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Smooth Holiday Weekend Drive After Return To Four Lanes On Lake Park Blvd

Even with the expected higher than normal volume of traffic over the Memorial Day weekend, traffic in Carolina Beach flowed smoothly. Last month the Town of Carolina Beach paid $200,000 to the State to replace a failed Road Diet with the original four-lane traffic pattern to resolve massive congestion experienced in recent years.

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - Memorial Day weekend traffic  moved at a steady pace following a project last month to return Lake Park Blvd in downtown Carolina Beach to a four-lane traffic pattern.
That project replaced a "Road Diet" traffic plan implemented by the Town of Carolina Beach several years ago. That reduced the four-lane road to two lanes with a center turn lane and bike paths on either side behind diagonally parked vehicles.
The Road Diet quickly became a controversial issue.
The pattern on Lake Park Blvd from Carl Winner Avenue south to the area just before the Carolina Beach Lake led to public outcry about traffic congestion sometimes backing up north to Snow's Cut Bridge and South to the neighboring Town of Kure Beach. Not just on busy holiday weekends or normally busy summer weekends, but also traffic backups during the normal weekdays.
Holiday weekends have always been busy for traffic throughout Pleasure Island, but the Road Diet resulted in people waiting for upwards of 40 minutes to travel from neighboring Kure Beach to Carolina Beach. Many motorists were frustrated with people on bikes traveling through Town more quickly and freely than vehicles. Business owners grew frustrated when customers would express concerns about not being able to get in or out of their parking lots.
Residents expressed concern about increased traffic on traditionally quiet residential side streets because residents and tourists would aggressively seek alternate routes.
The Town attempted to curtail congestion on Lake Park by erecting a sign on Lake Park Blvd at Ocean Blvd to divert traffic west to Dow Road.
That resulted in traffic backups which angered many residents since Dow Road traditionally served as a back-road for locals to avoid tourism traffic during the summer months.
By diverting traffic, the Town also created congestion on Dow Road. At times backing up traffic in front of the Carolina Beach Fire Department. Many residents expressed concerns about ambulances an fire trucks not being able to respond as quickly to emergency calls because of traffic grid-lock on Lake Park or Dow Road at various times throughout the day. At least one business owner at the Brew-Thru on N. Lake Park Blvd outside of the Road Diet area would often have to dawn a bright colored vest and stop traffic to let people out of his parking lot.
The Town Council voted unanimously to revert to the original traffic pattern on Lake Park Blvd with four lanes and angled parking at their August 23, 2011 meeting. At that time it was estimated to cost over $200,000 to return to the old pattern in use for 30 or 40 years.
The Council voted to fund milling up the road surface, repaving it and painting lines for a four-lane pattern to return order to the Road Diet chaos.
On Tuesday May 29, local business owner Dennis Barbour - also former Mayor and recently a member of the committee appointed to research and recommend solutions to the Road Diet issue - explained, "It worked very smoothly. I road around checking traffic over the weekend and it was fine."
Barbour said Saturday morning traffic was backed up north to Snow's Cut Bridge for a short time but, "It was still moving at a steady pace rather than at a stand still" as observed with the former Road Diet.
Barbour explained, "I talked to other business owners near the Carolina Beach Lake and they said there were no traffic backups."
He explained that business was a little down at his hardware store on Friday, but was inline with the Saturday last year over Memorial Day weekend.
Barbour said, "I haven't heard a negative comment at all" regarding the return to four-lanes on Lake Park. He said, "Traffic was slower in the left lane at Carl Winner and Lake Park, but it was still moving."
That intersection is known for it's higher volume due to people turning off Lake Park to reach Canal Drive and ultimately the popular Freeman Park on the north end of the Island where four-wheel drive vehicles and camping are permitted on the beach for a fee.
As for how bikes and vehicles operate after eliminating the bike lanes, Barbour explained, "I saw a person riding a bike with traffic flow and everyone was getting along fine."
He said even a six person pedal bike rented from a local shop was moving along fine with traffic.
Barbour said of the return to four-lanes, "We're pleased. Traffic doesn't have to move at 25 mph, it just has to move. It's better than the long lines of traffic standing still" in recent years blocking access to and from his Island Tackle and Hardware store parking lot on N. Lake Park. 
Joe Coen, owner of Squigley's Ice Cream and Treats said, "Traffic was outstanding" over the holiday weekend because of eliminating the Road Diet. He added, "It was better than July 4th last year for the gift shop and ice cream shop. Breaking that kind of record is unusual."
He said the difference between this year and last year for the holiday weekend was, "Like night and day. It made a major difference."
He added, "Also, motorists had a better attitude because traffic was at least moving. Last year people were getting real frustrated just sitting in traffic in the summer heat."
Town Manager Tim Owens explained on Tuesday the Town did pay the State $200,000 to return to four-lanes. He explained, "It came in barely under bid and there will be some charges for engineering and contract administration likely added.  The final project is probably going to come in at the amount we paid them."