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Letter: Problems With the New Left Turn Lane on Main Street to Shore Road

As a newcomer to lower Main Street, I had not participated in the many years of discussion which led to the decision to add a left turn lane at the intersection of Main Street and Shore Road to alleviate the back up of traffic. After settling The Dolphin Bookshop into our new home with a front row seat on the drama which takes place daily in this active intersection, it became clear to all of us that the only thing preventing tragedy was the fact that traffic was moving s-l-o-w-l-y. It also became clear that moving the double yellow lines northward to accommodate a third lane would create other problems.

In April, I asked Councilman Fred Pollock to please come by to observe for himself our concerns – the first of which was the stunning realization that the purpose of the installation of the left turn lane (to relieve the back-up of traffic moving east, up Main Street), would not be providing the expected relief, since at least eight out of 10 cars in the line-up are waiting to make the turn! We spoke for quite a while, but Mr. Pollock made it clear that the decision had been made, the turn lane was coming. When I asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” he said “Then we’ll put it back the way it was.” Well it came and I’m writing to say it is not working.

It has, in fact, amplified and augmented the dangers facing drivers and pedestrians. Since the day it was executed, it has been absolutely harrowing! A few weeks ago, we, the merchants of the Arts and Antiques District, invited Supervisor Jon Kaiman to meet with us to review our most serious concerns, which are these:

1. The cars in the newly created pass lane (which begins four car lengths from the light) are getting up to remarkably fast speeds. In fact, the lane is often referred to as a “fast lane” or “speed lane”). Since there are no longer parking spaces alongside the sidewalk, there is no buffer and pedestrians are extremely vulnerable especially as the curb along that stretch is already a hazard, being two levels.

2. The cars continuing straight west (down) Main Street now face directly into the new turn lane making it necessary to make a jag to the right as you proceed through the intersection to avoid colliding with the car in the turn lane.

3. The cars making the right turn from Shore Road onto Main Street now have a severely restricted radius in which to make the turn, often resulting in crossing the double yellow lines and coming nose to nose with the car in the new turn lane. Trucks, buses, limousines, tractor-trailers (any long-bedded vehicle), frequently cannot make the turn without stopping and backing up! And many times, the car in the turn lane will try backing up to offer more room for the struggling driver. This intersection is treacherous when cars are driving forward; it’s insane that regular functioning now includes vehicles moving backward! And the jockeying is now also causing traffic to back up for the cars waiting to turn right from Shore Road onto Main Street.

4. The new crosswalks are lovely but they are not suitable to the natural flow of pedestrian crossing. For example, a person who parks in the Shore Road parking lot who is going to the dentist on the corner of Main and Jackson would be expected to walk up to the corner, wait first to cross Shore Road walking uptown, then cross Main Street and walk downtown. This is counter-intuitive and seems like a lot of work when you’re standing on the corner thinking you can just “dash across the street”. Crosswalk or no crosswalk, lots of people are taking the chance, literally taking their lives in their hands now, especially, with the addition of the third (fast/speed) lane.

This is a heavily trafficked pedestrian destination. People come from within Port and from out of town to enjoy the seaside. The gorgeous Shore Walkway has invited everyone at the north end of town to “walk on down”. All of us in the Arts and Antiques District are excited about the “Port” in Port being a beautiful, leisurely, satisfying, and safe destination.

The meeting was attended by representatives from nearly every business in the area and the Port Police came in force. There was unanimous agreement about all of these issues and Supervisor Kaiman assured us that he would have the engineers review the issue. I would like to suggest that sometimes progress means going back to something that made sense. Sometimes in our hurried, harried lives, there’s an opportunity to stop rushing, take a few breaths, yes, even miss a couple of changes of the green light, take a look around, take in the beauty of the harbor, the seagulls flying, the sailboats gliding by, the magnificent patterns of the clouds in the sky, and think to yourself “what a fabulous place to be stuck in traffic!”

Patti Vunk, The Dolphin Bookshop