Tisbury selectmen hosted a public discussion Tuesday night on a proposal from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to improve Beach Road. At times, members of the MassDOT team, which included civil engineers from Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. (GPI), an engineering and construction-services firm hired to design the project, appeared confused and flabbergasted by the comments, as the discussion detoured away from the design options on the table for consideration.
The $1 million MassDOT Beach Road project, from Five Corners to the Wind’s Up watersports shop, is in a preliminary design phase. It is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.
The project evolved from a pre-feasibility study done in May 2009 regarding the extension of Martha’s Vineyard’s network of shared-use paths (SUPs). In August 2013 MassDOT contracted with GPI to design bike and pedestrian improvements along Beach Road.
At a meeting on July 29, John Diaz, director of traffic engineering at GPI, MassDOT project manager Thomas Currier, and District 5 project development engineer Pamela Haznar presented three conceptual plans with different options for sidewalks, bike lanes, and an SUP. They said they would return and ask the town which one it prefers to advance.
Tuesday night they returned for public discussion, attended by planning board members, Martha’s Vineyard Commission staff, other town board members, and interested residents.
Mr. Diaz said he went out Tuesday and put some pink stakes along a section of the road from Five Corners to the Shell station to provide an idea of Beach Road’s existing 40 to 40.5 feet right of way.
Town administrator Jay Grande asked about the possibility of utilizing “sharrows,” markings placed in the center of travel lanes, to indicate that a bicyclist may use the full lane, instead of a bike lane. Mr. Diaz said although that had not been discussed as a possible option, it would require a 43-foot right of way, as opposed to the existing one.
Mr. Currier explained that the state defines full bicycle accommodation as a width of five feet with defined shoulders, and a minimum of 11 feet for travel lanes. Anything less would be “shared use,” utilizing a wider-than-typical travel lane with sharrows. Mr. Currier said it would require approval of a design exception in the process and a sign-off from the state’s secretary of transportation.
Frank Brunelle of Vineyard Haven presented a petition with signatures he said he collected from Beach Road business owners. The petition opposed any takings of property by eminent domain, and opposed shared-use paths from Five Corners up to Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard. Mr. Brunelle, a Beach Road property owner, said the signers favor putting sidewalks on both sides of Beach Road and all utility lines underground, and suggested more crosswalks are needed.
Sam Dunn, Tisbury Marketplace developer and the owner of Saltwater Restaurant on the south side of Beach Road, suggested the selectmen talk to property owners on the north side about allowing a sidewalk to be built on their property.
Vineyard Haven Marina general manager Liz Wild disagreed.
“I’m here representing a property owner who owns properties on the north and south side, and he’s adamantly opposed to giving up an inch of land,” she said.
Former MVC commissioner Ned Orleans suggested cutting off the discussion about a bike path on Beach Road, because the real problem is Five Corners. “We’re going to draw pretty pictures and show where the cars are going to go and how the bikes are going to go, and what the pedestrians will do, except that they don’t do it,” he said.
Ms. Haznar assured Mr. Orleans that MassDOT recognizes there is an issue at Five Corners and has plans to do a safety audit that formalizes the beginning of the process to address it.
“But as far as the Beach Road project, the purpose and need really is to improve pedestrian, cyclist, and vehicular movement along Beach Road from Five Corners to the Lagoon Pond bridge, where that project ends,” she said.
Harold Chapdelaine, the selectmen’s MVC appointee and a member of the Tisbury Historical Commission, said he thinks the town should focus its energy on developing the off-road SUP that starts at Tisbury Marketplace, instead of adding two bike paths along Beach Road that will add traffic to Five Corners.
Craig Whitaker, a New York architect and seasonal resident who is an advocate of maintaining rural roads, said MassDOT should give Tisbury more time to make a decision on the project.
“The Beach Road project is in the 2017 TIP funding year, and we’re running out of time to discuss it,” Mr. Currier said. “We need to make a decision very soon, hopefully by the end of this month, on which concept, if any, you want to advance if we’re going to meet the funding deadline.”
“Tonight I hear a whole new avenue of discussion that hasn’t come up before,” he added, “which is to not to have any bikes on Beach Road and get them on a backcountry path, no bike accommodation at all, and to convert it all to sidewalks, which was never in the proposal.”
“We’re hearing two very different sides here,” Mr. Diaz said in agreement. “We’re hearing that you want a road that’s safe, that has wider sidewalks, but that you don’t want to give up anything to do it. Something has to give here.”
Mr. Grande concluded the public discussion after about an hour and turned it back over to the selectmen.
“I think we need to come to some kind of consensus in the near future that we can make clear to the state what it is we want and what we don’t want,” Selectman Tristan Israel said. “I haven’t heard anybody supporting a mixed-use path. I would like to schedule a meeting with the business people, especially on the north side, and find out what they’re amenable to.”
Selectman Chairman Jon Snyder and Selectman Melinda Loberg agreed.
In other business, the selectmen took no action on Mr. Israel’s request to have a “no wake” sign on the tip of the Eastville jetty removed because it interferes with fishermen who like to stand on the tip and cast. Harbormaster Jay Wilbur installed the sign on the jetty. They also approved a licensing agreement with NSTAR for an LED streetlight program through Cape Light Compact.