Friday, August 6, 2010

Field Trip: Outer Banks

I've been on the road again. The Beau and I went to Nag's Head, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If you've never been, it's a beautiful location. The islands run for miles and miles, nearly continuously, off the North Carolina coast. They are less than a mile wide in most places. The beach itself was delightful, although the surf was kind of rough and filled with small, harmless jellyfish. We stayed in a lovely beach house with the rest of The Beau's family.
The house fronted on a two-lane road with rideable shoulders and a shared-use path along one side. This road saw quite a few bicyclists on the road and the path. Joggers and pedestrians also used the path, and there was no sidewalk on the other side. I was glad to see how popular the path was, but it needed to be a lot wider to accommodate all of those uses. There were also some visibility issues where it crossed driveways.

One block away was the 'big road', a four-lane highway featuring fast traffic, sprawling commercial developments with acres of surface parking, and an abundance of turn lanes and driveway cuts. There were no bicycle facilities. As you might expect, the big road was cars, cars, cars, and an occasional pedestrian.

Since the islands are long and narrow, north-south traffic is heavy. And since zoning codes obviously have not been written to create a walkable beach community, destinations are far apart and reached through parking lots. Transportation planning has followed the same bigger-is-better mindset you find everywhere else. There are a couple of signed bicycle routes, but very little has been implemented on the ground. The result is sprawl, traffic, and the depressing scenery of endless pavement.
When I go on vacation, I want to go someplace scenic. It's not enough to have a nice beach. When you walk off the beach and head for the restaurant or grocery store, you shouldn't immediately be surrounded by all the stuff you were trying to escape. The island should protect the things that draw people there. Scenery. Parks and preserves. Relaxation. The unique character of a beach community. The special feeling that you can wander around all day needing nothing but a beach bag and a pair of sunglasses.
In contrast, I remembered a trip I took last year to Bald Head Island. BHI is also in the Outer Banks, but further south - almost to the South Carolina border. There is no bridge to BHI, you have to take a ferry. Private cars are totally prohibited on the island. There are some maintenance trucks, emergency vehicles, and a couple of shuttles. All other travel is by foot, bicycle, or golf cart. It's just lovely. The roads are very narrow - maybe 20 feet wide for two-way traffic and a pair 10 or 12 foot one-way lanes to serve as the main road. Trees and flowers grow right up next to the pavement, providing shade and beauty. You ride along on your beach cruiser, listening to the birds chirp and waving a golf cart by every now and then. That's my idea of a vacation spot!

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous scenery! The island where cars are prohibited is my kind of island - I want to go there some day! Sounds similar to Belize where most people drove golf carts for transportation.