Oak Bluffs accepts streetscape bid

Paves the way for wider sidewalks, parallel parking on Circuit Ave.

The northern end of Circuit Avenue will have expanded sidewalks and parallel parking. — Brian Dowd

The Oak Bluffs select board put the kibosh on hopes to maintain diagonal parking at the north end of Circuit Avenue by accepting a construction bid for the town’s wide-reaching streetscape project.

At the board’s meeting Tuesday, the project came down to another close 3-2 vote, with board members Brian Packish, Ryan Ruley, and Jason Balboni voting to accept the bid and board members Gail Barmakian and Emma Green-Beach voting against.

Board members gave the public another opportunity to discuss the parking issue, and mulled over postponing the vote to accept the bid.

Ruley said he didn’t know what waiting another month would do at this point. “Delaying it a week is going to do nothing more than continue the emotional back-and-forth, and I don’t want to do that anymore,” Ruley said. 

Ruley moved to accept the bid with the condition that an oversight committee advise the select board on details of the project.

Balboni said the world is moving toward pedestrian- and bike-friendly roads, and away from cars and carbon dioxide emissions. He said the town should move forward with the project. “We have too many cars on Martha’s Vineyard; that’s not going to change,” Balboni said. “There’s never going to be enough parking spaces down there, but there’s definitely not enough sidewalk down there.”

Conversely, Barmakian said it was completely within the board’s power to not accept the Lawrence Lynch bid.

“Your other avenue is to reject this bid, which we can do in the best interest of this town,” Barmakian said. “This town is [divided] over this, but one of the fundamental mistakes is that we didn’t allow this to go to ballot, which it could. If it went to ballot and the vote came out either way, I think you would lose a lot of that divisiveness.”

She added that she was “taken aback” that the discussion and possible vote of the project was even on Tuesday’s agenda, given the large public response at the special town meeting. 

“There’s an elephant in the room of how we respond, if at all, to the outpouring of people, the whole issue with the project leading up to Tuesday’s town meeting,” she said. “Not giving the public any choice at all, it’s pretty insulting.”

Green-Beach said she voted no because she would have preferred another week to think over the project, but said the decision to move forward with the bid was a good decision.

Lawrence Lynch Corp. was one of 15 contractors that pulled applications for the project, but was the sole bidder, with a bid of $1.65 million to complete the Circuit Avenue portion of the project. 

The Circuit Avenue portion is one piece of the town’s downtown streetscape project, funded by $2.7 million approved by voters at the 2020 town meeting. 

The streetscape project focuses on Circuit Avenue North, Circuit Avenue South, Kennebec Avenue, Healey Square, and a portion of Lake Avenue. Designs and engineering were vetted by committees and public hearings, but the select board was nearly split when it voted 3-2 to approve the design. There has been almost unanimous praise and support for most of the project, which will include new widened sidewalks, trashcans, streetlights, and crosswalks, provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and redesigns Healey Square to get a brand-new look by removing the large planters at both ends and creating a sightline through to Ocean Park.

But plans to switch diagonal parking spaces on the northern end of Circuit Avenue in front of the Ritz and Giordano’s Restaurant to parallel parking spaces has ignited debate in town.

A cohort of parallel parking opposers filled a special town meeting last week to vote on a petition article that called for a ballot vote in the spring to decide the fate of parking on Circuit Avenue, but town counsel and the town moderator told the public the petition article was not legal, therefore making any vote moot. The moderator took a straw poll, which overwhelmingly rejected parallel parking on the busy Oak Bluffs street.

There were members of the public both in support and in strong opposition to the project.

Rich Weiss, a member of the town’s finance and advisory committee, said the wider sidewalks and parallel parking came as a surprise even to streetscape committee members.

“This is such a fundamental change to Circuit Ave. that everyone has known and grown up with,” Weiss said. “We feel like people on the select board should maybe try to recognize the process with the committee for something that would fundamentally change Circuit Ave. maybe should have been a ballot question. I hate to think it’s too late to go in that direction.”

Rebecca Everett said she thought that such a large project should be decided by ballot vote.

“I’m blindsided,” Everett said. “I hope you would respect the townspeople enough to put it to a written vote.”

Parks commissioner and former streetscape committee member Amy Billings said she was “flat-out against” parallel parking. 

