Tisbury's traffic committee tackles summer gridlock
Hoping to put the brakes on Vineyard Haven's summer traffic problems before they start this year, a town committee brainstormed ideas last week for creating a multi-pronged approach from proposals by the Steamship Authority (SSA), town and Island planners, and the police and fire chiefs.
Although they discussed both short- and long-term goals, John Bugbee, Tisbury town administrator, told the traffic review committee, "We don't want to miss another summer without at least trying something new."
Getting to the heart of Tisbury's traffic woes, the committee debated solutions for Five Corners, including traffic management by a police officer, changing the direction of Union Street, and creating a left turn lane from Beach Street onto Water Street.
Theodore (Ted) Saulnier, Tisbury's chief of police, told the committee that he asked for funding in his department's fiscal year 2007 budget for traffic officers at Five Corners, and at the crosswalk near the SSA terminal and the Union Street traffic circle, as well.
Even when the SSA funded traffic officers near the terminal, it was not adequate, Chief Saulnier said. "The off-season in Vineyard Haven is only about six weeks. It ramps up again in March."
With the addition of a traffic officer at Five Corners, the committee concluded it might be possible to create a left-hand turn lane from Beach Street onto Water Street for traffic. For traffic headed toward Oak Bluffs, starting near Cumberland Farms and running through Five Corners, a left-turn lane would be created with traffic cones. The committee agreed the extra lane would only work if a traffic officer was present to direct left-turning traffic from Water Street, because it would be difficult to see the outer lane of traffic coming down into Five Corners from State Road, which also would be moving faster.
Traffic from the Water Street parking lot next to Stop and Shop and the SSA staging lot also contributes to Five Corners gridlock. Stop and Shop officials have given Tisbury money towards redesigning the Water Street lot. A design firm contracted this week by the town will be evaluating the feasibility of plans drawn up by Henry Stephenson of Tisbury's planning board, which were approved by the selectmen. The goals for the redesigned lot are to allow for traffic circulation within the parking area without using Water Street, and to improve pedestrian access and add landscaping.
On the other side of Water Street, SSA officials contracted the Cecil Group to redesign the vehicle staging area. With the check-in booth located close to the lot's entry, sometimes ferry traffic backs up onto Water Street and into Five Corners.
Bridget Tobin, SSA terminal manager, showed the committee draft plans from the Cecil Group that showed two entry lanes into the ferry staging area and relocation of the check-in booth. The idea is to speed up traffic flow into the staging area, thereby reducing backups on Water Street and, ultimately, at Five Corners. One of the drawbacks, Ms. Tobin said, is extra staff will be needed to direct standby and reservation traffic. She plans to set up the proposed new lot configuration using traffic cones for a "trial run" before any decisions are made on a final design.
To help further decrease Water Street traffic volume, Chief Saulnier suggested changing the direction of Union Street towards Main Street to divert cars out of town. "Right now we have a funnel. Everything comes off the boat and goes [directly] to Five Corners," the chief said, especially since people try to avoid the Water Street traffic circle altogether.
If Union Street is changed, then the first block of Look Street should be changed to one-way going towards Spring Street, he added. Otherwise, the redirected traffic from Union Street traveling out of Vineyard Haven could cause a bottleneck on Look Street as drivers attempt to turn left on State Road, the chief said.
"In the long run, no matter what we do, traffic is going to get worse," said Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC). "If we want to alleviate traffic to a certain extent, it will become more important to have a shuttle bus from the Park and Ride through town down to the ferry." He suggested having a "secret" route or "bus-only" route so the shuttle bus would not be stuck in traffic on State and Beach Roads. The planning board's draft master plan for downtown does include a shuttle bus, Mr. Stephenson said.
The committee members agreed that the Park and Ride lot and shuttle service is one of the town's most powerful weapons in the war against downtown traffic. Although committee members suggested a food stand or coffee cart at the Park and Ride lot might attract more users, Mr. London pointed out the lack of foot traffic makes it commercially unviable. "Realistically speaking, there would not be enough coffee or ice creams sold to pay the salary of someone sitting there."
He said the focus should be on creating a better waiting area at the Park and Ride and promoting it for both ferry passenger pick-ups and drop-offs. "If we got even 15 to 20 percent of people picking up ferry passengers to meet them at the Park and Ride, it would be a big help," Mr. London said.
The best incentive to get downtown employees to use the Park and Ride lot would be to change Vineyard Haven's four-hour parking spaces to two, Chief Saulnier said. Having to move their cars every two hours might discourage employees from parking downtown.
The committee's most challenging priority is to come up with a way to "road test" some of the proposed traffic fixes. "Ideally, we would like to try this on a weekend when traffic has picked up but not during the rush season - somewhere in the middle," Mr. Bugbee said. Typically, it takes drivers about a week and a half to adjust to road direction changes, Chief Saulnier said, and requires a police officer's supervision.
The committee meets again on Feb. 16 at 2 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.