Whit’s Frozen Custard, which keeps a running tally of wrong-way drivers at the corner of Court Street and Union Street, has seen nearly 200 cars driving the wrong way this year.
As of December, Whit’s, located at 49 S. Court St, had seen about 166 people drive the wrong way down Union Street. This includes about 50 in the spring, about 56 in the summer and about 60 in the fall. Comparatively, employees counted about 65 wrong-way drivers during the fall of 2018.
“Sometimes they go really fast. Sometimes they just barely go into the intersection, realize and backup and go, but sometimes they go and they never come back.” Sam Pattantyns, shift manager at Whit’s, said. “It always surprises me how fast they're going and I'm always waiting for a crash, but I've never actually...seen a crash that was caused by somebody going the wrong way on that street.”
They began keeping a tally in the late ‘90s when Whit’s was still Perkin’s Coffeehouse, Jay Miller, the general manager, said.
Pattantyns said she’s seen it at its worst during weekends when students’ families are in town, like during move-in weekend. About six of the 60 sightings this semester occurred on Dad’s Weekend.
The criteria for an addition to the tally isn’t particularly picky, she said.
“If they start to head down that direction … and if they keep going, or if they back out, then we count it,” Pattantyns said
The busiest time of the year for wrong-way sightings is usually during the summer, she said. She credited this to the many visitors in the city during campus tours.
Over the years, employees have seen some very notable instances. Miller said that he once saw a motorcycle that turned around and continued driving on the sidewalk.
The tally is a curiosity for those who are visiting Whit’s, especially those from outside Athens.
“Out of towners, parents, everybody is really interested in it,” Pattantyns said.
Despite well-marked signage at the intersection outside Whit’s, the city still struggles with people going the wrong way down Union Street.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said that he believes this is an issue because many people who are unfamiliar with the area are not used to the many one-way streets in Athens.
“You've got this one stretch of Union Street that is one-way and it is well-signed,” Patterson said. “I think most of us who are from Athens, we understand what the traffic flow is like.”
There has been talk of changing some of the one-way roads Uptown to two-way roads, but that takes time and money, Patterson said.
Patterson said Athens Police Department officers don’t frequently pull over wrong-way drivers because the officer would have to be directly behind the person at the light.
“I've got three patrol vehicles covering 11 square miles of streets in the city of Athens,” Patterson said.
Miller said that Patterson once asked him about his advice for keeping people from driving the wrong way on Union Street. His idea was for the city to install traffic lights with arrows instead of traditional traffic lights, which he says could be a cheap and effective solution.
Many of Whit’s customers get in on the fun of keeping tally, as well.
Sometimes customers sitting inside Whit’s or outside at the tables on the sidewalk will come in and tell the staff they had seen a vehicle just go down the wrong-way. The staff will then likely mark down a tally for the customer’s sighting.
“It's kind of a community thing,” Pattantyns said.