Design, not signs

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Phil Keith’s counter “Viewpoint” to mine regarding the “new” County Road 39 [“The New and Improved County Road 39 Will Be as Safe as We Make It,” May 1] is just that, his opinions, and I accept them for what they are. I hope I’m wrong about the “new” County Road 39 being more dangerous. Maybe it won’t be if this discussion causes people to drive more carefully.

I have no quarrel with the Southampton Town Transportation Commission. Several friends and associates of mine are or have been members. And I’m happy to learn from Mr. Keith that the commission has requested a safety study for the new road.

Mr. Keith also tells us his commission already calls the new CR 39 the “Interim Plan,” implying another “Long-Term Plan” is “coming into focus.” That tidbit is news to me—I didn’t read about that during the recent ribbon-cutting ceremony—and I hope he is right that Suffolk County agrees, because I believe they will need it sooner rather than later. I think we both are agreeing the “new” CR 39 is not a long-term solution.

The most significant issue I take with Mr. Keith’s counter-opinion is his thinking regarding driving behavior, though. I said people generally don’t pay attention to speed limit signs and drive by the look and feel of the road. He says, “Most citizens are law-abiding and will obey local speed limits.” That comment is a textbook case of wishful thinking.

Until the advent of the “new” CR 39, I thought the best example of most people ignoring speed limit signs was on the Long Island Expressway, where the average speed is at least 65 to 70 mph even though the speed limit signs say 55 mph. But the “new” CR 39, with its 35-mph posted speed limit might take the prize. I would say the average driving speed right now is at least 45 to 50 mph—and they haven’t even finished the paving.

I just returned from a trip to Hampton Bays this afternoon and used CR 39. I tried my best to drive at 35 mph but was unable to go below 40 mph, because I was being passed by every single other car on the road.

When I worked with the New York State Department of Transportation on the traffic calming project for State Route 114 in Sag Harbor and North Haven several years ago, they determined the average driving speed was about 10 mph above the posted speed limit, which had been lowered by 5 mph and resulted in absolutely no change in average driving speeds. That’s why we designed and implemented numerous traffic calming measures that at least slowed driving speeds at key points along the road.

I’ll say it again: Road design, not speed limit signs, has the biggest impact on driving behavior. If the road appears wide and straight with no obstructions, people will drive faster. A fourth lane could have been added to this road and it could have been designed to slow driving speeds, but that is not what happened.

Mr. Keith, I suggest you get on CR 39 heading west in the late afternoon any weekday and drive at the 35-mph speed limit. You can then decide for yourself how many “law-abiding citizens” are driving at your speed and how many are passing you. Better yet, let’s make a substantial wager on how fast people are driving on the “new” CR 39 and do it together.

HANK DE CILLIABridgehampton

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