Bike path roundly denounced in Chilmark

Members of the police department, Tri-Town Ambulance wary of vaccine, chiefs say.

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Tuesday night Bill Rossi joined his fellow selectmen in voting against a shared use path on North Road. — screenshot

Chilmark selectmen voted down a shared-use path on North Road Tuesday night. Though only a rough concept, the idea put forth by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was seen as detrimental to the bucolic nature of the road. All three selectmen joined various North Road residents in expressing skepticism about the appropriateness of such a project, and ultimately took a unanimous vote to oppose it. 

None of the selectmen thought a North Road shared-use path had any chance of being backed by Chilmark voters. 

MVC commissioner Jim Vercruysse said he serves on the commission’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee: “Our goal with these studies is to promote safety across the Island and create some kind of connectivity. And the project that we’ve been working on for the past year and a half or so is looking at ways to get through downtown Vineyard Haven, through West Tisbury, through Chilmark, into Aquinnah eventually.”

He said North, Middle, and South roads have been examined for possibilities, and North Road became the focus because of generous rights of way at its shoulders: “And the first thing I want to say is North Road is absolutely a beautiful road, and any planning that’s done would have to be approved and wanted by the town.”

Verycrusse went on to say, ”We’re looking for ways to make it safer and maintain the rural character.”

Selectman Warren Doty panned the idea despite emphasis by MVC executive director Adam Turner that it was an exploratory and fluid project thus far, and a point stressed by MVC chair Joan Malkin that such a project, if ever realized, “would ultimately be a town initiative” the MVC would only provide planning for.

Selectman Bill Rossi, who lives on North Road, said he heard “the threat of eminent domain” was afoot, but acknowledged his board can sometimes have to contend with “rumor and innuendo.”

Doty said he heard “universal opposition” when the topic came before the planning board. He described the disposition of townspeople, including many from North Road, as “very, very negative” toward such a project. “I don’t see any point with continuing along with a planning process that I know is going to be voted down by the people of Chilmark,” he said.

Chilmark residents Debbie Packer, Riggs Parker, Mollie Doyle, and Carrie Fyler expressed their discontentment over such a project to the board.

However, Chilmark resident Richard Winickoff said he saw a need to improve roadway safety conditions for bicyclists. 

Rossi admitted when his kids were young, he took them and their bikes to West Tisbury’s bike path because he felt “it wasn’t safe” on North Road.

Malkin expressed pessimism about the project too, but tempered that stance by saying, “I do have concerns about hamstringing a planning process that might turn up things that we haven’t considered.” 

The board went on to vote against any shared-use path project on North Road.

Vaccine trepidation

Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren and Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier notified the board that personnel under them had expressed doubts about being obligated to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Following brief reports from those chiefs, the board opted not to make vaccines mandatory for Chilmark first responders, but shied away from formalizing the stance with a vote.

In a report to the board, Klaren said he has opted not to make vaccination against the novel coronavirus mandatory for his department. In a roundabout way, Klaren mentioned members of his force were disinclined to be vaccinated. The position taken by the chief highlights the reality that on the Vineyard and in the commonwealth, Chilmark has long been a bastion of anti-vaccination sentiment. 

“I think that we all feel that if there was a magic vaccine that we all took and then the virus couldn’t spread and [would] go away, that would be a great thing,” Klaren said. In a convoluted manner, Klaren went on to say that in his department, it becomes a trip down an “interesting road” when you have employees “who wish not to take the vaccine.” 

Retmier said in light of the pandemic, “My initial plan was to just say across the board to all Tri-Town EMTs and paramedics that you have to get a vaccine — you’re going to get whatever comes out.”

However, listening to concerns from his employees, Retmier changed his position. His amended order was that “staff need to get a vaccine,” he said, “but I’m not mandating which one, and I haven’t mandated a time frame …”

As to “which one,” Retmier said, that was between Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines: “Right now, no one else on the Island in emergency services on the medical side, the other ambulance services, they’re not mandating anything …” Retmier said the wait is on for state guidance.

Rossi said it’s understood those departments don’t wish for it to be mandated, but “we all wish we could take it tomorrow.”

Doty said he was against mandating vaccination. Without offering anything to corroborate the idea, Doty said there’s thought the vaccine may be detrimental to those with an arrhythmia.

Malkin similarly said there may be medical reasons that add complications to taking the vaccine. 

“My view is as things stand now,” he said, “[as] the vaccine becomes available, we should recommend to people that they take it, but not mandate it. And we can revisit this in a month …”

He went on to say that there’s a risk the virus sweeps through public safety and leaves Chilmark and the Vineyard vulnerable. 

