West Tisbury selectmen discuss potential bike lanes on State Road

MassDOT: Submit proof of public outreach before project goes forward.

Bill Chaisson

At their Nov. 9 meeting, West Tisbury selectmen began to discuss how to add bike lanes along State Road, a topic raised at the West Tisbury special town meeting Nov. 1 in a “sense of the meeting” question. Voters at that meeting indicated they were interested in moving forward.

Chairman Richard Knabel told attendees that architect Kate Warner had approached the selectmen in June with the idea of creating bike lanes on State Road.

Mr. Knabel reported that selectmen had written the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and had received a letter from that body in August. Mr. Knabel read aloud the relevant paragraph from the letter.

“Work of this nature should be fully vetted through the community through a robust public outreach effort before MassDOT could consider acting on your request. This office recommends you engage in a joint public outreach effort with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff to determine if there is broad support for the town’s initiative. MassDOT will require confirmation of documentation of broad local and regional support for this request before we can consider investigating the physical capability of providing standard bike lanes on State Road.”

“Where do we go from here?” Mr. Knabel asked the crowd.

“My inclination is to speak to [the joint transportation committee] and ask their advice as to how to show regional support for such an effort,” town administrator Jennifer Rand said.

Ms. Rand thinks the bike lane project may fall within the “Complete Streets Program,” which town officials are just starting to become acquainted with.

MassDOT defines a “complete street” as one “that provides safe and accessible options for all travel modes — walking, biking, transit, and vehicles — for people of all ages and abilities.”

Ms. Rand does not think the town will be able to send a letter to MassDOT in a month, but that rather they would continue to explore options.

When reached for comment after the meeting, Ms. Warner explained that while she had come to the selectmen last summer with her comments about the need for bike lanes, a group headed by resident Berta Geller has produced a document — using language required by the state — to submit to MassDOT in order to be designated a “Complete Streets town.”

This document, said Ms. Warner, has been approved by the planning board and must now go to the selectmen. It will be on their agenda on Nov. 30.

Regional impact

“There will be a fair amount of education that goes along with this, to make people understand what they are supporting,” Ms. Rand said. “That’s where the [MVC] will step in.”

Involving the MVC had been recommended by MassDOT. When reached for comment, MVC director Adam Turner said that a bike lanes project would be judged a development of regional impact (DRI) under Section 6.2 of their charter, which triggers a traffic impact analysis.

“For example,” Ms. Rand said, “after the special town meeting, I talked to a few people the next day who said, ‘Yes, we think it’s fantastic; they wouldn’t widen the road, right?’”

Ms. Warner said that the state defines a bike lane as being 4 feet wide on each side of the road, but that there are some sections of State Road where this would be impossible, such as the bridge near the old Humphreys bakery.

Selectmen also want to determine whether funding would be denied if the lanes are not made exactly to state guidelines — such as making a lane 3 feet wide instead of 4 feet.

“For right now, taking it to the MVC seems to be the logical next step,” Mr. Knabel said.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell added that it is worth asking the planning board, within the Complete Streets “package,” if there is any funding available for paving so that there could be a bike-lane link from the end of the bike path along Old County Road (which is not a state roadway) to its intersection with State Road.

The town would have to pay to build along a town-owned road, but not a state-owned road.

“It’s November now, but soon it will be summer, and the traffic is terrible, and we have to keep working on this,” Ms. Warner said.

Other business

West Tisbury selectmen had agreed in October to cooperate with Chilmark’s request for one selectman and the town accountant from each of the three Up-Island towns to form a group to explore potential cost-sharing models to address the costs associated with running the Chilmark School, pending the agreement of town accountant Bruce Stone. Mr. Knabel said he had not yet asked Mr. Stone, though selectmen approved Mr. Stone’s appointment pending his willingness to be appointed if asked.

In April, West Tisbury selectmen received the findings of a school task force which showed that while it would make economic sense to close the Chilmark School, or to withdraw from the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) as a last resort, the recommended course of action and the most tenable was to revise the regional agreement and “shift more of the Chilmark School costs to Chilmark.”

The board also voted to make selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter the appointed selectman for this tri-town group.

Regarding an outstanding complaint about Alpha Taxi and a potential hearing, Ms. Rand managed to locate Kyle Newall, the former Bluefish taxi driver who had filed the complaint with the West Tisbury Police Department claiming he was verbally assaulted by Alpha Taxi owner Benoit Baldwin. The town has said it wishes to resolve this matter because Alpha Taxi has brought suit against West Tisbury over its lack of regulation regarding Uber, the online transportation network company.

Mr. Knabel is urging that the town wait for the legal action to be completed on the Uber front before it holds the Newall hearing, but Mr. Manter thinks the town should push ahead and not wait. The board decided to push ahead.

Mr. Newall is currently living in Florida, but is moving to Colorado next week. He is willing to participate in a hearing — if there is one — by phone. If the town counsel agrees that appearing via phone is acceptable, then a hearing will be held.

Selectmen also continued a dog hearing between the Fisher and Marshard families. Recently retired West Tisbury animal control officer Joan Jenkinson was on hand to provide a report to the selectmen.

“We went to Mr. [Bruce] and Mrs. [Laura] Marshard’s house,” said Ms. Jenkinson. “They were both there, and the dogs were there. They told us about the plans — I think it’s a good plan, but they need about a month to finish it.” The plan is for the Marchards to fence in their front yard to prevent their dogs from running out the front door and heading for the Fishers’ chickens.

Selectmen agreed to allow one month to complete the required work, and Ms. Jenkinson will return to inspect the situation at its completion. Both parties of the hearing were agreeable to the plan.

There will be no selectmen’s meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 23.