By Raymond Palma

Transportation Study Run Amok

No civilization has ever survived without an effective system of movement incorporating land, sea and/or air.”

That ominous statement was the introduction to the Southampton Intermodal Transportation Study (SITS) report issued by Dr. Clifford R. Bragdon.  Costing over $200,000 and running over one year late, the Study received mixed opinions while offering many thought-provoking ideas.

The Land Transportation Committee of the Southampton Transportation Advisory Task Force, consisting of several people including Buzz Chew who owns several car dealerships, was established specifically to look into traffic congestion and find ways to ameliorate it.

Mr. Bragdon is an experienced mover.  He helmed the transportation for the Atlanta Olympics and more recently served as Vice President of the National Aviation and Transportation (NAT) Center on Long Island.

Because “Southampton is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the world”, minus of course the worlds’ lack of celebrity ridden charity events, “it is necessary to analyze the present type of commuting taking place in this Town,” the intermittent bold-faced report goes on to say.

According to the report, this was the first time in the 363-year history of Southampton that such a planning effort report had been conducted.  And if we buy into the Study’s introduction statement, the very existence of Southampton could be in jeopardy.   “A total modal or integrated approach to transportation for the United States, New York, Long Island, and Southampton has not been achieved.” Could the lack of an intelligent transportation system helped to facilitate the demise of the fabled Atlantis?

Thank God Mr. Bragdon came to the town’s defense against its imminent fall because after all he was “selected after a very competitive selection process,” as his own Study indicates.  “Representatives (of Southampton) were overwhelmed by the realism and accuracy of this,” referring to his visualization technique about upgrades to the Gabreski Airport. The software that helps Mr. Bragdon demonstrate his ideas about the airport were graciously obtained from him and given to the town at “no cost to the town” because of his “academic position as a Distinguished Professor at Florida Atlantic University in Florida.”  The software is said to be worth $50,000.  Recently a San Francisco judge ruled that several file sharing software companies on the Internet were legal.  Could it be that the village could have gotten the software regardless?

Yet, Mr. Bragdon was humble in this huge endeavor entrusted onto him, referring to himself several times in the third person, “the consultant”, a la Bob Dole.”

The study, managed by Mr. Bragdon, was made up of a 45-member task force which included members of the Water Mill Citizen Advisory Committee, the Bridgehampton Citizen Advisory Committee, the Business Alliance in Southampton, the DOT of Suffolk County and the Sustainable East End Development Strategies (SEEDS) among others according to Southampton councilman Steve Kenny.

While SITS would go on to address the local problems of Southampton, SEEDS, an independent funded study, would go on to address the more regional needs and concerns of the entire east end.

The Study would evaluate land, air and sea, transit and rail systems.  Recommendations for short, 0 to 5 years, middle, 6 to 10 years, and long-term solutions from 11 to 20 years down the road.

The 165-page report starts off by explaining how other areas of the country cope with people’s obsession with cars.  In Las Vegas, over 100,000 marriages are officiated over while passengers maneuver their vehicles through these drive-in chapels.  In Montgomery, Alabama, you can sit in your car and go experience a drive-thru funeral.  A video screen lets you see which view of the deceased you’d like see and then with the microphone you can tell the people inside how much you liked spending quality time with their loved ones.  There’s even a drive-thru divorce service.

Councilman Steve Kenny felt the report had, “a really good mashing of ideas and what that does is that you tend to take really staunch, dug-in positions.  From that you’re able to form a mutual consensus that this is a mutual problem (the traffic) and that we need to give up some of our parochial interests in order to solve a regional problem.”

Mr. Kenny felt Mr. Bragdon was a good manager at the meetings and that he pushed the process forward and got us on task.  “Our biggest disappointed was (that) he was more of a macro engineering planner; he wasn’t a micro engineer planner.”  He expressed that Mr. Bragdon didn’t get down to practical solutions.

Councilman Kenny felt the Study was going to be a reference guide for the long term.  But that he felt the Study wasn’t going to help any short-term transportation problems.  He says there was a focus on County Road 39 being a bottle-neck and they (the village) were resolved to trying to resolve that in the short term.

