I’m reminded of an old real estate saying I heard many years ago. God doesn’t make more land, but he certainly makes more people. Somehow, now, it doesn’t seem like God has anything to do with it.