Column: The day Greenport Village stood still

It finally happened. You can mark the time and date as 12 noon on Sunday, Aug. 14, in the Year of Our Lord 2011.
Gridlock finally, and inevitably, arrived in Greenport.

It was a Sag Harboresque scene that greeted me as I turned my pickup east on Front Street after visiting friends on Fifth Street. (If you are able, dear reader, at this point please invoke a Google or Mapquest map in your mind’s eye.)

But instead of proceeding smoothly towards the light at Third and Front Streets, as it normally would, traffic was backed up all the way to Fourth Street. Hey, what’s going on here!?!

And it took two changes of the stop light to make it east of Third.

Curious about what sort of inconsiderate driver would be blocking traffic by slowly entering or exiting the post office or Harborfront Inn parking lots, I edged my vehicle over the center line to espy the situation.

But wait! Cars weren’t backed up, and completely stalled in gridlock, only as far as the post office. They were backed up, and completely stalled in gridlock, all the way to the blinker light at Main Street. That translates into three blocks of gridlock in little ol’ Greenport.

There are obvious explanations, of course. It was a rainy Sunday on the second weekend of August and almost everyone who could possibly be in town was in town. Just ask the folks at the Greenport Village Cinema how crowded it was Sunday afternoon. This is how crowded: the afternoon screening of “The Help” was completely sold out. (NB: The former Joan Giger Walker and I saw the film with seats to spare earlier in the week. It’s worth a try, even if it’s a tad overly-sentimental.)

But there’s another reason why Greenport looked like downtown Sag Harbor Sunday afternoon. We have finally, and irrevocably, “arrived.” All those New York Times articles about “the other fork” being a hidden gem have blown the secret to kingdom come.
Which is why I propose, herewith in this column, reviving the debate about making portions of Main and Front streets one way.

Imagine this, if you will: Main Street is one way south from Center Street to Front Street. Among other advantages, with one fell swoop you will have eliminated the side-mirror-threatening traffic “pinch” on Main Street between Central Avenue and South Street. Lower Main Street between Front Street and Preston’s and Claudio’s docks obviously remains two way.
(Note: Former Greenport mayor David Kapell, with whom I have corresponded about this issue, writes: “I have a very conservative

attitude about changing traffic flows. Mistakes can cause massive economic disruption.” Instead, he favors “eliminating parking on one side of Main Street. People will scream, but the current set-up is dangerous and may be the major obstacle to moving traffic thru town smoothly.”)

Moving over to Front Street, I say make it one way west between Main and Third streets, completely eliminating the east-bound gridlock experienced Sunday afternoon. That might also allow the reintroduction of parking on both sides of Front Street, a move that downtown merchants likely would endorse.

Traffic flow on First Street would remain two way, but southbound cars would only be able turn right— or west — once they hit Front Street.

And, you may ask, what happens to eastbound traffic approaching from the west on Front Street? It turns left (or north) on Third Street and circulates through (and out of) the village on three more eastbound one-way streets: Adams, South and Center. (Note: A friend who lives in Greenport thinks the existing confusion of drivers “playing chicken” at Front and Third would be helped by the installation of a left-turn-only signal for eastbound traffic.)

There are some obvious trade-offs here, including the likelihood that natives who know the back streets will use side streets like Fourth Avenue to avoid downtown — but some of us are doing that already. And it goes without saying that commercial traffic that has no business in downtown Greenport should be redirected around the village via Moore’s Lane with new and improved signage.
I’m sure there are other holes in Troy’s Downtown Greenport Traffic Flow Improvement Plan, and I’m hopeful that readers of this column will point them out by making a comment on our website, writing a letter to the editor, or sending an email to

Updates to follow.

And speaking of updates, I owe an apology to John Copertino of East Marion, who was identified in my previous column as someone who was “distressed” by my original column about the U.S. Census’s findings on the comparatively high percentage of lesbian and gay households in Orient. I erred because of a confusing exchange of emails with our editors, and it’s now clear he hadn’t commented publicly on the column. So sorry, Mr. C.

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