Tisbury officials join forces on parking, traffic plans
The approved post office parking lot design features pedestrian walkways and enhanced landscaping.
Although Vineyard Haven's three major parking areas exist as separate entities, the traffic they attract has a combined impact on the town's busiest intersections. Recognizing this, town officials and planners are collaborating in their efforts to make changes and improvements in the post office, Water Street and Steamship Authority (SSA) parking lots.
The post office lot is government owned, while the Water Street lot next to the Stop & Shop Supermarket is owned by the town of Tisbury. The Steamship Authority (SSA) lot is owned in part by the town and in part by the boatline. The town-owned land extends from Union Street to the dock itself, and the SSA owns the pick-up and staging area on the south side of the terminal .
To visualize the impact of parking lot traffic on Five Corners, consider this scenario: A few cars waiting to enter the post office lot cause a back-up at Five Corners, slowing traffic headed towards the Steamship Authority and blocking arriving boat traffic off Water Street.
Meanwhile, as traffic comes to a halt on Water Street, so does the traffic in the parking lot next to the Stop & Shop. Shoppers who were trying to find a parking space near the grocery store have to battle their way through the boat traffic twice, as they make a left turn to exit across Water Street and turn left again to reenter the lot for another try.
In a concept approved by the Tisbury selectmen, Water Street parking lot spaces will be rotated ninety degrees.
Add to the mix a Stop and Shop delivery truck backing up from the SSA lot across Water Street into the Stop & Shop loading zone. Top it off with a line of cars that snakes into Five Corners, while waiting to check in at the SSA lot. All in all, it is a recipe for gridlock.
Because of this overlapping impact, Tony Peak, chairman of Tisbury's planning board, said this week, "We feel it's important to look at all three in the broader context of the whole area, and we try to keep involved in all discussions before the department of public works, the selectmen, the Steamship Authority and the post office.
"In the past, what happened was the post office went to the department of public works, and the Stop and Shop went to the selectmen. We are trying to make ourselves available to all these different parties and let them know about considerations in a lot that can have an impact on mobility issues in other areas."
Post office lot
Although the post office is a federally owned facility, as Mr. Peak pointed out, it serves as a "de facto town square" for Vineyard Haven. Recognizing this, local and Providence-based post office personnel requested input from Tisbury's planning board for their parking lot plans to resurface the lot for better drainage, enhance the landscaping, provide pedestrian access, and possibly improve traffic flow at Five Corners.
Henry Stephenson, an urban designer and architect who serves on Tisbury's planning board, submitted three parking lot concepts. The planning board favored the idea of creating a second entrance from Lagoon Pond Road into the lot or possibly changing it to a one-way street out of town. However, Theodore Saulnier, Tisbury's chief of police, expressed serious reservations about both proposals, because of their potential to increase Five Corners traffic.
The selectmen, however, voted to endorse a plan by Mr. Stephenson that would keep the current parking lot configuration but add enhanced pedestrian walkways and landscaping. "This is all part of a larger plan to restore Beach Road and its extension to make it a much more attractive roadway, since it serves as a main corridor for the whole Island," said Mr. Stephenson.
After considering town officials' suggestions, the post office plans were finalized in August. The two entrances remain the same, with a wider curb cut on Lagoon Pond Road, new sidewalks and landscaping, clearly demarcated pedestrian paths, and diagonal parking in front. Tristan Israel, a selectman, further suggested locating additional stamp machines and post office boxes off-site to reduce traffic.
Bids will be put out and the parking lot most likely completed next spring, according to postmaster Joe Massua.
Water Street lot
Although the Water Street parking lot is town-owned, the Tisbury selectmen and representatives of the Stop & Shop worked together last summer on possible lot reconfigurations.
The store's goals included maintaining adequate space for its loading/service area and keeping as many parking spaces as possible for its customers. Pedestrian safety and pedestrian access to Main Street were two of the selectmen's goals, according to Ray LaPorte, board chair, as well as landscaping.
"If you look across the street from the Steamship lot, it's a god-awful sight, an acre of nothing but pavement and gleaming car roofs. It's our front door, and it's not an attractive front door. Modest treatments to soften the blow visually can go a long way," said Mr. LaPorte.