“People are being heard, but they’re not being acknowledged. You can listen to us complain all you want, but none of you have spoken back to us and tried to work this out,” Billings said. “Disappointing is the least of my emotions right now.” 

Some were in favor of the change, including Nancy’s owner Doug Abdelnour. “There’s truly been seven years of this discussion, and at some point we need to make a decision to move forward. The overwhelming majority of businesses are in favor of this,” Abdelnour said. “I really hope you guys vote this through tonight, because every day that ticks by, it’s going to cost us more and more money.”

Kathy Laskowski said information on the streetscape project has been out and available for view. “To say you didn’t have a chance is really not fair,” she said. “I think it’s a good opportunity. I think we should be a pedestrian-friendly town.”

Ritz owner Larkin Stallings said the new sidewalks and parking would affect him significantly, but that he was in support of it.

After the board’s vote, Packish said he was “absolutely exhausted” from the process. “It’s been dozens upon dozens of this same meeting for a long, long time. As a person that’s been a part of this for eight years, every one of these, it drains you because you get the calls from the people that are against, that are for, all people you know, all people you respect, all people you want to support everyone’s position,” Packish said. “Unfortunately that’s just not possible from the seats that we sit in.”

Balboni added that he ran for the select board to do what’s best for the town. “I think we have to have general respect for people and treat each other the right way,” Balboni said. “I think being mean or nasty or degrading to people is not going to help anyone out in this process.”

Lawrence Lynch has 10 days from the board’s acceptance of the bid to begin construction. The project is expected to be completed in May.


  1. Well I definitely won’t be voting for the 3 select board members who voted to push this project through at this time if they run again. Something this important should have been put on the ballot in the first place and not voted on in a Zoom meeting June 2020 when voters were just 4 mos into Covid and lockdown. Most of us were completely distracted by such a major occurrence in our lives. Everyone should recall that among many critical concerns back then were our health risks and even fear of death. Most of us were trying to figure out if our livelihoods were going to survive and what it all meant to our lives. The farthest from most our minds was keeping up with town meetings and learning how to navigate Zoom to participate. I’ll say it again, this absolutely should have been put on the ballot from the start, and add it still could be, but the select board won’t allow it. Instead, they’re choosing to ignore the exceptionally large number of voters who showed up in person at the Nov 9th town meeting to vote against this project. I agree with Barmakian’s opinion in this article, and I think pushing this through without a ballot vote is obviously the wrong choice now that the fact there are so many voters opposed to it has come to light. Sounds like some of the select board members just don’t want to deal with it anymore regardless of how many voter’s wasted their time showing up on the 9th and unanimously voted against it only to be told our vote would not legally matter. Frankly, the way it played out that night is viewed by many of the voters as suspect. All the more reason to delay the project and put it to a vote on the ballot!

    • In June 2020 the Town Meeting was held at the Tabernacle, not on Zoom. If you wanted to be informed the info was available. I am happy we are moving forward. Proud to be from OB!

  2. Maybe someone should think about a recall of the Board members that are arrogant enough to ignore the pulse of their constituents $1.6 million translates to taxation without representation. Yea party time ????

  3. Well, it obvious who runs Oak Bluffs. It’s also obvious that the voice of the public, at the last special meeting, meant NOTHING. We, the voters, may have put the selectboard in office, but, you’d think, when so many people say they would like this to go to a town vote, the selectboard should have the courtesy to actually listen to the public. Even the President of the US can be overruled. I understand that the voice of the public at meeting can’t demand this to be put on the next ballot, but they haven’t given anyone, to my knowledge, a chance to do a petition.
    I do agree with one voters suggestion, and that is to try, the parking change, during next July and/or August. See how it actually works, before we stuck with something we can’t get back.
    Also, the spots lost on Circuit Ave, how long before we get those back on Lake Ave? Same time? A year later? Or maybe when we can afford it. I know of no actual time line. If there is one, I would appreciate knowing it.

  4. I don’t live in OB, but like many others, I enjoy breakfast and lunch at Linda Jean’s occasionally, shop at Reliable Market often, enjoy the pastries at Back Door Donuts in the summer, and buy my art supplies at Da Rosa’s.

    Well, guess what? when the parallel parking in OB begins, you won’t find me patronizing these businesses anymore.

    OK, I’m only one person so it won’t make a lot of difference if I don’t shop in OB, but I bet that there are others who feel as I do. Parallel parking is difficult enough without a parade of inpatient drivers in back of you!

