To have or not to have parallel parking 

Oak Bluffs business owners, residents, stakeholders tussle over proposed Circuit Avenue parking designs.

A proposed view of parallel parking on Circuit Avenue. A majority of business owners and other stakeholders voiced opposition to the design at a public hearing.

Parallel parking was the hot-button issue at a public hearing on Zoom Monday for Oak Bluffs streetscape plans, with several stakeholders opposing the proposed change.

The streetscape project — funded by $2.7 million that was approved by voters at the June 2020 town meeting — focuses on five key areas of downtown Oak Bluffs: Circuit Avenue North, Circuit Avenue South, Kennebec Avenue, Healey Square, and a portion of Lake Avenue.

The project is being designed by Waterfield Design Group designers Craig Miller and Timothy Wong. Overall the project will add new sidewalks, trash cans, streetlights, crosswalks, and provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The most contentious point of discussion was the parking situation on the north end of Circuit Avenue. Miller’s design calls for replacing diagonal parking with parallel from Giordano’s Restaurant up to Healey Square, which would eliminate 12 of the existing 28 spaces. The sidewalks on the street’s north end will also be widened significantly, by five to seven feet in some areas.

Diagonal parking would remain on the south end of Circuit Avenue from Healey Square down to Third World Trading Co., and a raised crosswalk would be added, but to make room for improvements to Healey Square, the south end of Circuit Avenue would lose seven spaces, and two parallel parking spaces would be added to the south end of Kennebec Avenue.

The plans also call for widening the street’s south end by one to two feet in some areas.

Aside from pavement and sidewalk improvements, Kennebec Avenue would mostly remain the same, but add another sidewalk on the east side of the street.

Streetscape committee member Amy Billings was opposed to the change in parking spaces. She said the plans should increase the sidewalk along the entire street by one to two feet rather than the major increase on one end of the street.

“I am just not a fan at all of losing 12 spaces plus seven spaces, in the hope of gaining spaces down at the harbor,” Billings said.

Mocha Mott’s co-owner Tim Doble said he supports the overall project and its improvements to the sidewalks, but said the parallel parking was a “horrible idea,” and would negatively affect his in-and-out coffee shop. He, along with several others commenting in the Zoom chat, agreed with Billings that the sidewalk all the way down the street should be increased evenly.

“Any swap of parking somewhere down on the harbor doesn’t do me, my business — selfishly — one bit of good. None, zero,” Doble said.

In addition to those who spoke Monday, a petition signed by more than 1,000 individuals opposed to parallel parking on Circuit Avenue was submitted to the committee.

While many of those who spoke opposed the parallel parking, some were in support, such as Erin Tiernan, who co-owns Eastaway and Basics Clothing.

“It does seem like it keeps being said a lot of the downtown business owners are not for this plan, and I think there’s more of us for it than have spoken up,” Tiernan said. “I do support the combination of the angled and parallel parking.”

Nancy’s owner Doug Abdelnour said there should be a survey of business owners on Circuit Avenue to understand what they want to see in the streetscape plans. “The safety of the pedestrians and wheelchairs and strollers trying to get by each other on three- and four-foot sidewalks needs to at some point be more important than a net loss of three or four parking spots throughout the entire plan,” Abdelnour said.

Sarah Omer, who owns Tangerine and co-owns Red Cat Kitchen, said she fully supported wider sidewalks. “The pedestrian experience helps us all more than our comfort with parking,” Omer said.

The project is at the “50 or 60 percent” design level stage, and still has several fine-tuning elements left for final design, such as tree species, street lamp types, drainage, sidewalk dimensions, and loading zone locations, Miller said.

Monday’s hearing drew testimony from various business owners, residents, and other stakeholders, all in favor of repairing and improving the town’s sidewalks, but at odds over how to do that.

To make up for the loss of parking, Miller’s plan calls for converting Lake Avenue to diagonal parking, which would add 13 spaces. Miller also moved a bike travel lane between the road and the parking spaces to maintain the strip of grass along the sidewalk.

The vast majority of business owners and residents supported Miller’s plans for a redesigned Healey Square with semicircular benches, open views, and access through the square, and a pavement lift near the crosswalk, but Miller said he received direction from the streetscape committee to leave Healey Square’s configuration as it exists, and only improve the pavement and foliage. “The streetscape committee gave us very direct guidance on how there was not an interest in changing the layout of Healey Square,” Miller said.

Streetscape committee member Brian Packish said the committee was originally working toward Miller’s open sightline layout, but recently turned back toward keeping the layout as is.

“I think most of that conversation was driven by a couple of things: one, the benches that are there in memory of folks, because they’re super-important to all of us, as well as all of the work that’s been done by Friends of Oak Bluffs in investment of those planters,” he said.

Corner Store owner Luke Debettencourt was also concerned about the loading zone placed outside his business, and suggested it be moved off Circuit Avenue to save some parking spaces.

