Proposed bus turnaround causes contention

Menemsha bus turnaround faces fierce opposition from townspeople.

The Chilmark children’s choir treated selectmen to a performance of “Jingle Bells” during a meeting Tuesday. — Lucas Thors

A proposed bus turnaround at the Menemsha Beach bus stop faced strong opposition from Chilmark community members at a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday.

The bus turnaround was originally conceptualized by selectmen to alleviate congestion in the area, where seasonal residents flock. Bill Brewster of Brewster Consulting drafted a master plan for the area, including a report that diagrammed traffic flow. Brewster determined the best fix for the congestion in the area would be to create a turnaround that circles around the bathrooms at the bus stop. Selectmen said the turnaround would alleviate bottlenecking during the busy season when shuttle and car traffic are highest.

In 2017, the Chilmark planning board subcommittee created a parking and traffic summary master plan, which cited challenges involving the “tight squeeze” that VTA buses and emergency vehicles face when traveling down Basin Road on the way to Dutcher Dock.

Another issue mentioned is vehicles parked near the bus stop with bike racks, coolers, and other items that jut into the road. Because of the limited number of parking spaces along Basin Road, cars are often queued up for spaces, forcing buses and other traffic to go around the cars and enter the lane of oncoming traffic.

A number of concerned residents cited the possibility that the turnaround would not solve the issue, and money would be spent on a plan that would not make progress.

“This is not an easy issue, but we find that this is the best solution,” chairman James Malkin said. Malkin read a long letter from the chairman of the planning board, Rich Osnoss. The letter states, “We stand by our decision to advance the plan. There is no perfect solution.”

Osnoss wrote that the details of the plan must be worked out in order to not diminish the cultural and historical aesthetics of Menemsha and the town of Chilmark.

Letters were sent to the town by members of the community who thought the bus turnaround would “suburbanize” the area. Katie Carroll was one of those people, and in her letter she requests the project be delayed until a full-fledged plan is created, and all other options are exhausted: “I am completely opposed to the construction of the bus turnaround in Menemsha. I have written multiple letters to the planning board, attended meetings, and had conversations about the topic.”

Carroll pointed out her work is adjacent to the bus stop. Carroll, and her spouse Marshall, own Menemsha Texaco, a harborside business a stone’s throw from the proposed turnaround. She said seeing the “fluttering orange surveyor’s tape” marking the proposed turnaround caused her dismay. Carroll read names from a long list of residents who are opposed to the plan and think there are better alternatives.

Malkin reiterated that Brewster is a master architect, and a public forum was held after he drafted the plan to provide information to the town and hear suggestions.

Carroll’s letter to the town advocated for a simpler and more cost-effective solution: repainting the lines in the existing parking area to fully utilize the space provided. “It is a far less costly alternative that does not have such a drastic visual impact, and actually lends itself to remedying the issues of overall traffic flow,” Carroll said.

Carroll’s daughter, Bradley, said she works as a traffic officer, and spends much of her day in the congested parking area. “Creating a bus turnaround won’t solve this issue,” she said. She suggested repainting the lines in the lot in order to broaden the parking area and utilize currently wasted space. “The lines aren’t wide enough for another car to go around, so people get stuck behind cars that are waiting for parking spaces,” she said. “That’s why I like when the buses come — because I can say, ‘Hey, there’s a bus behind you, you need to keep it moving.’”

Chilmark Police Sgt. Sean Slavin agreed with Bradley’s point: “The initial spots are too close; a lot of time we are backing the bus all the way out because it can’t turn around.”

Slavin did suggest the bus turnaround would provide staging space for emergency vehicles.

Malkin suggested allowing the process to halt so that anyone with “specific suggestions” on how to remedy the bus area could speak their piece.

Malkin said he would be willing to gather suggestions from the public regarding public safety and congestion at the bus area. Brewster would then evaluate the recommendations and integrate any useful points into the plan. He initially suggested all recommendations be submitted by Dec. 28, but Carroll and others said that time frame was too short. “Why such a short window?” Carroll asked selectmen. Malkin said he is tired of holding the project off, but he would allow additional time for townspeople to submit their recommendations.

Selectmen agreed to put any planning or development of the project on hold until Jan. 8, when Brewster would vet all specific suggestions and report back to the town.

Selectmen also enjoyed a performance by the Chilmark children’s choir, who sang “Jingle Bells.”