Ocracoke traffic includes bicyclists, pedestrians, vehicles and animals of all sorts. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Rita Thiel

Life on Ocracoke is, in many ways, lived at a much slower pace than in your typical city. Slower in the sense that usually we don’t feel the urgent need to be somewhere that takes us through crowded four-lane highways, honking, weaving, jostling traffic and traffic lights that may or may not turn red as we slide through the yellow light.

The frantic pace of city office jobs and 24/7 urban life just doesn’t exist on Ocracoke.

In the summer, the streets are crowded, but traffic here isn’t what you would normally find elsewhere and “share the road” is far more expansive. Cars, pick-up trucks, the occasional delivery semi-truck, walkers, joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, golf carts, animals, motorcycles and mopeds traverse our streets.

The entourage continues with baby strollers and, lately, Segways.  Then, there are lots of animals: Cats, ducks, dogs, chickens, horses of all timidity levels and their riders, and even the occasional pig, roam the roads.

If you need to get somewhere on the island, it can’t be more than a few miles away. People live and visit here for the tranquility of hearing the ocean beckoning, the birds singing and the friendly “how-do-you-do’s” exchanged along the roads as walkers pass each other on tree-draped streets.

Since the streets evolved from sandy paths, many corners are obscured by shrubbery. So, all turns and driveway exits need an extra measure of care.

Speed limits are just that—limits–the maximum speed allowed.  North of the village is the only stretch of road on the island with a 55-mph speed limit.

Near Howard’s Pub, where Route 12 becomes Irvin Garrish Highway, begins the village-wide speed limit of 20 mph. 

Village speed limit. Photo: P. Vankevich

For the most part, our village roads are just passable for two full-sized pickup trucks. Passing moving bikes or vehicles–including golf carts–on the right is prohibited and, if caught, a driver will receive a ticket.

Why then do some folks seem to be in such a hurry to speed through the streets, disregarding the safety of the above-mentioned road travelers and themselves?

The section of Irvin Garrish Highway between the Decoy Shop and Berkley Manor—“downtown Ocraocke”–is one of the most beautiful stretches on the island, yet ducks are run over, cats are hit and killed, and more than once a child has been knicked while riding a bike there. 

Apparently, some drivers think Sunset Drive, Back and Middle roads are there for the speeding. The LIMIT is 20 mph.  These are not 25 or 35 mph neighborhoods, folks. Slow down.

Here is how to navigate the village:

  • Walkers should face traffic; bicyclists should ride with traffic as far to the right as possible (or in the bike lane if available).
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists out at night should carry flashlights. This is not only to see, but equally important to be seen.
  • Bicyclists must follow traffic signs and wear a helmet to avoid serious head trauma should there be an accident.
  • Children under the age of 16 are not permitted to drive golf carts nor sit on adults’ laps and steer.

This is not the only area of concern.

Whether you’re in a car, on a motorcycle or on a moped, the law applies to everyone driving down the streets. The speed limit at the curve in front of Blackbeard’s Lodge is 15 mph, and just beyond the curve is the Ocracoke School, with children and playground toys appearing out of nowhere, cars backing out with limited street vision and, yes, more cats and dogs and the occasional turtle.

So, please slow down. Smile, wave to others on the road. Ocracoke is a friendly village. 

You can’t be in that much of a hurry. Keep your eyes on the road, and to the sides of the roads, as kids, cats, ducks, dogs and who knows what else is likely to come jutting in front of your vehicle sooner or later.

Let’s keep our roads safe.


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  1. Amen! One of the reasons we visit Ocracoke Island as often as we are able is for the slow pace of life there. We live in a rural area of MD, but even here we do not have the beauty of the slow paced life that is enjoyed on Ocracoke Island. I agree with the other comment, this article, should be given to every ferry passenger.

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