VTA Church Street project sent to MVC

Selectmen and historic commission support charging station; neighbors want it moved.

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VTA administrator Angela Grant gave a presentation on the planned charging station at Church Street in Edgartown. — Brian Dowd

Edgartown selectmen have referred the Vineyard Transit Authority’s (VTA) $1.4 million charging station project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) for review.

The decision was the culmination of a meeting Tuesday evening called by concerned residents who were worried about the VTA’s proposed electric charging station at the Church Street stop, which sits in the town’s historic district. Selectman Michael Donaroma was absent.

VTA administrator Angela Grant gave a presentation on the transit authority’s history, its planned switch to an all-electric bus fleet, and the need for in-route charging stations for the electric buses.

“The buses that we have … do not have enough battery capacity to last throughout the day,” Grant said, adding that in the winter, buses run fewer miles per day, but use more energy for heat.

The VTA first broached the charging station in February 2018, and has since held two public hearings before the town’s historic committee. The project has also come up at selectmen’s meetings, including one in late December, where selectmen approved plans to remove some trees.

Grant said the charging station is being installed at Church Street because several bus routes come through that stop. The electric buses otherwise would not be able to last all day without a mid-route charge, she said. Having the charging station at the park and ride would not work either, because route 11 is the only route that goes to the park and ride. The project also calls for significant site improvements, including landscaping, bench construction, and light pole installation. The project will be fully funded with four grants from state and federal agencies.

Several residents voiced support for the electrification of the VTA’s fleet, but aired their grievances with the Church Street project.

Sara Piazza, who lives on Main Street, said she is happy with the project’s focus on the environment, but felt the VTA has outgrown the Church Street stop, and it was starting to become a safety issue.

“I have watched many, many close encounters of the bus and bicycle kind,” Piazza said. “At what cost do we transport people around this Island? I will personally say that the size and the number of those buses has actually ruined the little village in Edgartown.”

Jane Chittick, who lives near Church Street, and has been an outspoken critic of the project, said she supported electric buses, but not in the downtown historic district.

“This is a total transformation of our historic district,” Chittick said. She also raised concerns about tree removal and site improvements, saying the proposed hardscape “looks like it belongs in Attleboro or [the] Braintree T station.”

The historic district commission previously approved the project. Historic district chairman Chris Scott, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the Church Street stop is not emblematic of the historic district.

“What’s the best solution? How can the historic district guide a design?” Scott said, adding that the proposed hardscape would unquestionably be better: “I think they’ve done a good-faith effort to try to accommodate the reality of the hundreds and hundreds of people who are going to be using this location.”

VTA bus driver and union member Jason Chalifoux highlighted some of the ongoing issues and service cuts the VTA implemented due to a $1 million deficit. 

“Is this bus system going to be around in a couple of years, with all these cuts to service and the decrease in ridership?” Chalifoux said. “We want to make sure this will be a successful program going forward, and our house is in order, before we start putting in big projects.”

Grant clarified that the funds needed to supplement the operating budget are completely separate from the VTA’s capital project at Church Street. The town’s finance committee approved a $177,000 funding article, to be placed on the upcoming town warrant, to supplement the VTA’s operating budget. Grant added that the fuel savings from an electrified fleet will help reduce operating costs.

Members of the public filled the Edgartown library meeting room for the VTA’s Church Street charging station presentation.

Dukes County commissioner and Edgartown resident Keith Chatinover said the best thing for Edgartown was to have fewer cars on the road. “The real threat to the historical aesthetic of Edgartown is not these buses, it is the multitude of cars that come through Edgartown. If we can lower the amount of cars and add a bus … that is a huge win for the historical aesthetic for Edgartown. They’re cleaner buses, they’re less dirty, and they’re much quieter,” Chatinover said. “This will help maintain the historical aesthetic of Edgartown.”

Selectmen voted 2-0 to send the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission with the hope that the regional planning agency would be able to address traffic concerns. Selectmen also voiced support for the project.

