Months have passed since the construction for wider sidewalks and parallel parking spots began on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. The town’s voters were very vocal about their displeasure with the plans, particularly with the parallel parking, citing safety concerns, potential traffic jams, and hurt businesses from reduced parking spots. A straw poll during the November special town meeting showed that a significant number of Oak Bluffs voters were against the streetscaping, compared with those in favor of it. And when trees were uprooted in December, social media reacted with disdain.
Now, with the project at a point that select board member Brian Packish calls 98 percent complete (it still needs lights and flower baskets), The Times visited to get the public’s feedback.
“We love it, it’s great, and especially during COVID, you realize how tight it was and how everyone was bumping into each other. It just feels so spacious,” Islander Jeri Dantzig said. “This is kind of like the roundabout. Nobody wanted to have it happen, and now it’s the best thing that ever was.”
“I agree 100 percent,” Islander Peter Marciniak said. “The nice thing is, well, if you’re an older person, you don’t have to worry about tripping and falling down because of the uneven pavement. It’s pretty much all even here.”
Business owners on Circuit Avenue were also positive about the reconstruction. Christina Izzo, the owner of Slip Seventy Seven, told the Times businesses on Circuit Avenue rely a lot on pedestrian traffic for customers.
“We were eager to see these changes, because over the years we’ve obviously witnessed so many people sort of struggling to make it up our sidewalks as they were before. They were so insufficient for the amount of pedestrian traffic that Oak Bluffs receives,” Izzo said. “I think it’s definitely improved the overall look of the town. I’ve heard people on the street comment on how it’s made their experience coming into Oak Bluffs more pleasant aesthetically.”
Izzo said she has also heard some of the reconstruction naysayers approve of the sidewalk. Additionally, she said the parallel parking has been going well so far.
Glimpse of Tibet owner Choying Randol also approved of the new sidewalks, although a small percentage of people may be affected by the parallel parking. “I think it’s good. They worked very hard,” he said.
Randol said he does not expect the number of customers to increase from the change. “I think it’ll be the same thing,” he said. “The only improvement is the sidewalk is a little wider, so when it comes to the family, it’s more comfortable.”
“It’s great for pedestrians,” said Richard White, owner of Soft as a Grape, adding that the project was needed. “As a business owner on this street, I love it.”
As far as the shift to parallel parking, though, “It’s going to hurt folks that either don’t know how [to parallel park] or rely on the daily in and out of Oak Bluffs. There’s a lot of folks who live here year-round, and when [seasonal shops are still] closed, they are still getting their hair done at Benito’s, and still going to Phillips [hardware], and wanting to get a nice steak at Reliable — and I get that.” So, he said, “this issue will be parking.”
As far as the aesthetics, White said, noting that he was glad that the original lamppost outside his shop remained, and of the trees, he said, “The trees will grow back.”
A young employee of White’s, Ruby Mercier, said the revamp “looks nice,” but added that she preferred the old look.
Concerns were raised, however, about how cargo trucks dropping off pallets of shipments will be able to navigate parking and unloading. Getting freight and cargo in and out, said White, a sentiment that was seconded by other business owners on the block, might really be an issue.
”This is a massive hospitality and tourism scene here,” said White, “so that’s something they need to accommodate.” White added that perhaps a shipping schedule can be made to prevent traffic holdups.
Corner Store owner Luke Debettencourt said the street “is definitely an improvement on what was there.”
Noting that traffic and parking were an existing issue in the town, he added, “I’m not sure how losing that many spaces and creating parallel parking is not going to exacerbate those issues … But at the same time, to do nothing would have been a complete crime. We were deemed by the state as a downtown blight.”
“The final product looks great,” said Debettencourt, “but time will tell in July and August how it affects traffic.”
Corner Store employee Shannon (“Stretch”) Allen expressed much praise for the new look, and joked that the parking doesn’t bother him at all. “I live a two-second walk from town,” he said.
Marnie Gauley of Laughing Bear admitted she opposed the project from the beginning, and has just made peace with the final product. The planning board didn’t listen to opposition, she said: “It’s going to be what it’s going to be.” Gauley added that she takes issue with the fact that Circuit Ave. shop owners didn’t receive any reimbursement for the time the street was impassable.