    Clearly, the 3 guys who voted to go along with the parallel parking plans don’t want to be re-elected. What were they thinking???

  5. Thank you Selects for moving forward. Sidewalks are much more important than parking. I hope to see wider sidewalks all the way up the street someday.

  6. We see the same arguments against every major project on the island. People were absolutely convinced that the roundabout would lead to disaster, that the new airport would destroy the island, that sewers would result in calamity, that the music festival would be chaos. We get it, you dont like change. But at some point, the town leaders need to lead, knowing that half their constituency will be unhappy. Wider sidewalks and parallel parking will not ruin anything. It will be beautiful and safer and everyone will look at the result and wonder “why did we get so upset about this?”

  7. Time for a change of selectmen… I will definitely be supporting anyone who runs against Balbeeni, Druley, and Crackfish. Time for them to go!!!!

  8. LEFT SIDE parallel parking is challenging. Did anyone think this through? Expect lots of traffic jams as visitors struggle with this.

  9. Thank you to the select board for making the decision to prioritize safety and accessibility in OB. Thank you to both the Streetscape committee, select board and planning board for investing 7 years of your time on this project and in conducting public outreach via public forums, (42!!!) public meetings, social media outreach, in person surveys, online surveys, and posting gigantic billboards displaying the intended plans throughout town for all of the public to see. I, for one, know that this decision was made in the best interest of our town, and was began as a means to address the severe shortcomings that exist. Fortunately, Phillips and Reliable will continue to enjoy diagonal parking in front of their establishments so as not to disrupt anyone’s ability to patronize those stores.
    Im eager to witness the ease with which our locals and visitors who utilize wheelchairs or walkers, and families with strollers are able to enjoy our sidewalks without fear of ending up in the street.
    I’m certain the tens of thousands of pedestrians who walk off of ferries every day for weeks to spend money at the businesses on Circuit Ave will be relieved to know they won’t have to negotiate sidewalk space the entire way up the street.

    Last weeks meeting had a turnout that didn’t include the voices of parents stuck at home with kids or young people who had to work- so to say that meeting represented the majority is simply untrue. It was an eleventh hour Hail Mary by a select group of opposition who had the flexibility to attend an in person meeting at 7pm on a weeknight.
    I applaud the select people for voting in favor of people over vehicles, and foresight to plan for the next 50 years instead of “the way it’s always been.”

  10. At the meeting on Tuesday, Selectboard members Ruley, Packish, Green-Beach and Balboni all had thoughtful words about the process of this seven year project. This plan was voted into acceptance by the majority of the Streetscape Committee and again by the Planning Board before it landed in the laps of the Selectboard members. After weeding through 41 public meetings, a 2020 town vote and a mountain of public feedback via letters, emails and in person comments, the Streetscape Committee and Planning Board recommended this plan to the Selectboard. There is a huge amount of support in favor of this plan from residents of Oak Bluffs, as well as over 80 percent of the downtown business community. We put just as much pressure on these board members as the opposition. Our town officials did what they should have done, and they followed that recommendation to move forward with what is best for the town. Calling for their heads on a plate now is unfair to them and the entire democratic process this project followed.

  11. There is a popular coffee shop on Main Street in VH and lots of people pop in there in the morning before work. From my window I can observe the street activity as cars and trucks pull into the diagonal parking places. Pulling in takes about 3 seconds. Pulling out (reverse out, turn steering wheel, proceed up the street) takes at the most 10 seconds. From pull-in to get coffee to pull-out is about 4 mins. total, sometimes less. There are five spots in front of my window. Easily sixty cars and trucks—probably more—zip in and out in an hour. Diagonal parking clearly makes the most efficient use of the available parking capacity.

    • In modern cars you do not have to turn the wheel to park.
      Angle parking takes up more roadway.
      Angle parking used to be very popular in the US.
      Why have so many places put an end to it?
      It is safer to head out of a parking space than to back out of it.

      Would Edgartown be better off with Main Street as angle parking?

      I remember when many parking lots were angle parking.
      Any idea why there are now so few?

      • Pulling out from a diagonal parking space on Main Street in VH is dangerous. There’s always an SUV or truck parked on the left next to me and I cannot see if there’s a car coming up behind me. You you have to inch out very slowly and then hope a car will stop and let you back all the way out into the oncoming traffic. Being parallel parked is actually a safer way to pull out onto the road and into traffic because your vision is not blocked by other parked cars.