“There’s really a strong component of people traveling here from out of the area known as “the trade parade.”  Because there is no affordable housing many professional trade people travel to the Hamptons each day, creating more traffic.  One of the complex interrelationships here is because we don’t have affordable housing, our workers have to be imported,” the councilman went on to say.

It looks as if the most pressing and the most short-term solution will be addressed first; that of County Road 39.  For starters, everybody recognizes that the merge from New York State Route 27 (Sunrise Highway), when it merges from two lanes to one onto CR 39 is the first “choke point” in traffic heading into the Hamptons. Accident rates, according to the Study, of people rear ending each other is twice as high heading east then people heading west at the same merge.  The westbound lanes have two lanes while eastbound have just one.  Do two westbound lanes give people the impression that the town is anxious to get rid of drivers, while the eastbound lanes discourage people from entering the town by having just one lane?  “Pedestrians are in retreat” and “evidence of modified driver behavior (anger, rage, decreased driver etiquette),” are some of people’s reactions to this intersection according to the Study.

The Study labels this gateway into the Hamptons as having “no redeeming qualities and by its presence has lost a very important opportunity to be welcoming, festive, ceremonial, attractive and most importantly to effectively address the transportation needs of this geographical area.”  This concept is not new.

The Chinese have been practicing a form of esthetics called Feng Shui.  The basic idea is that if you live in harmony with your surroundings, you’ll bring good energy (Chi, life-force energy) into the surroundings which will help one benefit in all aspects of their lives.  Experts of Feng Shui consider your home’s front entrance the most important point in your house’s environment.  This energy can either deplete or nourish your house with either good energy or bad energy.  A good energy entrance is associated with prosperity and vitality while a bad energy entrance is thought to have ill effects on one’s life.

In fact, Feng Shui parishioners and consultants claim that the reason that legendary marital arts family members Bruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee died suddenly at such young ages is that their family home had bad energy.

At the west end of CR 39 where it mysteriously meets up with Route 27 again, the second choke hold begins. Since every time these two roads meet there seems to be choking going on, maybe a referee can be brought in to keep these two difficult roads apart.  The traffic light at the intersection of CR 39, Route 27 and Flying Point Road is where 40 percent of the traffic heading east continues according to the Study.  Apparently, this stretch of road heading east is the biggest pain in the KIA-ster.

The Study recommends what it calls “a total makeover” for these two intersections.  “….Neoteric”.  This word has been purposely selected because it means new, a youthful approach to this stigmatized gateway.”  This “makeover” would not have to cost Southampton a dime.  Every talk show has segments on makeovers, from Oprah to Dr. Phil.  What if the town pitches the idea to the Speed Channel?  “Road Makeovers” would be the series title.  Southampton could be the first municipality to be featured on the show and of course, the show would pick up the tab.  Wouldn’t Supervisor Patrick Heaney love to be surprised by that design?  Surprise!

Or if the town wanted to spend money, they could implement some of the ideas from the Study.  First, CR 39 where it kisses Route 27 coming east, needs to be widened to create two eastbound lanes extending all the way to the other end of CR 39 where it meets Flying Point Road.  This will “balance” out the road.  Sounds like good Chi to me.  The second step is to create traffic roundabouts, or a traffic circle like in Riverhead and in Sag Harbor. These circles reduce conflict points from 32 potential problems to just a mere 8.  However, this would not be an ordinary traffic circle.  This would be a traffic circle that not many traffic circles have dared to go before; it would consist of “a traffic calmed merge.”  People with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), would enjoy a day of driving round and round.  Fun, fun!

These traffic roundabouts incorporate measures that provide for the driver and his environment to meld in complete harmony with each other.

The first step in this process is to pick a theme.  That’s right.  Pick a theme, any theme.  For instance, environmental themes that incorporate nature featuring plants and shrubs, or a monumental theme which can include recreational or aquatic features. These themes are created in the middle of the grass or concrete traffic circles.  The town could have people write in their theme ideas for $20 bucks a pop and the winning theme gets to be erected.  Then, add some “intersection realignments, curb extensions, raised medians, narrowed lanes, sidewalks, textured crosswalks, rumble strips, bike lanes, pedestrian lighting and streetscaping.”  And Whola! Instant traffic calming takes effect and lulls the road rage drivers into waving other cars on instead of giving them the finger.

