Traffic studies dominate at Stop & Shop hearing

This aerial photo taken on Thursday, July 25, 2013 in rainy conditions, captured a line (shown in red) of traffic with delays of up to 19 minutes along Beach Road and through the Five Corners intersection up to Stop & Shop. — Photo Courtesy of Vanasse Hangen

Competing traffic studies dominated the fifth edition of the Stop & Shop’s continued public hearing before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday.

Over several months, supermarket officials have presented their plan to consolidate three abutting properties and remove the existing buildings to make room for a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market, nearly doubling the size of the current Water Street store. Plans include a parking lot for 42 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level.

In May, a study conducted by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), a transportation planning and engineering consultant for Stop & Shop, examined a total of eight intersections in town during two peak hour periods, the weekday evening peak hour and the Saturday midday peak hour, and found slight increases in traffic volumes that might result from the store’s expansion.

According to their most recent study, 80 percent of traffic traveling to the store from up Island via State Road, using Main Street and Norton Lane to get to the market, will increase traffic five to seven percent, or the equivalent of two additional minutes per vehicle during peak summer hours.

“Since the last time we were before this board talking about traffic, we have done some additional work that I want to bring up to date here today,” Randy Hart, director of VHB, told commissioners. “As you know, the building has been modified both architecturally and internally in terms of what the areas are.”

Using computer modeling programs to calculate traffic flow in and out of the parking lot next to the store and through Five Corners and along Beach Road, the study calculated the queue length, delays and level of service in two separate scenarios, using the latest dimensions of the store. Mr. Hart called the study “an extremely challenging process,” due to the nature and complexity of the five-way intersection at Five Corners.

The first scenario measured an unsignalized intersection (meaning no traffic lights) compared to a signalized intersection, equivalent to a police officer facilitating all of the movement through the Five Corners, in a way similar to how a traffic signal would during peak hours.

“We’ve analyzed it that way, and it’s a very common practice to do so,” Mr. Hart told the commission.

Keri Pyke of Boston-based Howard/Stein-Hudson Engineers (HSH) also submitted a peer review to the MVC this month.

“I think we’re in agreement on trip generation,” Ms. Pyke said of VHB’s analysis. “As Randy described, the building has gotten a little bit smaller, so the numbers have gone down a little bit. But we still respectfully disagree that everyone is going to use Main Street and Norton Lane to get to the Stop & Shop.”

Ms. Pyke said one thing computer analysis can’t account for is human instinct. “We think, in reality, what will happen is on any given day if you’re coming from that direction and Main Street doesn’t look too bad, you might take your left there, or if you’re a person that takes one route, that’s the route you’ll continue to take if that’s your preference,” she said.

Commissioners discussed several mitigation measures as proposed by both VHB and HSH, including the logistics of adding police enforcement at Five Corners, increasing the visibility of through-traffic signs along Water Street, and encouraging Stop & Shop employees to carpool to work or park at the Park & Ride lot.

Public comment

“I don’t know where we are,” said a clearly frustrated MVC commission member, Clarence “Tripp” Barnes 3rd of Tisbury, following the traffic presentation. “We got two people doing the same job, one checking up on the other one, it’s a great expense and very confusing. Where are we?”

Following a brief applause from the audience, Mr. Barnes continued.

“There’s no quick fix on this, we got a grocery store that’s a dump, we all want a new grocery store, and we gotta get on with it. Bad traffic is nobody’s fault, I don’t know where we are, but we can keep talking about it and keep talking about it, spend money on it and were not gonna get no grocery store on it.”

Commissioner Brian Smith of West Tisbury told Mr. Barnes that some of his concerns would be addressed at the next Stop & Shop hearing.

Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) administrator Angela Grant read a letter on behalf of the VTA.

“While there are differing opinions as to the degree of impact of the expansion project, a reality is that the impacts are noteworthy and warrant real mitigation measures at the expense of the applicant and not the taxpayers, in the short term or long-term,” Ms. Grant said.

Ms. Grant said the VTA is especially concerned about the longer delays over the course of the day as well as the intersection and the congestion along State Road up to Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and the Tisbury business district.

“That intersection plays a huge role in a snowball effect in everyone going uphill in terms of the transit system,” Ms. Grant said.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel shared his thoughts about traffic. “I have some serious reservations about the traffic that this project’s going to generate,” Mr. Israel said. “I also feel very strongly that a certain amount of spaces under the building of the Stop & Shop parking lot, not the town parking lot, be set aside for employees, irrespective of these other incentives.” Mr. Israel also told commissioners that money should be allocated to the town to help fund traffic control.

The next Stop & Shop hearing is scheduled for January 9.