What does changing a couple of traffic lights near a popular beach mean these days? Apparently more than you might think.
Texas is open for business and and for recreation and people are taking full advantage of the opportunity to get out and play. That means that not only are they out and about spending their money and spreading the wealth, some debate that they are out spreading coronavirus, too. But another impact of everybody being out and about is traffic.
While you might be thinking that traffic seems like a minor issue, in the grand scheme of things it really tells a story and that story is about playing hard no matter what the risk might be.
Over the past several weeks residents on North Padre Island have been dealing with their usual summertime traffic. For them it is just part of the way of life. By road there are really only two ways to reach North Padre Island and Port Aransas. You can either cross over the ferry at Port Aransas or you can cross over the JFK Causeway on Park Road 22.
Once you reach North Padre on Park Road 22 you encounter two traffic light—One of them is near a residential street and the other is at the interesection of Park Road 22 and State Highway 361. Just down the way there is another traffic light, but it is of little concern if you are heading out to Mustang Island or over to Port Aransas. Ok, so what is the big deal?
On Friday, the City of Corpus Christi sent out a press release announcing changes to the traffic light at the intersection of the residential street and Park Road 22. The reasoning for this, the city says in their press release is due to increased traffic on area beaches.
In hindsight that seems like the practical course of business, though the light is something that locals and tourists have complained about for some time and how it contributes to the often massive traffic tie up on the way to the beach areas. But then again, this is the age of COVID-19 and there is, as you might expect that part of the story.
“Texans like to get outside and enjoy their natural resources,” says Michael Johnson, with the University of Texas. “But you have to wonder if those beaches are not the next New Orleans Madri Gras type situation?”
Johnson is not alone in his wonder. Others have had that same concern.
“You look out at the beach and there are those who go around handpicking stories and grabbing these convincing photos of people social distancing and minding their business and wearing masks,” says Rachel Lopez, a Corpus Christi area nurse who works in one of the nearby hospitals. “Reality is that people who know how the beach really works understand that the majority of people who go out there are not wearing masks and practicing social distancing. They are drinking and partying and enjoying the sun. You are expecting people to be responsible and it is like when they go to the beach that sense of responsibility just disappears.”
But others do not share the concerns of Johnson and Lopez. People like Corpus Christi residents Sherry and John Partain. They say that they agree that some people do not practice social distancing, but the beach is where people go to get away from the worries of the world.
“Out at the beach is where you go to relax and turn off and forget all of that mess across over on the mainland,” Sherry says. “You people who call yourselves press fooled us once and it won’t happen again. This virus was far from being what you and the politicians made it out to be.”
Sherry has a message to all of those who are looking for something to do.
“Come on out,” she says. “The traffic ought to flow better, the water is nice and the beer is on ice.”
Sherry and her husband John say that they feel that all that traffic and people are going to help the economy and help rebuild the lives and businesses that were hurt by the initial lack of traffic that happened right around Spring Break.
“We need people,” John says. “Visitors and locals alike—we need ‘em. If they are willing to take a calculated risk then let them come on and join in the good times with us.”
Others say that the philosophy shared by people like the Partain’s is simply just foolish.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said that they do not yet have data on how many of the new cases across the state may have originated at places like Texas beaches. They say that would be determined in contact tracing, if possible. But that leads to an entirely other topic.
What seemed to be a practical move to alleviate traffic congestion ends up creating other, more difficult conversations like this. There is no doubt that something had to be done to help reduce travel times and ease the flow of traffic. The city and county have done their part on two fronts: easing the traffic burden and encouraging people to participate in social distancing. But the reality is that you just can’t deny that the people are going to the beach and getting outside to enjoy the summer and they are going to do it regardless of the human risk or cost.
And don’t forget you have those who will argue that the sun, heat and humidity reportedly make it less possible to catch coronavirus and they have all their own data backing that up, too.