After the approximately 17-minutes-long fireworks show ended, another annual display took place in Montauk: a single-file line of brake lights. A long red ribbon, miles long, extended west as thousands of celebrants sat in their cars on Montauk Highway, waiting, in some cases more than two hours, to leave the hamlet.
One local resident described her nightmarish experience driving in Montauk after the fireworks.
Annie Clemenz lives on Edgemere Street, just north of town. She and her daughter watched the fireworks together. After the show ended, the daughter asked Clemenz if she could get a ride. “She wanted to go to a sleepover,” Clemenz said. The friend’s house was on Lincoln Road, about a mile and a half west of downtown Montauk. Google Maps lists it as a seven-minute journey.
Clemenz drove down Edgemere, making a right on South Euclid to avoid the obvious jam up of cars on Main Street at Carl Fischer Plaza. She drove to South Emery Street, turned left, then made the right onto Montauk Highway.
There, she and her daughter waited. And waited. And waited.
One hour, 10 minutes later, Clemenz reached Lincoln. It was sealed off by the police, as all side streets were. The next turn off into Hither Hills was probably an hour away, near the Hither Hills overlook. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Clemenz told a little fib to the officer. “I live here,” she said. She was waved on through.
“It was as bad a traffic congestion as we have ever seen for the fireworks,” East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said afterward. By 6 PM, he said, there was not a single open parking space in downtown Montauk.
“The roadways just are not designed to handle this volume. There is no way to empty out the crowds quickly,” he said. “The downtown grid of roadways makes it even more challenging, with cars parked along shoulders trying to turn around, or make it one block to turn back west.”
“With perfect weather and a four-day weekend for the holiday, it was pretty much saturated,” he added.