Chilmark residents pack Menemsha forum

Consultant William Brewster outlines possible tweaks to how Menemsha functions.

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Chilmark planning board member Janet Weidner introduces Menemsha planning consultant William Brewster at a forum in the Chilmark library on Thursday.

Chilmark residents made a strong showing at a forum last Friday meant to review ideas about improving how the harborside village of Menemsha works. With concept art as a guide, Connecticut architect William Brewster pointed out a range of Menemsha problem spots and explained possible solutions. These included hacks for parking, traffic flow, pedestrian flow, signs, and wind-blown sand per a report his firm made for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). The report is meant to assist the Chilmark planning board in its ongoing redraft of the Menemsha master plan.

In an introduction, Chilmark planning board member Janet Weidner told the audience Brewster’s report was the result of input from residents over the course of several meetings plus the thoughts of the planning board and other town bodies and three seasons’ worth of site visits by Brewster. Those visits produced a draft report that was enhanced with additional town feedback, she said. Weidner thanked the commission and executive director Adam Turner in particular for underwriting the report. She also thanked Chilmark police officer Kevin Burchill for suggestions he provided based on his summer traffic work in Menemsha.

“The key here is — what we’ve done is — we’ve looked at basic concepts for pedestrian safety, traffic calming, those kinds of items,” Brewster said, “and we recognize that we can’t solve them all in one report but that the whole of this report is to allow the commission to then look at these items and prioritize them and decide which ones are of value to them and which ones can be implemented going forward.”

A major item on Brewster’s fix list was streamlining how Vineyard Transportation (VTA) buses navigate the area. Buses have difficulty making their way through summertime congestion on Basin Road, he pointed out, and must loop by the edge of the beach in order to reverse course. Brewster suggested a turnaround installed behind the “comfort station” (the public restrooms located across from Larsen’s) would mitigate the summer bus crawl by cutting the beachside loop out.

Several members of the audience questioned him about the utility of a stop sign at the intersection of Basin Road and North Road.

“People do come pretty fast down North Road and if there were a stop sign before you got to Basin Road…,” North Road resident Elise Elliston said.

People not used to North Road, which spills into Menemsha on a downward slope, might be surprised to encounter a stop sign, Brewster pointed out.   

“I’m not sure that’s better or worse,” he said.

However, a sign warning of a stop sign further down the road might be a “traffic calming” solution that would address this concern, he said.

Ellison agreed and said the commission has discussed the intersection with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT).

In a follow-up interview, Turner denied there’d been any commission dialogue with DOT regarding the intersection. However, the commission has actively gathered information from a variety of sources to gain a better understanding about the vicinity, he said, and it plans to work with executive secretary Tim Carroll and police chief Jonathan Klaren to improve the situation there.

Chilmark resident Susan Murphy asked if signs up at the intersection of Menemsha Crossroad and North Road had been considered as a long range traffic warning “to let people know there’s trouble ahead.”

Brewster suggested “low key” sandwich board signs, as opposed to fixed traffic signs, might help.

Among other changes, Brewster’s report suggests trimming vegetation at the intersection to improve visibility as well as relocating signs.

Speeding is recurring problem at that intersection that endangers pedestrians, Basin Road resident Annette Cingle said. While visibility at the intersection was important, she said if that makes way for a yield sign, speeding may only worsen. She advocated for stop signs.

Speed bumps and a flashing traffic light were also discussed as remedies, but Brewster said ultimately an engineering study would help spell out what’s needed there. The issue is predominantly up to DOT, which controls the roads.

Turner, who was present at the forum, later said he was pleased with Brewster’s presentation and work overall, especially the visual components.

“I thought Bill Brewster did a great job of illustrating his ideas,” he said.

It’s now up to Chilmark to digest the information it has received, Turner said. The commission is ready to lend it further support in the future, should it be asked, he said.