Tisbury looks at ways to improve pedestrian safety

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The town of Tisbury is hoping to improve pedestrian safety by improving pedestrian flow from the Steamship Authority ferry terminal in Vineyard Haven.

The Town of Tisbury will experiment with whether it can eliminate a lane of traffic on Water Street coming from the Vineyard Transit Authority circle to determine if a plan to improve pedestrian flow from the Steamship Authority ferry terminal is feasible.

In a 3-0 vote Tuesday, the board agreed to have its consultant and the town’s police department close down one lane of traffic the weekend after the Fourth of July. If it works, the town could go with a plan to expand sidewalks and reduce the length of a crosswalk to get tourists onto Union Street and headed toward Main Street shops and restaurants in Vineyard Haven.

Ben Robinson, a planning board member, said the VTA has strongly pushed back against the idea of reducing the number of lanes coming from the bus circle from two lanes down to one. The lane reduction is only planned for the length of the terminal building.

When planning board chairman Cheryl Doble suggested “testing it by shutting it down temporarily before we’re committed to it,” the board of selectmen jumped at that idea.

Town administrator Jay Grande said it would only take two to three days of testing. “You’ll know quickly if it’s a problem,” he said.

The overall plan is to draw passengers to the right of the Steamship Authority terminal building as they step off the ferry. Currently, the vast majority of walkers, except those headed for taxis, funnel to the left side of the building, along with the cars and trucks unloading from the boat.

Wider sidewalks, moving the visitor center kiosk, and perhaps encouraging the SSA to put up signs are all elements that could change that, Lou Rabito, an engineer with Howard Stein & Hudson, the town’s consultant on the project, told selectmen.

The proposal is part of a $374,000 Complete Streets grant through MassDOT.

Rabito presented that plan and two others to selectmen, including a proposal to remove sidewalks on Norton Lane, which runs between Main and Water streets alongside Stop & Shop, and make that road open to pedestrians and cars. Vehicle traffic would be slowed by narrowing the road with planters, Rabito said.

A plan to add a sidewalk the full length of that street was scrapped because a tree would have to be removed, Rabito said.

Tristan Israel, chairman of the board of selectmen, said removing that tree would start “World War III.”

“Most people walk in the road,” DPW director Ray Tattersall said. “This plan makes a lot more sense, and we save a tree.”

Once again, selectmen want to see a more definitive plan of how the walkway will be differentiated from the roadway before signing off.

The third Complete Streets project nearing the final design and construction stages is a shared-use path next to the old fire station parking lot on Beach Street. The plan there is to have a three-foot buffer on either side of an eight-foot shared-use path leading to Veterans Park.

Grande pressed selectmen to act quickly so the consultant can do final designs and get the work done in the fall. Complete Streets projects come with one-year deadlines to spend the grant funding, but the town has received an extension, Grande said.

The board asked Rabito to report back on the Water Street test later this month and to have more detailed plans ready for consideration.

“We need time to freak out,” Israel said.

Two schools of thought

One week after meeting in joint session with the school committee in a sometimes contentious session, the board of selectmen said the town needs to take a holistic look at its capital project needs, including a new town hall and high school renovations, knowing that a town school project remains a priority.

Finance director Jon Snyder told the board that while property values have increased 6.2 percent per year over the past 30 years, the town’s median salary has only increased 3.8 percent a year over that same period.

“That’s unsustainable,” selectman Melinda Loberg said. “We can’t expect our constituents to be able to continually pay higher and higher taxes when their income is growing at a much slower pace.”

At that joint meeting between the school committee and selectmen last week, selectmen drew some ire by throwing out an arbitrary number of $27 million for a school project. In an election decided by 21 votes in April, town voters rejected a proposal that would have cost the town $32.5 million, while the state reimbursed $14.1 million, for a $46.6 million new school.

Snyder and Grande pointed out that repairs that need to be done to keep the existing Tisbury School operating over the next few years while the town decides next steps won’t be eligible for reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, the school committee met and continued its discussions of next steps. Amy Houghton, the board’s chairman, could not be reached for comment, but Colleen McAndrews said the school committee talked about meeting again jointly with the selectmen during the week of July 9 to iron out some details and perhaps come to consensus.

Among the items up for consideration is a 10- to 12-member committee, including some who served on the previous building committee, McAndrews said. Along with figuring out a school plan, the committee would look at at other potential uses for the existing Tisbury School. The school committee also wants to examine who decides the amount of a spending cap, and what other potential sources of funding could be considered.

Museum gets license to party

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum was granted a one-day occupancy permit for a fundraiser at its new building under renovation in Vineyard Haven.

Grande expressed some disappointment with how quickly the town’s fire department and building inspector had to act on the permit for Saturday’s event.

A short time later, during a public hearing, the town granted a new license for storage of propane on the museum grounds. The museum already has a permit for a 1,990-gallon tank, but because events like the one Saturday are catered by companies that bring their own gas grills, the museum needed a permit that allowed for capacity over 2,000 gallons, Phil Wallis, executive director of the museum, said.

There was some pushback from abutters, including Sue O’Rourke, who questioned just how many events the museum is planning, and how much propane they would be allowed to have. “How big are these events?” she said. “I would like to see them severely limited.”

While the permit allows for up to 1,000 gallons of propane more, Wallis said the extension is just for small tanks of 40 gallons for caterers.

Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling suggested the museum get the permit. He was unavailable to attend the meeting.

But selectman James Rogers, a retired firefighter, tried to ease the concerns of O’Rourke and other neighbors. Every time there are events held, the fire and building departments do inspections, and those are public record.

In other business, Tattersall reminded the board that new regulations and parking fees go into effect Sunday, July 1, at the park and ride lot. Tattersall said he will be there to make sure people know where to park and how to use the new kiosk.

Tattersall also reported a dire need for lifeguards. The town has only two signed up for the summer. The cost of certification, which some other towns pay, is as much as $500, he said.

Meanwhile, the town’s pay of $15.20 per hour, versus the $18.50 West Tisbury pays per hour and $17.50 Edgartown pays, Tattersall said, makes it difficult to compete.

Next year, Tattersall said he will ask town meeting for enough money to pay for certification of up to five lifeguards, and to increase the hourly pay.

The town will put up “no lifeguard on duty” signs at Tashmoo, while stationing the town’s limited staff at Owen Park, he said.