Monday, November 21, 2011

Currituck Commmissioners working on beach driving solution

Below are a couple recent articles on efforts to address beach traffic issues...

OBX residents: ‘Safe zone’ for beach road unsafe

By Cindy Beamon

The Daily Advance

Saturday, November 19, 2011

CAROVA BEACH — Residents on the Currituck Outer Banks say creating a “safe zone” to veer off-road traffic away from the shoreline will be anything but safe.

The idea of a safe zone sounds good, admits Lynne Wilson, one of 30 off-road residents who met to discuss the proposal last week at the Carova Fire and Rescue station. But residents who drive the beach daily know it will not work, she said. A vote by show of hands indicated the entire group agreed.

“Forcing vehicles to drive along the dune line is a nightmare solution,” said off-road residents Cheryl and Robert Ford. “Not only does it guarantee absolute gridlock for everyone ... but it is also damaging to the fragile environment.”

Residents say creating the safe zone will steer traffic to soft, deep sand near the dunes. They predict inexperienced drivers will get stuck and cause a chain reaction as vehicles following behind lose traction when forced to stop. They say not only will traffic back up, but response times for emergency vehicles will suffer.

Donnie Tadlock of Carova Fire and Rescue said most accidents already happen near the dune line. In one case, a person got stuck in the soft sand and was injured as another vehicle circled around.

The safe zone is one of several changes being considered by Currituck commissioners to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on crowded off-road beaches during the height of tourist season. The safe zone would steer traffic away from one or two miles of shoreline so beach-goers do not have to cross traffic to swim.

Under present conditions, traffic on the 11-mile stretch of beach travels hard-packed sand near the foreshore and softer sand along the dune line while vehicles park in between. Sunbathers going for a swim have to cross traffic to reach the water.

Residents said the change in traffic pattern will not solve the problem.

“The problem is the volume of cars,” said Marie Long, who lives at Milepost 14.5, a location suggested for the proposed safe zone.

She’s counted 200 tightly packed vehicles lining less than a mile of beach in July. That many cars makes it difficult for residents, and even those who rent beach homes, to access the beach, which should be their right, she said.

Long said watching vehicles from her oceanfront home would convince anyone that redirecting traffic near the dune line would be a disaster.

“All you have to do is see it,” she said.

Long said the gridlock could cause motorists to damage dunes as they try to veer around traffic.

The residents said rather than creating a safe zone, the county should focus on two other solutions. One would be stricter enforcement of existing rules.

The county ordinance states that lawn chairs, coolers, fishing lines and people cannot block traffic driving on the foreshore.

Rufus Baldwin said beach-goers set up “tent cities” and other obstacles that block traffic, but the law is not always enforced. Instead, beach-goers wave him to go around or yell when he drives along the shoreline on his way home.

Rusty Thrasher said he was threatened after his radio antenna snagged a fishing line straddling the beach road.

“Word has gotten out they don’t have to follow the rules,” Long said of beach-goers.

The other solution suggested by residents — a permit system — has drawn the most criticism from some commissioners and businessmen, who say it will hurt tourism.

The debate over permits is nothing new. Thrasher pulled out a newspaper clipping from 13 years ago when residents petitioned the county to consider a permit system. Off-road residents do not appear to have changed their minds over the past decade. All the residents at last week’s meeting said they favored permits.

A big part of the conflict is the road is used both as a highway and a beach. Residents drive the road to work, and business vehicles — including cement trucks and bucket trucks from Dominion Power — pound the beach to access houses on the off-road.

There is no alternate route, except a system of sand roads behind the dunes, but they are rutted, flood often and are ill-suited for through-traffic, residents said. County officials have sought to upgrade Ocean Pearl Road, which has potholes big enough to swamp a truck, but could only secure approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a three-mile stretch.

The traffic problem flares in the summer, when residents and businesses share the beach with vacationers, tour vehicles and “day-trippers,” visitors who spend the day at the beach and leave.

Residents have long pushed for a permit system to limit the growing number of vehicles on the beach, but some county commissioners and businesses said keeping the road open to visitors helps the county’s multi-million dollar tourist industry.

Greg Wilson was among members of the Beach Driving Committee that recently suggested a traffic study to see if permits are needed.