    • My comment offered my observations on speed and efficiency.

      Regardless of type of parking layout, vehicles in the street (or in a large parking lot, for that matter) have to wait for other drivers to get in and out of their parking spots. With angle parking the wait is for pulling out. For parallel parking there is a wait for both parking and exiting the spot, but the wait is longer for parking. The parked drivers also have to wait. Vehicles in the street are moving slowly in any case, and should be alert to those who need to get out of parking space.

      Regarding safety of angle parking, I can’t recall a collision on Main Street VH owing to parking maneuver. Police would have documentation on that. Same for Circuit Ave. It is of course true that large vehicles such as SUVs and large pickups significantly reduce the view of the roadway for those in smaller vehicles in many driving situations, not just parking.

  12. The streetscape committee had many meetings and worked hard for many years. Many residents believed that after the committee decisions were made, then the public would discuss it and would go on the town ballot. The special town meeting showed there were more questions and more input people wanted to give on the matter. A town ballot is the only accurate way to determine how people feel.

  13. A system is corrupt when it is strictly profit driven, and not driven to serve the best interests of it’s people.

  14. Thank you Emma and Gail! I was away during the most recent town meeting but I heard so many people opposed this. Why on earth was this pushed through without a ballet vote after that meeting?

  15. I am flabbergasted to read that this has been in process for 7 years!! I recall seeing signage with the diagrammed parking some years ago but thought that reason had prevailed and the plan had been scrapped. How can anyone think that parallel parking will be a positive change for Circuit Avenue? If you want wider sidewalks, just ban all parking – maybe even close the street to car traffic. Then restaurants could expand outside, more people could safely walk and shop and cars wouldn’t need to idle, emitting poisonous emissions, waiting for parkers to try one, two, three times to swing their vehicles into the parking spots. I am a home-owning non-voting 4 month/year resident and am very sorry I can’t add my voice to those who want a vote.

  16. Perhaps Oak Bluffs can offer parallel parking classes as a public service for the drivers who don’t think they can manage it. That way we can have more room for pedestrians to comfortably enjoy town and better drivers all around.

    • Not a bad idea, as far as I am concerned if you can’t parallel park you shouldn’t be allowed to drive and apparently most states agree since it is part of your road test and if you fail that portion you don’t get to drive.

  17. Can we say, overreaching local government? Decision approved to move forward with this project by 3 people on the select board. Huge numbers of people are against the parallel parking, and all concern there, fell on deaf ears. There should have been a written ballot vote sent out to all Registered voters of OB, for this project and all of it’s details. This was a shameful and self-serving action. The Streetscape committee should have presented their ideas and research ahead of a town vote! The funding for the work had been voted on and approved and that should have happened for the actual proposed project as well. Otherwise, the people approve the funding but then anything goes, as far as use of that funding. We can not let this happen again, for a project of this magnitude, which effects so many taxpayers/residents. We wrote letters to the board opposing this project, there were petitions signed and all opposition was ignored. They wanted their vision pushed through and that’s that! Unbelievable…

  18. This is just like the alcohol vote for Tisbury and few years ago. You dont like the vote so you force the vote again until you get what you want. Implying one ”couldnt think straight due to covid” is disingeniuous. People voted and parallel parking prevailed. I personally think parallel parking is dumb but I support a free vote.

  19. Instead of worrying about the parking on Circuit Ave., How about spending the taxpayer money with fixing up the Island theater or the souvenir building byFlying Horses or tear them down.
    It’s a sad sight to see just off the ferry.
    Oh and keep the angle parking. It just makes sense.

  20. I am not a voter, but owned a commercial location for 25 years and a retail store for a few years in Oak Bluffs and I will say this. There will be better access for tourists, however, the other side of the coin is that the year round businesses will likely see a drop off in business. Over the years it has always been relatively easy to park in the section from Phillips Hardware to DeRosa’s. I would count this as a kind of lucky phenomenon for one of the busiest streets on the island. My great fear is that this could possibly evaporate but we will not know until it is tried. In fairness to everyone if it were possible to try it before construction begins and see how it affects year round businesses including Mocha Motts. The question then is does Oak Bluffs want to create a bias for tourism at the expense of Reliable Market and other year round businesses. Can there be a discussion on that?

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