Beach Road detour

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The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plan to reconstruct Beach Road between Wind’s Up and Five Corners in Vineyard Haven by adding sidewalks and bike lanes was forced to take a detour around logic and town dithering. It may now be stalled.

MassDOT supervising project manager Thomas Currier told The Times Friday that it may be unrealistic to think that the Beach Road project can still move forward on the original timeline, since it is unlikely bids could be issued and permitting completed prior to the start of the 2017 federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2016.

So for the foreseeable future, pedestrians will walk along a sidewalk that is uneven, and near Packer’s becomes a dirt goat track. Bicyclists will share the road with cars whizzing by as they pass the charming sign one Five Corners business owner erected lest some petrified kid or tourist dare seek shelter from the roadway on the sidewalk in front of her shop: “No bike riding on sidewalk.”

No doubt, MassDOT is even now wondering if there is a better place to spend $2.4 million, assuming the federal and state money is still available in the next funding cycle. Certainly leaders in any number of towns, told by MassDOT that a Transportation Improvement Program grant would be used to transform a jumbled collection of sidewalks, shoulders, utility infrastructure, and a bike path that ends abruptly into a smooth passageway for motorists, bicyclists and walkers, would say — Thanks, when can you start?

Not here. For more than one year, town officials, MassDOT, Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) planners, and concerned residents have kicked around the various attributes of several plans that originated with an MVC planning document, first published in 2009, titled “Pre-feasibility Study of the Extension of Martha’s Vineyard Network of Shared-Use Paths (SUP),” by Greenman-Pedersen, Inc.

The study identified gaps in the Island’s network of SUPs that included the stretch of road from Wind’s Up to Five Corners. The study divided the road into six subsections, and proposed two design proposals, each of which was some combination of SUPs, conventional sidewalks, bike lanes, and vehicle lanes.

Meetings followed meetings until we got the “symmetrical plan,” the “hybrid plan,” the “hybrid-hybrid plan,” and just this week, “hybrid-hybrid-Tristan.”

We would add the “anything is better than the current mess plan.”

SUPs generate heated discussion among bicycle purists, and are at the heart of the disagreement despite the fact that no one has suggested a bylaw that would force speedsters onto the SUP. What’s the problem? The Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road SUP appears to work just fine, as does the SUP along State Beach, used by a myriad of people in the summer months. It is a compromise, and everyone pretty much gets along.

Last week a divided Tisbury board of selectmen voted 2-1 to move forward with the symmetrical plan, irrespective of the fact that MVC senior planner Bill Veno said the project was initiated for the purpose of constructing a shared-use path and MVC executive director Adam Turner endorsed it as the safer option.

Selectman Melinda Loberg made the reasonable argument that the vote ignored the views of the planning board and MVC planners. No matter,

selectmen Larry Gomez and Tristan Israel had their own thoughts on bicycle theory and road design.

“I think regardless of rules and regulations, if we have nice 5.5-foot sidewalks going into town on either side, that those that are afraid will be on those sidewalks,” Mr. Israel said.

“I was taught at an early age that you walk against the traffic and you ride with the traffic,” Mr. Gomez said.

Ms. Loberg wrongly suggested the design question be punted to voters at a special town meeting in December, as though opening up the design process to more discussion would improve it. This decision properly belongs with the board of selectmen, whom voters entrust to make wise decisions based on careful consideration of the issues.

On Tuesday, Mr. Israel wisely reversed his decision and went along with the SUP. HIs willingness to reconsider his original decision is welcome. Mr. Gomez was unmoved.

More mystifying is why the town has not referred this project to the MVC for review as a development of regional impact (DRI). Granted that MVC review has all the appeal of a root canal, but if 10 bowling pins getting knocked down in the middle of Oak Bluffs is a DRI, than a remake of one of the Island’s busiest and most important roadways ought to qualify.

Asked that question, Mr. Israel, apparently without a hint of irony, said he didn’t believe a referral was necessary because commission staff have been involved every step of the way.

“I think we can make our own decisions just as well as the MVC thinks they can for the rest of the Island,” Mr. Gomez said. “Whether we pick a direction that turns out to be sort of wrong, or totally wrong, it’s still our decision. We made it.”

We are told that because it is a state road, MassDOT is free to do what it pleases. That may ultimately be our best hope.