And just in case people don’t realize that this part of the road is supposed to calm them down, simply put the idea in their heads by putting up a sign that reads: Traffic Calmed Area.

Scientists as well as most well-read people now know the benefits of exercise.  This Study even incorporates that idea by suggesting people power their own vehicles.  Of course, as of now we cannot power our own automobiles like the Flintstones because of the sheer weight of most vehicles.  But the report does include a new, three-wheeled bike which allows individuals to ride at their own pace and convenience.

Giving employees options as to when, where and how to work can work for both employee and employer. Flex time will allow workers to arrive anytime they like. This can give employees time to really work on their hair, helping to prevent bad hair days, in turn, and boosting worker confidence.  You could compress the work schedule to four long days so that people can take the fifth day off and say good-bye to Monday mornings forever.  Or, have them work from home.  Never buy a tie again.  You could even take conference calls while taking a bath.  However, I’m sure in time they’d be an urban legend story of how the big deal was broke-off because somebody thought the other guy was using the bathroom facilities while trying to sound genuine.

For people who wish to have their car, but not necessarily themselves chauffeured to the Hamptons, there is hope. Just like AMTRAK operates an Auto-Train from Virginia to Florida, people could possibly use this micro auto-train service to ship cars to and from the east end. The LIRR tracks would be utilized for this purpose.  People would say, drop off their cars somewhere at a Queens and then pick it up at a staging area like the Westhampton or East Hampton airports.  This could be done as a nice gesture to your car, “You’ve been so good and reliable to me, how would you like to rest your weary tires and take a nice ride out to the Hamptons, on me!”

“People are living in “La La Land”, if they think the vast majority of people living east of the canal are going to take public transportation,” said Councilman Dennis Suskind.  “We should improve transportation not just west and east but north and south. There used to be a train link that went from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton.  It’s (still) on a lot of maps.  A part of the land we own but some of it we (Southampton Township) sold.”

Mr. Suskind felt that mass transportation was a good idea but that only people in town would use it and that it would not make a big difference on people traveling to the Hamptons-where most of the traffic comes from. He feels that traffic, “will not go away.  It will be more of a supply and demand situation and that will determine who’s going to come here and who’s not going to come here.”

He likened the Hamptons to Cape Code in that they also have one major road that is used primarily.

“We tested a jug-handle (for making left hand turns) on McGee Street in Southampton and it didn’t really work,” referring to one transportation test the town had done.

Councilman Suskind likes the idea of a joint-use-corridor. “One thing the report talked about which was commonly referred to as “the ditch”.  This idea uses the LIRR train tracks between the intersections of CR 39 and Route 27 at the Flying Point Road that run east to the East Hampton Airport.  They would move the railroad tracks to the left and then dig down, and create a two-lane road 10 to 20 feet below.  This road would sit right beside the railroad tracks and run in both directions.  The thought is that it would possibly be a toll road for people who would rather pay a nominal fee then to use the traditional, congested Route 27.  Besides, if you time it right you can race the train.

In Chicago, according to the report, Eco-roof systems are being used.  Natural landscape roofs complete with grass and other vegetation, not only reduce heat load, but provide employees quick access to eat their lunch on a bench in a virtual park setting.   Just don’t throw your co-worker a long pass.

Another great idea is to have what is called a mixed-use development.  The Study says that people actually feel isolated and segregated if they visit a particular environment for one use only.  It recommends that land be used for multiple reasons.  So, you can go to one place to shop-eat-pay bills for instance.  This is actually a natural for the Hamptons.  With all the people walking around with hyphenated-names, a hyphenated-environment fits right in.

Another good idea in the Study benefits those of us with short term memory.  The idea is called Car Sharing.  It will allow people to reserve a car for a few hours.  For about 12 bucks an hour you can use the car to get to your destination and then you drop it as if it were disposable.  You can get off the LIRR, get in your car share by using an electric key, drive yourself to your office complex, and leave the car there.  Somebody else will pick up the car and drive it to where they want to go, and leave the car there for somebody else.  You may be jarred however when you punch the radio’s pre-set buttons and find the music selection less than tasteful.   But they’d be positive things too.  Imagine, never having to worry about trying to remember where you left the car.  That’s for the next driver to figure out.