Rossi called for a motion on the subject of not mandating vaccination, but Doty, Malkin, and town administrator Tim Carroll talked him out of it. The board settled on that being an unvoted directive. 

  • I don’t know what the shared use path would look like, but putting down another 12 inches of space on both sides of that road for a biker, or a mopeder, or a pedestrian could be the difference between a nice bike ride to Menemsha and a helicopter ride to Boston.
    yeah, the shared use path is a bit overboard, but how about a compromise ? Just a foot is all this biker asks for .

    • Aquinnah was kept from having a bike path when the State was offering it last time. Since Chilmark didn’t want it, Aquinnah didn’t get a chance to have a bike path. It can ruin the rural character moping up moped accidents. You can ruin your life by hitting a bike rider and the bike rider’s life to boot.

    • Sections of State Road actually have 2 feet on both sides of the road which is indeed safer than zero. The MassDOT standard width for a bike lane is 4 feet on both sides of the road. An on island example is Meetinghouse Way in Edgartown.

  • Rich Saltzberg, for the record my last name is DeWitt. Yes, I live in Chilmark and serve on the island wide Bike Pedestrian Advisory Committee. When quoting someone I know your readers would appreciate getting their last name correct. Yes, there are indeed opportunities to enhance safety and share the road awareness on our up island roads. More to come. Thank you.

    • I agree with Elisha I think a bike path on any of the dangerous Chilmark roads would be a great idea. I would use them and I am sure they would be welcome by many. Maybe it should be voted on at the Town Meeting instead of being dismissed without the town being consulted.

  • One of the saddest things I get from reading about opposition to bike paths is the realization that those that oppose either don’t ride a bike or have never traveled nationally or internationally and experience bike paths. There are paths everywhere that are incredibly woven, integrated in roads, along side of roads, off the road but along side with vegetative buffers. There are fantastic paths between cities and towns, along oceans, to the ocean, to lakes, rivers and even to grocery stores. College towns are a warren of paths so students and teachers alike don’t have to drive.

    The concept of bike paths, is to encourage all ages to get out and participate. Lessen the usage of vehicles for short distances and go see some of the hidden gems and vistas we have here.

    With some negotiations, contiguous land owners could agree with town and state officials on how to have homogeneous paths all over this island.
    The MVC might want to initiate this kind of island plan

    • Well said. It is disheartening to witness such provincialism and closed minds in elected leaders.
      It would be lovely to bike or walk more safely up-island. I live a half mile from Alley’s Store but must drive there because South Rd is unsafe.

  • I frequently do up-island bike rides in the summer, staying along the side of the road the entire time and I see plenty of other cyclists doing the same. It’s already an established bike route, and heck, there’s even a bike ferry in Menemsha. Also, I can’t think of any houses on North Road that are situated anywhere near the road where they might truly be “disturbed” by the influx of cyclists, most of them are hidden at the end of dirt roads. Another example of how disconnected some of the politicians on this island are…

    • NIMBYism is rampant in Chilmark. Hypocrisy is also quite common among those who would decry trophy houses, yet oppose something beneficial to the town.

  • The nonsense about “ruining the fragile character of Chilmark” is simply a way of keeping this from happening by homeowners along the route. They said the same thing when South Road could have been widened by the state a few years ago. Here’s a newsflash: The “character” of the town isn’t that fragile and you may save a few lives and/or limbs by enacting them.

  • I would welcome a bike path on the North Road and I am a Chilmark voter. For better or worse the number of people cycling here has increased and safety is a huge concern. I am not sure why it’s a good idea to have bike paths in neighboring towns, but not ours. I hope the Town will revisit this proposal.

  • As a retired Massachusetts physician and member of the Aquinnah Board of Health, I write this note, but not in my official capacity. I was disheartened and saddened to read that apparently some police and first responders were choosing not to accept the Covid vaccine which is being offered to them in the first tier of essential recipients. They are being offered the vaccine to protect themselves from Covid, and ultimately to protect us ( you and me)from asymptomatic spread from others ( perhaps them), which is now the greatest cause of community transmission in the USA. For every person who chooses not to take the vaccine, it will only prolong the length of time that our lives will be disrupted ( lockdowns, stay at home orders, travel restriction, economic and educational fallout, family disruption ) as well as reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine for those like me who would be thrilled to get the vaccine ASAP. It is unfortunate that for those who took an oath “to protect and serve”, they would think that such behavior is consistent with that pledge.

    Jerry Green, Aquinnah

  • Thank you, Dr. Green, for saying this. It is indeed disheartening to read that some Chilmark first responders are choosing not to be vaccinated. As pointed out, when unvaccinated first responders arrive to help in an emergency, they may in fact be giving or getting Covid. I can imagine that that many in town are being put in the position of fearing to call for help in an emergency.

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