“We want to encourage the electrification of the VTA fleet,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said. “If we have to make a few sacrifices to get a completely electrified fleet, I think it’s worth it.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Yes, I was glad to hear that the Church Street project will not necessarily change the activity there in terms of the existing VTA bus schedule, and yes, I approve of efforts to be good stewards to planet earth, I’m very concerned about the fact that the VTA’s plan to electrify the fleet involves wider buses.
    I live on Main Street in the block between Green Avenue and Pease’s Point Way, in my childhood home, in a neighborhood I have a 69-year association with and I have long been concerned about the VTA buses that have taken over our historic village. They are too loud, too big, too fast, and there are too many of them.
    The number I quoted on Tuesday afternoon was “thirty buses per hour traveling up and down Main Street during the summer,” which Ms. Grant asserted was “a bit of an exaggeration,” (a polite way of calling me a liar), when, in fact, it is absolutely true. Or, at least it was two summers ago, the summer of 2018. I know because I sat with pen and paper and counted them (more than once), and the schedule that year corroborated my findings.
    Okay, so the schedule from last summer – 2019 – only shows 28 buses per hour. If you take all of the routes: #1, #13, #8, #11, #6 and add up all of their arrivals to and departures from Church St. it adds up to twenty-eight buses traveling up and down and in the vicinity of Main Street , one of the busiest and most traveled main thoroughfares on the island during the summer (since it funnels traffic, bikes, and pedestrians from every other town, beginning at West Tisbury Road), a residential neighborhood, R5, part of which is in the historic district.
    It’s quite appalling, really, to see what this number of huge loud fast buses has done to Main Street and to our village.
    And yes, I am a voice in the wilderness because most islanders do not venture into this neighborhood – especially in the summer – so most of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Has Angie Grant ever spent any time in my neighborhood during the summer? Does she live near any of the bus routes? As for Bruce Nevin’s comment, “How many people do you hear say, ‘I never go to Edgartown?’ (and we need a bus to get them there) – the reason people don’t go into downtown Edgartown is because in the summer there’s nothing there except tourists and tourist shops – I don’t even go into town anymore – and I live there – because, compared with years gone by, when I might see somebody I knew, nowadays I can walk from my house to the harbor and back and not see a single familiar face. Why bother. Furthermore, to ride a bus into downtown Edgartown during the summer most often involves sitting in traffic. You could get into town faster by walking a few blocks.
    I keep saying, “Come and sit on my porch for an hour on any July or August day – your mind will be blown.”
    And while I heard residents of Dark Woods standing up for their neighborhood on Tuesday afternoon – yes, the buses bother me, but I am also concerned about the entire character – and safety – of our town, which, it can be validly claimed, and not just by me, has been ruined by the monster buses. There are too many. They are too big. They are too loud. They are too fast. They have created an ambience that is more akin to a turnpike.
    But unless you live in this neighborhood or spend any time here, it is of little consequence to you – it’s out of sight, out of mind.
    And while I applaud the fact that the electric buses are quieter (not noiseless, as they have other loud mechanical parts), the new buses will be 8.5 feet wide, considerably wider than the existing diesel buses, which are already too big for our town. The street in front of my house is 26’ wide. So, if two buses are passing each other, at 8.5 feet each, that leaves barely 4.5 feet in the middle of the road between the buses, and 2.25 feet in the gutter where the bicycles are riding. A minimum of 3’ distance from a bicyclist is required for safe passing. And there are other parts of Main Street that are narrower.
    This will make an already unsafe situation much more unsafe. I watch buses bullying bikes into the gutter all day long – I’ve seen terrifying situations involving buses and bikes. There simply IS NOT ROOM for the new electric buses (which are already on order, by the way).
    So yeah, there are the trees, the paving over, the widening of the Church Street, the size and frequency of the buses in the historic district – but what I am most bothered by is the fact that Angie Grant used her bully pulpit to essentially say: You want green energy? This is the way it’s going to be done. My way or the highway. There are no other options for reconfiguring the routes [there absolutely are – another conversation for another day] or serving the town of Edgartown except with this plan.
    This is wrong on so many levels.
    I also want to address one more fallacy – the idea that the only way to cut down on traffic is with these monster buses. This is a lie. One, not everyone who comes to the island brings a car; Two, there are plenty of other ways to cut down on traffic besides adding more buses (another conversation for another day). Three, I watch many, many empty buses go past my house, and studies show that if the ratio of passengers per mile is inefficient, the CO2 savings is nil and you have “greenless energy.” And as I have said many times over – why, exactly, do we want to reduce traffic? SO WE CAN DRIVE OUR CARS WITH NOBODY IN OUR WAY. The paradox of all times.
    It’s time to get a lot more creative here in terms of traffic, beyond BIGGER BUSES.
    This project must be stopped if for no other reason than the new electric buses are too big and too dangerous for downtown Edgartown.
    See you on my porch – all are welcome.
    Sara

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