Wilson said he doesn’t think issuing permits would cause traffic backups on the off-road ramp as some critics suggest. He said the county could issue permits online like one Georgia beach does. Deputies can check permits on the beach and issue tickets for violations there, so there would be no holdup for motorists getting on the beach, he said.

Any permit system, safe zone or other change to the traffic pattern on the beach road will require a ordinance change, public hearing and formal approval from commissioners.

The Associated Press
© November 20, 2011

Currituck County commissioners may consider designating a safe zone on off-road beaches in the summer so that sunbathers won't have to cross traffic.

The proposal is one of several that county staffers have proposed to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on an 11-mile stretch of beach road on the northern Outer Banks.

The staff is recommending a change to traffic patterns on the beach during tourist season. The safe zone would push parked cars and sunbathers closer to the shore and steer traffic behind them.

Any change to the existing beach traffic patterns would require an ordinance change, a public hearing and approval from commissioners.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Currituck Commissioners hold work session and discuss beach traffic

Taking suggestions from a beach driving task force, the Currituck County Commissioners discussed several options for addressing the competing interests on the 4x4 beaches with beach goers and vehicles using the beach. Below is an article from the Daily Advance's Cindy Beamon:

Currituck eyes ‘safe zone’ for beach-goers

By Cindy Beamon

Staff Writer

Friday, November 11, 2011

CURRITUCK — Currituck may designate a “safe zone” on off-road beaches in the summer months so that sunbathers will not have to cross traffic to go for a swim. The safe zone would steer traffic away from one or two miles of shoreline so beach-goers do not have to contend with traffic.

The county staff suggested the idea Monday at a work session, and commissioners appear ready to consider it formally in coming months. Any change to the existing beach traffic pattern will require an ordinance change, public hearing and approval from commissioners.

As it is now, beach traffic drives on the foreshore and near the dune line with parked cars in between. Beach-goers have to cross traffic to get to the ocean. A Beach Driving Committee said in September the dangerous mix of pedestrians and traffic warrants a study to determine if the county should limit the number of vehicles on the beach.

But even the hint of a permit system has been unpopular with some commissioners and businesses. A recent Chamber of Commerce poll indicated that many businesses had questions about how the practice would affect tourism.

County staff did not consider that option in its recommendations to commissioners earlier this week.

Instead, the staff is recommending a change to traffic pattern on the beach during tourist season. The safe zone, possibly from mileposts 16-18, would push parked cars and sunbathers closer to the shore and steer traffic behind them.

Under the proposal, vehicles would access off-road beaches at milepost 12 and drive the existing route past state and federal property where parking is not allowed. The traffic pattern would change to a safe zone north of those properties near milepost 16, suggested Planning Director Ben Woody. After the safe zone, the old traffic pattern would resume, under the staff recommendation.

Woody said changing the traffic pattern will require more signs and manpower to redirect vehicles in the right direction. The details of how that would work have not been decided, but Woody suggested that a courtesy patrol could be formed to provide that service.

The safe zone is one of several changes county staff is suggesting to relieve heavy traffic and safety concerns on an 11-mile stretch of beach road on the northern Outer Banks.

Some of the recommended changes are designed to encourage more beach-goers to stop south of the four-wheel drive area. Woody said making two parking lots in Whalehead subdivision more attractive may encourage more visitors to park there. Landscaping and replacing asphalt with gravel would cost about $160,000, he estimated. One resident, countered, however, that the parking lots in Whalehead subdivision are frequently used as overflow parking by residents.

Woody said the county could also designate roadsides where vehicles can deflate tires, a practice to prevent drivers from getting stuck in sand and to prevent beach roads from forming ruts. The staff also recommended the county create an air-up station, where vehicles can inflate tires once they return to paved roads.

Other suggestions included:

• Creating a courtesy patrol equipped with all-terrain vehicles to convey information and direct traffic on the off-road beaches.

• Regularly updating county radio broadcasts at the beach.

• Adding another antenna to expand the radio coverage area.

• Setting up a website that is smart-phone friendly to convey information to vacationers.

• Adding more signs directing traffic to on-road public parking.

• Continuing to seek state approval for a new rest room at the end of Corolla Village Road.

• Expanding public parking on Corolla Village Road.