The ongoing passenger-ferry saga has had its share of twists and turns. In March when the nearly completed Ocracoke Express failed inspections, few islanders expected service this summer.
Thanks to some quick action by the General Assembly, the governor’s office, N.C. Department of Transportation and its Ferry Division, a leased boat was procured, and its first public run was on May 20.
Using a passenger-only ferry was uncharted territory in charted waters and many have weighed in via social media with strong opinions on both sides.
While the verdict is not in, the number of folks taking it in its inaugural month has been a pleasant surprise. As of June 23, the Ferry Division said 8,840 passengers hauling 486 bicycles have made the trip.
The popularity of this ferry has produced waves of first-time visitors exploring the village. This obligates us to remind everyone to think safety and, if necessary, make an attitude adjustment that will help make an Ocracoke visit one that will be pleasantly memorable.
Ocracoke is not like most other small towns.
There are few sidewalks; the roads are narrow with some unpaved. For much of the year, this equals historic charm, but in the high visitor months, May to September, the “share the road” conjures a mind-boggling list: Semi-trucks with food, beverages and building supplies, large pick-ups, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, skateboards and, of course, golf carts.
Then there are pedestrians–large groups walking together, families with strollers and children who may lurch into the road unexpectedly, elderly folk and people walking dogs.
How to navigate the village? Despite our “Far from the Madding Crowd” (to borrow from Thomas Hardy) image, we do have “rush hours” throughout the day. This is when the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries debark. Actually, they are more like “rush minutes” when more vehicles clog the streets.
The village now has a free tram service that makes several stops along Irvin Garrish Hwy and Back Road. The trams help mobilize visitors. So be aware of their presence and that, like city buses, they have defined stops.
After a heavy rain, you may notice a vehicle, bike or pedestrian in front of you suddenly veer left or right. Usually they are not drunk, just avoiding a large puddle on the road.
Here are some do’s:
Speed limits: Keep in mind the maximum driving speed is 20 mph (15 mph on Back Road from the curve at Blackbeard’s Lodge to the school), but in congested areas, good judgment dictates an even slower speed.
Bicycles: Everyone riding bikes should wear helmets and it’s the law for kids 15 and younger. Last year, an adult riding without a helmet tumbled when a cat suddenly appeared causing a spill that required a helicopter trip to the Greenville hospital.
Pedestrians: Should walk on the left–facing traffic. There are few streetlights in the village. We cannot overemphasize the importance of using a flashlight at night–both walkers and bicyclists–along with reflective clothing. This is to see and be seen. The Variety and Community stores stock flashlights and smart phones have them. Ditches at the edges of the roads can make for treacherous walking, especially at night.
There are a few pedestrian white-lined cross walks. Those in vehicles must stop to let people in them cross the road. We recently observed a group people attempting to use them and four golf carts passed without stopping or even slowing down.
Animals: Ocracoke village has lots of animals. There’s the occasional lone dog. (There’s no leash law in Hyde County.) But most “Ocracats” are free roaming and, as in the above example, may dart in front of vehicles or bikes.
There are also too many Mallard ducks that appear to be oblivious to the danger of vehicles. We even have horses sometimes, and they may be spooked by loud noises or excessive speed.
Golf Carts: The golf cart rental businesses carefully go over the regulations with their clients. Some customers choose not to follow the rules, which can endanger themselves and others. Our deputy sheriffs are aware of this and will fine those who break the law.
Loud music: From vehicles (on the beach and street) and homes can be annoying to others. One of the charms of Ocracoke is its relative tranquility. The sounds of birds, the wind blowing through the cedars, the ocean surf are balms to stress and a welcome respite from the noises of other places.
Be courteous, friendly and respectful of others, an attitude that has its own rewards.