A decision on how to deal with bicycles and pedestrians on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven is inching toward a solution at the rate of cars traveling the road on a summer Saturday with a fresh batch of cars unloading from a Steamship Authority ferry.
On Tuesday night, the board of selectmen stopped short of pulling the plug on the state’s plans, and instead voted to send a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation asking for revisions based on public feedback.
While chairman Tristan Israel wanted to send a letter asking MassDOT to abandon plans for a shared-use path (SUP) and instead, go to a symmetrical design that provides bike lanes on both sides of the road, selectman Jim Rogers, who said he would support that idea a month ago, now wants to see the updated plans first.
Selectman Melinda Loberg is a staunch supporter of the SUP plan, even though property and business owners have petitioned the board to reject it because it takes property by eminent domain and, they say, creates more safety problems than it solves.
Ralph Packer, who owns a chunk of land that would be affected, asked selectmen to send a letter asking that a proposed crosswalk be moved closer to the gas station on Beach Road, and to reduce the size of the sign proposed.
Loberg and Israel supported that idea, with Rogers abstaining from the vote because he wanted the letter to be all-encompassing and point out each area that MassDOT is supposed to address in its updated plans, rather than send them “piecemeal.”
Loberg, a retired emergency medical technician, said she has responded to scenes of bike accidents, and they take a toll on everyone involved, including the first responders. “I would do almost anything to create a safe barrier between pedestrians and unprofessional, recreational cyclists and traffic,” Loberg said in making her case for a SUP. “We can do better, and this is one way we can do better.”
But Frank Brunelle, a Beach Road resident and a vocal opponent to the SUP plan, said it forces people to cross the road to get to Five Corners. “I say it is not a safer option. It is far worse of an option,” he said.
Israel has flip-flopped on the issue, largely because MassDOT designers failed to include a sidewalk he requested as part of the plans.
One roadblock to any of the plans is what to do about the threat of sea-level rise on the road. Packer has offered to pay for riprap to protect the road, but that’s been rejected, most recently, because the state considers the sand in front of his property a barrier beach. Selectmen voted unanimously to seek a meeting with permitting agencies and state and local officials to see what can be worked out to protect the road.
A long-term solution is needed, Israel said. “They spent $50 million for a bridge to Oak Bluffs that in 10 years we may not be able to use,” he said.
Dredging up a sensitive issue
Tisbury is close to reaching an agreement with the town of Edgartown on hiring that town’s dredge to deal with a pressing need at the Lake Tashmoo channel.
Though the channel should have been dredged before the busy summer season, the town’s permit lapsed, causing a delay in getting the buildup of sand removed. By the time permits were obtained, dredges were in too much demand, or the price was cost-prohibitive.
On Tuesday, town administrator Jay Grande told the board he is putting the finishing touches on a deal that will have the Edgartown dredge doing the work for about $190,000.
Rogers praised the cooperation between the two Island towns, though Israel cautioned that the town should still try to work with Barnstable County, which also owns a dredge, to “get the best bang for our buck.”
When Lynne Fraker, a boat captain who has been critical of the town letting the permit lapse, attempted to ask questions, Israel tried to keep her to the issue of the contract with Edgartown. Initially, he didn’t want to allow the questions, and then relented.
“Who decided this was the best course of action?” Fraker asked as one of her five questions. “What committee was involved?”
Israel said Grande worked with harbormaster John Crocker on the solution.
Fraker said she looks forward to hearing later this month just what the town is getting for its money when the deal between the two towns is finalized.
Post Office woes
While being careful to praise the existing staff at the Vineyard Haven Post Office, Israel said there is a “crisis,” with more employees needed to help during the summer crunch. The collateral damage of long lines inside the Post Office is even more traffic congestion at Five Corners, he said.
The board voted unanimously to send a letter and make a phone call to regional postal officials asking that they address the shortage of employees, do something about the parking situation, and clean up what Loberg called the “unkempt property.”
“Pay a little more attention, because it is right in the center of our town,” she said. “Everyone who arrives sees it.”
Loberg also wondered why postal officials aren’t looking at the system used by other Post Offices across the country to ease lines. Customers get a key in their P.O. box, and it opens another box, where their package is waiting. The key stays, and the customer leaves with the package. “Boom, no lines,” she said.
In other business, the board delayed taking action on a request for a new utility pole that would also add a transformer for solar power at St. Augustine Church on Franklin Street, after neighbors raised some concerns with the project. The town wants to speak with church officials to see if the transformer might be relocated onto church property to ease some of the issues.
Rogers, a proponent of solar energy, voted against extending the public hearing until the board’s meeting Aug. 28.
The board approved the appointment of Elaine Miller as the town’s representative on the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) board, and then gave her a job to do. Miller is being asked to address a citizen complaint that some of the VTA buses are using Union Street to bypass Five Corners, something that was prohibited when the town rerouted traffic.
The town plans to talk to Oak Bluffs about sharing building department staff when building inspector Ken Barwick is on vacation or unavailable when the two towns meet on Sept. 11. The town also uses Municipal Code Consulting, Grande said, though he’s still working out the details with Barwick on how the consultant can best help the town’s building department.
“My concern is that people don’t get held up on inspections, and that qualified people are doing the inspections,” Rogers said.