Riverhead City Council members discussed their thoughts on tentative recommendations made by transit advisers on the comprehensive plan update to ease congestion on Sound Avenue during their working session Thursday.
Board members discussed several recommendations, including reducing the speed limit, adding designated bike lanes, banning parking, and adding a center left turn lane the length of the street. The recommendations were made by Louis K. McLean Associates, the firm commissioned by the city to conduct traffic analysis for the comprehensive plan update, and were broadcast last week at a meeting of the city’s advisory committee on the plan update.
The consultants said a corridor study for Sound Avenue was necessary to decide how to improve traffic flow on the Northeast-West Thoroughfare while maintaining the rural character, the consultants advised the board.
The LKMA, in its November presentation on traffic issues, said it identified Sound Avenue as the street with the fastest growth in traffic in the city — a 50% increase from 2003 to 2019 — in addition to heavy traffic congestion caused by seasonal activity and agricultural activities were caused. Tourism.
Ray DiBiase, the transportation consulting firm’s president and CEO, gave the board a shorter version of the presentation made at last Monday’s meeting of the city’s Central Advisory Committee on Comprehensive Plan Updates.
See previous coverage: Traffic advisors: Add center turn lane in both directions on Sound Avenue to reduce congestion
DiBiase’s presentation to the CAC last week included a recommendation that the city widen Sound Avenue from about 28 feet to about 43 feet, to include a two-way turn lane down the middle and a five-foot bike lane on either side of it to create a roadway. The recommendation was not well received during the CAC meeting, as councilor Tim Hubbard, community development director Dawn Thomas and other committee members opposed the idea. Officials at the working session said residents called City Hall to register their objections to the idea, which also drew widespread opposition on social media.
Construction and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree rejected the idea Thursday, denying that consultants recommended adding a center turn lane along Sound Avenue. Murphree said there had been “misinterpretations” in the press and on the radio.
The middle turning lane would only be at certain “bottlenecks” on the road, Murphree said, restating the consultant’s presentation to suit Hubbard’s suggestions during last week’s CAC meeting.
Murphree distributed a handout to board members Thursday similar to that distributed at the CAC meeting, but more narrowly focused on the Sound Avenue corridor. It included changes to eliminate the controversial recommendations. The revised document added the phrase “at appropriate locations” to the “Two-way left turn lane” bullet point on the slide showing possible solutions for the Sound Avenue corridor. The revised document also added “where appropriate” to the “No Parking” bullet point. The revised document also removed an illustrated aerial photo that was included in it the March 28 presentation document shows the proposed two-way center turn lane along the length of an unidentified section of Sound Avenue. (Under.)
“To recap, Sound Avenue will not be widened the full length with a center lane. Please don’t think this is happening because it isn’t. It never was,” Hubbard said toward the end of the discussion. “We may need to address the areas within Sound Avenue where situations like this are occurring.”
Councilman Bob Kern said the city should not wait until the comprehensive plan is complete in spring 2023 to implement certain traffic control measures on Sound Avenue. He advocated the establishment of cones for temporary left-turn lanes on Sound Avenue and said Riverhead must now work with Southold to limit traffic congestion.
Councilor Ken Rothwell said he has concerns about widening the road on Sound Avenue as it may attract more people to use the road as there are fewer potential traffic safeguards than other roads. He cited the construction of four lanes on County Road 39 in Southampton as an example of what Sound Avenue could become if it were widened.
“How do you decide that when you do these maneuvers and all these financial investments and make these turn lanes and mark them, you just don’t open them up to invite future traffic,” Rothwell said.
“I’m scared that contractors who work in Southampton and have to go through 105 will now use this corridor from Miller Place and anything else that comes through and pick it up in Wading River all the way down and it will justly be a secondary main route ‘ Rothwell said.
DiBiase said transferring traffic from parallel streets with a center split would not be the same as if the city doubled lanes, because the center lane would only be there to allow traffic to flow.
LKMA also recommended last week that parking be banned along Sound Avenue, which also met with opposition and was attributed to “if appropriate” in its presentation to City Council on Thursday.
Hubbard, the city government’s liaison to the CAC, objected to the no-parking along the street because not many cars park along the side of the street, he said, and “aesthetically, not having full-length parking signs is awful,” he said. He said the city should limit it to certain areas on the street where parking is causing problems.
Murphree said the city already has certain areas on Sound Avenue — specifically east and west of Osborn Avenue where parking is prohibited.
Another recommendation, also met with little enthusiasm from board members, was to lower the speed limit on Sound Avenue.
“I’m a little concerned because off-season, 45 [mph]seems to work really well. During the season, the speed limit finds its own limit, which is usually around five miles per hour,” Kern said. “Trying to scale back this off-season makes little sense.”
Rothwell said that if the city reduces speeds on the road, drivers may be more inclined to overtake other slower-moving cars, potentially leading to more head-on collisions.
The board was divided on whether they favored building bike lanes on Sound Avenue.
Councilor Frank Beyrodt said he liked the idea of dedicated bike lanes on Sound Avenue. “As it stands right now, bikes are a bloody nightmare on Sound Avenue. We have some signs that say please single file but I think with the widening and the dedicated 5ft bike section or bike lane I think that would really help to compete with cars and bikes,” he said.
Rothwell, on the other hand, said he was not a proponent of bike lanes on Sound Avenue. “Because of the rural nature, there are still tractors crossing the road going in and out and there’s a lot of gravel and dirt coming onto this road all the time, which I think is very dangerous for a bike,” he said.
DiBiase’s presentation also discussed draft recommendations for other streets in the city, but board discussions on issues other than Sound Avenue were very brief.
The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family business. You rely on us to keep you informed and we rely on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to provide this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.