Island Gazette

Need To Rethink Traffic Pattern

Dear Editor,
I have been a resident of Carolina Beach for 3 years. I have loved every minute of it, except for the changes that were made to the traffic pattern in the spring of 2010.
I actually did a paper on it, of which I will attach a copy.  I probably should have sent it sooner, but if a layperson can come up with ideas, why can't our councilmen?
The issue that I have undertaken to discuss, and to further study on is in the town that I currently live in, Carolina Beach NC.  This is a small sleepy town with a year round population of approximately 5600.  During any given week during the summer, the population swells to over 25,000 people.  Carolina Beach is one of two towns that lie on Pleasure Island, due south of Wilmington NC.  The only access to the island is one road that comes up and over a bridge. The road leads through Carolina Beach, then Kure Beach, and ends at Fort Fisher.  State Highway 421 is the road that I am talking about, and is called Lake Park Blvd. for the section that runs through Carolina Beach. 
The subject under study is the “road diet” form of planning using valuable road space.
“Nationwide, engineers are putting roads on diets, helping them lose lanes and width. In the process formerly fat streets often become leaner, safer, and more efficient. They become multi-modal and more productive. In many cases these former warrior roadways are tamed and turned into angels.” (Burdin & Lagerway, 1999)  The state DOT repaved the road leading into and through Carolina Beach in early April of this year.  It was a 2 lanes in, 2 lanes out road prior to repaving.  The state DOT asked Carolina Beach council if they wanted the road painted as a “road diet”, which reduces the lanes to 1 in, 1 out, with added access for a bike lane and a center turn lane in the downtown area only. The town council voted it in, and quickly, without anyone knowing.  By having the “road diet” the purpose was to slow the traffic down to take notice of the surroundings, especially the downtown area.  Another of the road diet’s benefits is to invite more pedestrian and bike traffic.  No one thought of the drawbacks though.
The first weekend that had the opportunity to use the road diet was Easter Weekend.
The local paper from a neighboring town made it a joke, and on the front page of the Wilmington newspaper they had pictures of our “parking lot” along with interviews by the drivers.  No one knew where to go, or how to get there, as lanes that said “Left Turn Only” were put way out in advance to the actual corner by several blocks. US highway 421 was a virtual parking lot, with no way on or off the island. Carolina Beach hadn’t even wound up to full summer traffic yet.
In addition to the changing lanes, the stoplights weren’t synchronized to match the new changes to the road.
During the summer when the population swells as stated above, traffic prior to the road diet was poor at best.  Once the road diet was implemented, it turned into a complete nightmare. Traffic was backed up over the bridge trying to access the island, and it was almost as bad trying to leave.  From sunup until well into the early morning hours you were unable to run errands, go to the grocery store or drug store; you made sure that you had everything you needed prior to the onset of the tourists coming for vacation or a weekend trip. 
Residents complained and for several weeks the newspaper covered several different articles about it. Supposedly to reverse it back to what it once was would cost the town of Carolina Beach $500,000.
Downtown businesses have closed, as customers were unable to park in the downtown area due to traffic.
I want to know why the city council approved the road diet without approval from the citizens.  It works fine during the off-season, when the population is back to the year round residents, but it doesn’t work during season.  Medical, fire and police cannot get access to where they need to be. The residents were never informed as to what was occurring, and the revenue lost because of the problems with traffic can never be reversed.  Why would repainting the road cost $500,000?  Paint surely cannot be that expensive.  We (the residents) have been told that we would have to have another environmental study done.  Why if it only means repainting lines? 
Someone is making money out there, but it isn’t us. There are several different ways to handle this situation. Dow Rd., which is a road that skirts the town limits of Carolina Beach ends in Kure Beach.  Many different roads off of Dow will bring you into different areas of Carolina Beach and also Kure Beach. There is a sign, but enough attention isn’t paid to it for those who do not know where the road goes (all those tourists).  I would think that if there was more information and direction available for those that were staying at the south end of Carolina Beach, along with Kure Beach, Fort Fisher, The NC Aquarium and the access road for the ferry, to be directed before entering the Island itself to remain in the right hand lane.  There needs to be more signs so drivers know how to proceed.
By using Dow Road to separate the traffic flows, the road diet might be a success some day.  Those that are staying in the north end of the beach or are heading to the downtown area would continue to come into Carolina Beach as they have always done.
Another way to create less confusion, especially in the downtown area, would be to switch the parking and bicycle lanes so the bicycle lanes abut the sidewalk areas, and then the parking slots for cars would abut the road.
I do not approve of the way the town council and the State DOT did things. Allegedly the State DOT has to regrind and repaint the roads for that $500,000 price tag I spoke of earlier. I don’t see why the city can’t paint the lines over and change the road back to the way it was.  All of the suggestions are better than not doing anything. I love this town, after stumbling upon it as a weekend getaway place, to living here full time after becoming disabled.  I do not want the things that attracted us to this wonderful place to be stripped away by the problems that have resulted from this “diet”.   The only thing that is getting skinny around here is the merchants’ pockets.
A meeting was held to discuss what needs to be done to alleviate the Council created traffic congestion mess on Lake Park Blvd. This is a little late as we have gone through the nightmare of this Councils stupidity in implementing the road diet and stripping the road with permanent lines instead of going through a summer long study with temporary lines as advised by state engineers which would have made going back to 4 lanes in both directions a simple task compared to spending an estimated $500,000.00 to undo the mess that has been created by an unthinking Council.  We still have - after all the mess this road diet has created - a majority (at least 3) Council members that believe this was a smart move on their part and are reluctant to change this nightmare of a road diet.   As has been said ‘STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES’      AND THIS WAS BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT -- TO ME AND A MASS OF OTHERS --   STUPID THINKING ON THE PART OF MEMBERS OF THIS COUNCIL.” (Lewis, 2010)
I wonder if the owner of the flower shop (that was in the middle of the downtown area) will come back to Carolina Beach for the meeting.  Maybe then, she can tell everyone how she was basically railroaded into leaving Carolina Beach by making it impossible for any of her customers to park. Or how about the 2 bicyclists and the 2 moped/scooter drivers that were hit by vehicles, courtesy of the road diet and arrangement of the bike lanes?  This affects us all, some more than others.  I’m glad I’m not a businessman in Carolina Beach. 
My husband and I frequented one bar/restaurant every Monday night for their oyster specials.
For several weeks this summer we were unable to find a parking place near the establishment, which forces us to park several blocks away.  We might complain about the road, but we continue to use it daily for several purposes.  The tourists, that spend the money to keep this town a float, won’t deal with it.  They’ll just go to another town or beach, and they’ll spend their money there.  What is it going to take to see that this diet isn’t working? 
I don’t think there is a scale large enough to weigh this issue.
Betsy Krumbholz,
Carolina Beach, NC

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