Joseph Penney, a senior development manager for Stop & Shop, submitted a plan that kept the present parking configuration but added landscaping and enhanced walkways. One concept offered by Mr. Stephenson, however, was a radical departure, rotating the parking spaces 90 degrees and making them perpendicular to the store.
The lot would contain three parking bays with nonangled spaces, served by a one-way entrance in on the north side and a one-way exit out nearest the grocery store. Drivers would recirculate inside the parking lot to look for spaces instead of having to exit onto Water Street and reenter as they do now. An enlarged pedestrian way would span the length of the parking lot from Water Street up to Main Street, passing in front of the police department.
Several town officials expressed reservations about the concept. Chief Saulnier said the one-way entrance and exit out of the south end of the parking lot would be inadequate for police and ambulance traffic.
Selectman Tom Pachico said it would be difficult for cars to make a sharp 90-degree turn to maneuver into the nonangled, perpendicular parking spaces. In terms of maintenance, Fred LaPiana, director of the Tisbury's department of public works (DPW), said the layout would make the lot hard to plow in winter.
To solve the entrance and exit problems, the selectmen and Mr. Stephenson agreed to change the north entrance to two-way traffic, giving emergency vehicles two options.
In addition, Mr. LaPiana said the selectmen are seeking to coordinate the redesign of the Water Street lot with repairs slated for the parking lot behind the Bowl and Board, owned by the Hall family. With the Halls' permission, a 13-ft. path will be created between the comfort station and the Bowl and Board lot so emergency vehicles can bypass the Water Street lot to access Cromwell Lane in front of Midnight Farm to get to State Road.
The selectmen submitted the parking lot concept to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), which endorsed it, provided the emergency vehicle access was resolved. Although the selectmen said they would hold a public hearing before narrowing their choice to one concept, they voted 2-1 to endorse the plan with perpendicular parking at a September meeting, with Mr. Pachico dissenting.
In October, town administrator John Bugbee told the selectmen that Stop & Shop Supermarket officials had agreed to hand off the project to the town and had given Tisbury $120,000, including $20,000 for design and $100,000 for actual construction. The selectmen approved a request for proposals at their Nov. 8 meeting to select a design firm to determine the feasibility of Mr. Stephenson's concept and make suggestions for solving the traffic flow problems for emergency vehicles.
Steamship Authority lot
The town-owned land near the SSA terminal is currently used as a taxi staging area, with nine angled spaces. After several meetings between the selectmen and the SSA, they came up with a plan to reconfigure the spaces to five parallel spaces, with four additional spaces relocated up to Union Street.
Pedestrian safety was one concern, said Mr. LaPorte, while Mr. Israel emphasized the need to keep the taxis from blocking the view of downtown Vineyard Haven for passengers debarking from ferries.
The parking proposal sparked an outcry from taxicab drivers when it was presented in May. The taxi drivers said they had concerns about the safety of passengers who might be injured in between cabs while unloading or loading luggage. They also said they felt left out of the decision-making process and would be unable to cope with such a major operating change at the beginning of the busy summer season.
The selectmen agreed to postpone making any changes until after Labor Day, at which time Mr. LaPorte said the cab drivers would be responsible for coming up with alternatives.
Their suggestions, in a letter delivered to a selectmen's meeting in September, included changing the angle of the parking spaces to point toward Union Street and allowing the taxis to exit through the traffic circle. They also suggested creating a buffer between the parking spaces and sidewalks, and using eye-catching signage to draw pedestrians towards downtown Vineyard Haven.
Mr. LaPorte told them the selectmen and SSA officials would be addressing all of the parking lot issues, including the taxicab staging area, over the course of the winter.
In any discussions regarding traffic issues around Five Corners, Mr. Peak said the planning board tries to include everybody — the DPW, selectmen, SSA, Stop & Shop, and Post Office. Any attempt to change traffic patterns would involve new studies, for which Mr. Peak said he considers the MVC a valuable resource.
At a Tisbury selectmen's meeting last week, Mark London, MVC executive director, outlined his organization's goal to create a comprehensive Island plan. To address Tisbury's specific traffic problems, Mr. London offered the MVC's help in analyzing the corridor from Five Corners to Main Street in terms of traffic flow, parking lot circulation, pedestrians, and town planning, followed up by a meeting with the selectmen, planning board, DPW, and SSA officials for their input.