Concerns aired regarding proposed new roundabout

Commissioners deliberated over comprehensive project, questioned parking changes.

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The MVC was provided with a rendering of the proposed roundabout and parking reconfiguration slated for the intersection of Circuit Ave. and Seaview Ave. extensions.

At its Thursday night meeting, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission took up a proposed roundabout in Oak Bluffs, slated for the intersection of Sea View Avenue and Circuit Avenue Extension.

This follows a Sept. 12 recommendation to the full commission by the MVC Land Use Planning subcommittee to hold a public hearing regarding the project. 

The proposal comes to the commission as a modification to the North Bluff Seawall project, which was approved by the MVC and completed in 2016, and consisted of the installment of a 720-foot-long corrugated steel seawall and boardwalk from Oak Bluffs Harbor to the public fishing pier. The seawall project served as a component of Oak Bluffs’ streetscape master plan, and will connect to the proposed plans via a “harborside walk.”

The project is a collaboration among the town of Oak Bluffs and Waterfield Design Group — the same company responsible for the design of the Oak Bluffs Circuit Ave. streetscape. It calls for a landscaped roundabout to improve traffic flow and reconfiguration of the area’s parking format to better accommodate pedestrians and ferryboat passengers. Per the application, the project hopes to “enhance the experience” of people who use the area. 

The project also aims to create a more concise queuing area for passengers traveling on the Island Queen and HyLine fast ferry, with benches on a concrete “plaza,” and granite “sitting walls” surrounding new landscaping. The landscaping will double as stormwater planters, and will be located on the harborside of the proposed roundabout. 

According to the application, the revamped area will feature a more efficient active drop-off, and dedicated spots for staging taxicabs, in addition to parking spaces for two tour buses.

MVC developments of regional impact (DRI) coordinator Alex Elvin said the reorganization of the parking spaces will allow for a total increase of two parking spots. The harbormaster and commercial fishermen will be allotted four and three parking spaces, respectively, and the existing 15-minute parking spots will remain as is, with the two-hour parking on Seaview being replaced by tour bus parking between 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. 

The proposed roundabout aims to alleviate “slow and disorganized [traffic] circulation” in addition to addressing pedestrian safety concerns by adding crosswalks, of which the current site has none, Elvin said.

He explained that the roundabout itself would channel traffic into three main areas: active drop-off lanes and taxi staging, short-term parking, or access back onto Seaview Avenue.

Commissioners took issue with various aspects of the proposed project, specifically questioning the lack of parking, pedestrian shelters, need for landscaping, use of concrete paving, and how the structure will accommodate rideshare transportation such as Uber and Lyft.

Regarding the paving, Elvin explained that according to the proposal, the paved area will reduce impervious surface area by 1,500 square feet, but through additional curbside catch basins will allow stormwater to flow into the area’s existing drainage system. Additionally, some runoff will be filtered and treated via the proposed storm planters.

According to the proposal, the taxi areas would be exclusively used for certified taxicab companies, and prohibit idling for rideshare services. 

Commissioner Ernie Thomas said as an “app driver,” he’s quite familiar with the area, and deemed the existing site a “dumpster fire.” 

However, Thomas expressed concern about the lack of space allowed for rideshare service staging in the proposed drop-off area. “I see what you’re trying to do with the rotary,” he said, “and I think it’s a huge improvement, [but] we need to also pay attention to the fact that there are a lot of Lyft and Uber drivers using that space, and there is no actual space for those drivers.”

Commissioner and hearing officer Doug Sederholm said Thomas’ concerns were less “design concerns” and more “operational concerns,” which could be addressed at a later date. He said ultimately it will be the town police department that will be responsible for such concerns.

Commissioner Kate Putnam questioned how the project will affect traffic congestion where it abuts ferryboat operations, especially when more than one boat is unloading passengers. “Trying to pick somebody up [at one of the ferries] or drop somebody off, and they have luggage, is a real struggle,” she said. “The police don’t necessarily support” the increased traffic flow at those times, she added, before inquiring whether there have been independent traffic reports for the area. 

Sederholm clarified that the LUPC voted unanimously to waive an independent traffic study, per recommendation of MVC traffic planner Mike Mauro. 

The proposed project is “a geometric improvement,” said Mauro, considering that the chaotic existing conditions of the area have prevented accurate historic traffic studies. Overall, he said, the project aims to greatly improve traffic congestion.

“The main problem is that there isn’t enough room for what’s going on [in the area],” said Sederholm, to which Mauro agreed, and seconded Thomas’ statement that the existing site is akin to a “dumpster fire.” 

“I think every one of us,” said Sederholm, “has either dropped off or picked someone up from one of those passenger ferries in July, and it is a ‘really lovely experience’ … so maybe this [project] will improve it.”

Commissioners raised numerous concerns about lack of shelter — both constructed and via trees — for queued passengers and pedestrians in inclement weather. 

Representing the project, Tim Wong of Waterfield Design Group emphasized that the main goal of the project is to greatly enhance traffic flow, with a secondary goal to improve the experience for people using the area, as it is the “first view” of the Island for many visitors. He said the aim is to make the area as aesthetically pleasing as possible. 

