Before the 2019 municipal election, I met Bob Kern, then president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, and his colleagues. During the hours-long discussion, we shared many of our ideas for Riverhead Town (like my pitch for changing the town’s flag). I also discovered, to my pleasant surprise, that we both like city-planning type computer games. These games, like SimCity and his spiritual successor Cities: Skylines— challenge the player to transform a pristine landscape into a bustling city with water districts, subway lines and skyscrapers. Yet, like all games, they simplify concepts in order to be more enjoyable.
Nonetheless, these games can help foster a grassroots enthusiasm for city and traffic planning, which in my case has only matured alongside me.
And so the recent news, that consultants are proposing to widen Sound Avenue, and that even more stores with sprawling parking spaces are planned in Tanger and Mill Road, prompted me to write what Riverhead should do instead. . Which brings me to:
1. Stroads: or why Route 58 is terrible
Pictured: Route 58 in and around Riverhead. Photos taken in 1947. Source: Suffolk County ARCIS Aerial Photos.
According to Strong Towns: a 501(c)3 aimed at making cities financially viable by making them more pedestrian-friendly, strangle are street-road hybrids. Roads are high-speed connections between two places. Streets are a complex environment in which people interact and engage in commerce. Stroadstrying to be both complex and fast, are neither.
Route 58 is a Stroad with a capital S. As a pedestrian, I live practically at the mercy of cars. If I need to buy groceries, I have to plod over barren asphalt wastelands that are not intended for me. The few sidewalks that exist are along single-shouldered car lanes, often with tractor-trailers and pickup trucks whizzing by, roaring with plumes of soot. Instead of tumbleweeds, we have caddies. According to Main Road, in all its car-obsequiency, no organic, living, breathing people are meant to live in Riverhead.
Other streets in Riverhead are also at risk of becoming streets. Roanoke Avenue is particularly dangerous, as it is a complicated environment with high-speed through traffic. I live near Merritts Pond, and the closest crosswalks are either at the Roanoke Avenue roundabout or at Elton Street. Both are half a mile from me, a mile apart, and I’d like to meet the genius who thought running a crosswalk over a high-speed roundabout would work.
And so, for as long as I can remember, I had to wait my turn to enjoy the privilege of crossing Roanoke Avenue. Per trip, each way, I can spend five to ten minutes waiting for clearings in the inevitable processions of traffic.
The solution to a strroad is simple: make it commit to being either a street or a road.
For Roanoke Avenue: given the residential nature of the area, make it a street. Here’s my pitch: add a traffic light with crosswalks at the Cranberry St-Southern Pkwy-Roanoke Ave intersection; and add two more crosswalks along Roanoke Ave, both on Merritts Pond Rd and Franklin St. You could even narrow each lane by about a foot, adding bike lanes in the rest.
For Main Road, make it a road. Here, we are lucky that the problem contains the solution: parking lots line Main Road on both sides. Many of them are already connected in one form or another.
Pictured: Main Road and parking lots, with possible new streets in red and existing streets in blue. Photo from Google Maps.
Ideally, according to the image above: the red lines would be reconfigured into contiguous streets. Entrances to parking lots, such as the of them intersections for access only to Target – would be removed from the main road and moved to these newly created side streets. Meanwhile, the Main Road passing lanes, which are now either grass, signage or parking, would become wide sidewalks with benches and bike lanes where possible.
Imagine Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, a good mental model for what I have in mind. Minus its underlying subway and higher-density apartments, these tree-lined paths provide bike lanes and benches, from which city dwellers can watch the world go by.
Still, the issue of higher density apartments leads me to…
2. Why Riverhead Needs Intermediate Zoning
I’ll be brief on that, because I haven’t even touched on the issue of traffic on Sound Avenue and why adding more lanes is do not a solution in any way.
The simple fact is that the modern suburb is founded on the lie that people can expect urban convenience on a rural scale.
That said, I agree with some residents that jumping straight to zoning for five-story condos is shocking. The solution, I believe, lies in the adoption of duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the occasional brownstone and anything to increase residential densities without increasing their overall footprint.
There are broader points to be made here, but I would break my promise to keep this brief. Suffice it to say, traffic and density issues go hand-in-hand, and medium-density zoning of downtown Riverhead could be a viable compromise.
And, as this video from NotJustBikes explains better than I ever could, the car-centric commuter experience flat-out failed. Continuing to indulge in it will, inexorably, lead to the financial ruin of our city.
3. Sound Avenue, wrong advice
But finally turning to Sound Avenue would be unreasonable alter its rural character. It would also be naïve to ignore the very real traffic problem that agritourism has brought to the North Fork.
On this point, I suspect that there are several superior alternatives, but each might require some degree of state involvement.
The first idea is to end automobile dependency by increasing rail service. Now this one borders on speculation, as it would be exorbitant dear. But, until the late 1960s, the Long Island Railroad stopped at Aquebogue (at Meeting House Creek Rd), Jamesport (at Railroad Aves N&S), and Laurel (at Laurel Ln). Rebuilding these stations could very well cost a fortune, because they would need them – and that is Absolutely reasonable to expect to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They should also run fairly frequently and be attractive enough for people to use on their cars.
Here the problem may again contain the solution. The East previous to having the rail itself be an attraction-like the Napa Valley Wine Train in California, which stops at wineries along its route.
Here I am considering a similar heritage rail service that runs from Riverhead to Greenport and back. It could do double duty: both making stops at wineries and farms along the Greenport line, and also making more frequent commuter runs on the North Fork.
Pictured: the Napa Valley Wine Train. Source: https://www.winetrain.com/
You can, additionally, run trolley-style buses to and from these stations in a kind of spoke-and-hub model. For example, there might be a shuttle that goes from Iron Pier in Jamesport to South Jamesport Beach and back. It all comes down to where people are looking to go and satisfying that need in a way that’s nicer than a car.
Pictured: a trolley-style bus, source: https://www.specialtyvehicles.com/
Another possibility I’ve seen mentioned is to turn Sound Avenue in Riverhead into a toll road. Here, I fear that my understanding of what may be necessary, or if it would even be possible, will crumble. I’ve read conflicting accounts that Sound Avenue in Riverhead is invariably a city, county, or state road.
My presentimenthowever – assuming it East a city road – does riverhead may be able to lease the road to a Corporation B or non-profit, on the explicit condition that no Riverhead resident will ever have to pay a toll, and that the after-expense revenue from transit tolls would fund local initiatives .
The possibility of any of these alternatives is just a guess. I also admit that, as happened with The halyard in Southold, a targeted road widening and reconfiguration for a high-volume destination can be a solid solution if done correctly.
However, what remains all too evident is that the current development trajectory is a blatant affront to human need for community and natural spaces. Which leads me to ask: Who are we still building our city for? Judging by the road signs, the dumped trash, the pawn shop aesthetic and the miles of empty parking along Route 58? It’s definitely not the people.
Jean-Fallot is a product designer and visual designer based in both Riverhead and Brooklyn. It can be attached to [email protected]
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