Packish said the committee hopes to meet later this week to discuss Monday’s public hearing before going to the select board.

Miller explained that these were not concrete, definite designs, and it is entirely up to the public to decide what they want.

“It’s up to the public to say we either want this direction, a big change from what’s there today, or we don’t,” Miller said. “If the public doesn’t want this direction, then our design would revert back to the curb lines that are currently in place.”


  1. I appreciate the business owners identifying their business and their opinion. Can we get the same transparency from our elected officials on this matter?

  2. Those existing planters make a wonderful habitat for the skunks that deter use in the evening hours. I’d like to see Healey Square redesigned for more open space with a better landscaping design and lighting. The benches (one of which is in memory of my father-in-law and his brother) could be repositioned in conversational groupings. Healey Square could be a wonderful gathering spot and connection between Circuit Avenue and Kennebec, with its vibrant restaurant scene. We could give Edgartown (and Paris) a real run for the money if we reimagined Healey Square and make downtown Oak Bluffs the perfect place to stroll, shop, and dine.

  3. Has anyone ever witnessed what happens in the summer when a tourist (on an islander) that has not parallel parked since they passed their drivers license test tries to parallel park their oversized whale of a vehicle on a busy downtown street? –think Edgartown .
    Why would the town want to put our valued tourists in such a humiliating situation ?
    And how does a truly handicapped person deal with that ?
    Redoing Healley square is an ok idea,and a better sidewalk on Kennebec is a no brainer, but I agree with Frank –parallel parking on Circuit ave is just plain dumb.
    Better to just close the street and make it a pedestrian only zone.
    It works well in Burlington, VT.

    • This was my first thought: Most people really don’t know how to parallel park. They end up taking up a lot of extra parking space. Most people simply cannot get into a tightish spot or even get close to the curb. Driving huge SUVs and minivans with darkened windows hasn’t improved anyone’s driving skills that I have noticed!

      Waiting for people to get their parking chops together and get their vehicle out of the roadway may well hold up the rest of the traffic on Circuit Avenue far more than does a driver just pulling out of a parallel spot.

    • Idea: Why not try out just the parallel parking part of the plan as a test. Wouldn’t that be a pretty easy experiment? See how well it goes. Start in the preseason to give locals a chance to get used to it (and practice their parallel parking!). Then see how it goes when the visitors come.

      Also, how long are the actual parking spots foreseen by the plan? We know from real estate photography that it is very easy to make things look a LOT larger than they are—in fact, that is the aim. This also seems to be the case with the rendering shown with the story. Very spacious-looking and all, but how does this work out in reality? Let’s give it a shot for a few months and find out.

  4. How about closing circuit ave to vehicles (except delivery and handicapped) in the summer, and Putting a park and ride at the old elementary school with one of those cute little touristy buses or a gondola ride from there to Dukes county ave. It’s about 1/4 mile.. Then a 1/4 mile walk into town through the campground. The current parking spaces on circuit could be used by those little carts. Imagine all the hot dogs someone could sell from a cutesie hot dog and pretzel vendor. Ben and Bills could sell ice cream right on the street. And no one would get run over when the bars close.
    The tourist would love it. They don’t come here to walk around on 10 ft wide cement sidewalks.

  5. In reading this article, no one has addressed the Elephant on the street. If you think about it, the time it takes someone to parallel park is much longer than the time to diagonal park, especially if you consider how many drivers do not know how to parallel park, or only did it once to pass their driver’s test. There is enough traffic back up now, if you are waiting for parallel parkers, it’s going to be much worse.

    • Kathleen– i addressed it.more than 24 hours before your comment –. the powers that be do read the comments here.
      keep posting—

  6. Exactly what Kathleen Smith said. Vineyard drivers don’t get much practice in parallel parking. I did it at the hospital last weekend and just barely managed not to embarrass myself. Even if you’re pretty adept, it takes more time than diving into a diagonal spot. I’m a little blown away that anyone who lives here thinks this is a good idea.

  7. It has been proven time and time again that both locals and visitors alike are incapable of parking in typical parking spaces. The creation of parallel parking would mean that it would only take one ignorant parker to set off a chain reaction of cars not in proper spaces. Do you think someone will pass up a spot in peak Summer because the car in front of them is over the lines? No, they too will park their car and cross the lines and it will cause a ripple effect throughout. How bout this? Less cars on the island.

  8. This is the video of the Guinness word records on parallel parking.
    You just have to watch it, and then figure out how to pick you jaw up and put it back on your face. As a mini driver, I really want to pull off one of these stunts while going into O.B from V.H and hitting a spot along the parallel parking area in front of where the boats dock
    You will never forget it…..Enjoy

  9. That would be a nightmare and colossal traffic headache. Big fat NO!
    And besides, the only people who know how to parallel park are New Yorkers.

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