Wong said the concept of a shelter was considered, but nixed fairly early into the planning, in order to avoid obstructing scenic views. He said there are no plans to add trees along Seaview, either.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Deborah Potter said what she enjoys most about the area is the “wide-open, expansive ocean views … as much as I love trees, I wouldn’t necessarily think that would be the best place for trees to be located,” as it would “impede the views that are so well-associated with that area.”

Potter continued, “We don’t go to the Lookout [restaurant] to look at trees.” She said the same goes for shelters; however, if shelters became a “substantive issue,” it can be discussed at a later date. She said a number of concerns can be addressed in the future without delaying the project. “I would have no hesitation on coming back to [the commission]” regarding various aspects of the project, she said. 

“Once a DRI, always a DRI,” Potter said; “we’re going to have to come back and see [the commission] at some point anyway.” 

“We have a very solid plan,” she continued, “that’s going to really make a bunch of significant improvements to the flow down there, and I’d hate for something to hold it up.” 

Commission chair Joan Malkin reiterated the potential need for shelters near the tour bus drop-off, asking whether the plan can accommodate the possibility of that change in its existing layout. 

“You might find it useful,” Malkin said, as it would “certainly eliminate a return trip [to the MVC].” Wong responded by stating it could be possible.

“There is a need,” commissioner Brian Smith said, regarding pedestrian shelters.

Commissioner Hancock echoed Potter’s statement, and said the addition of shelters can be considered later, via a future DRI project, as it doesn’t affect the traffic-flow issue, which is what the proposal seeks to do. 

Commissioner Linda Sibley said she’d be “hesitant to approve hypothetical shelters without design,” and would prefer the applicant return later with a thorough design and placement of said shelters. 

“There’s never been any shelter as long as I can remember,” said commissioner Trip Barnes,; “it’s always been kind of a free-for-all down there.” 

11 COMMENTS

  1. Why should we listen to the people that live there that basically said there is not really an issue. It is chaotic for a few minutes several times a day and then it all empties out so why fix something thats not broken. If they want to do a roundabout they should do one at the intersection of Barnes Road and West Tisbury Road. Where is this money coming from to pay for this Not needed project? Is it more of the so-called free money from the state or federal government?

  2. Very bad idea.
    You are taking away parking spaces from us including handicap for many to go to the beach!!!!
    Too bad if people complain about traffic for a while each summer for minutes each day.
    How about starting to enforce the rules of bicycles riding down Circuit Ave.
    I believe that they are supposed to be adhering to the same road rules as motor vehicles.
    Let’s spend the money on sensible things that will help make our town safer and more pedestrian friendly.

    • Brenda- With all due respect, people riding bicycles on circuit ave have nothing to do with this proposed roundabout.
      I agree- bicycles should follow the same rules as cars. Riding a bicycle on sidewalks or against traffic is unsafe and illegal. Police should fine bicyclers for it.

      I also agree this roundabout idea is ridiculous.

      • Ryan–Any public road with a few exceptions;
        https://www.massbike.org/laws
        Since we are off topic here let me point out a situation that changed for bicycles last summer.
        The parking along Lake ave in O.B — where the boats pull in across from the Summer camp hotel changed from parallel to diagonal.
        This created a potentially dangerous situation for bicyclist, as it is difficult for a driver to see a bicycle as they start to back out.
        If the cyclist is being passed by a vehicle on their left and a car starts to back out on their right, they get squeezed.
        So the officials put a number of “sharrows” along the roadway.
        https://www.google.com/search?q=image+of+a+sharrow&oq=image+of+a+sharrow&aqs=chrome..69i57j33i160.8820j0j15&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
        That means bicycles have full use of the road.
        When I am on my bicycle there, I take the full lane. It is safe and legal.
        I was beeped at a number of times there last summer by ignorant and impatient drivers,
        I urge cyclist to safely and legally ride in the middle of the road there.
        I also ask that drivers exercise some patience and understand why the bicycles are there.
        The safety of the cyclist is more important than the 5 seconds a vehicle has to wait.

  3. “If it ain’t broke, we can fix that.”
    Also, nothing green, except maybe beach grass, will survive the winter down there.

  4. Looks like a designed bottleneck down there. Introduce a rotary and a one way pick up, in reality it appears it would be a nightmare. Even on the fishing pier side parking, if you pull into one of those temp parking spots how do you back out when there are others are lining up looking at the same space during passenger drop off and pick up?

  5. The Patriot Boat is a lifeline for local businesses, and for work force commuters. For example, when a set of tires come in for an automotive shop, how will the pick-ups be accommodated? How will employers be accommodated when their employees arrive? The Patriot boat comes in and for a few minutes, the hustle is on, and then it is gone. Sometimes the Queen and the Patriot are there simultaneously, and still the busy moment sorts itself out in a matter of minutes. How many parking spaces will be eliminated? Form must follow function.

  6. The artist’s rendering leaves out all businesses in the area except the Island Queen dock. Where is the Lookout Tavern, Surfside Inn, SSA Oak Bluffs terminal?

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