Chilmark is considering how to make Menemsha safer for pedestrians.
Various Chilmark town bodies and Menemsha stakeholders held a joint meeting to review the end of the summer season at the popular tourist destination and busy waterfront.
“Should there be any actions necessary from this meeting, later the select board will meet with the harbormaster to consider those actions,” select board member James Malkin, who was facilitating the discussion, said.
The meeting was a forum to allow people to express various thoughts and concerns about Menemsha.
Chilmark Police Chief Sean Slavin kicked it off by saying it seemed the past summer was “smoother” than prior ones.
“I think the people started to use the satellite parking a lot more, especially compared with the COVID years,” he said, adding that there were usually between 15 to 25 cars at the lot per day, with as many as over 50 cars during the busier August nights.
Traffic congestion and parking were among the issues the town looked to deal with during a meeting about Menemsha in February.
But despite the smoother summer, there were still concerns raised.
Chilmark board of health member Matt Poole said that when he traveled to Western states like Colorado and Arizona this year, it was “really striking” how those communities recognized the contribution made by both locals and visitors to the local economy.
“They’ve really done a lot to accommodate their visitors,” Poole, who was born and raised in Chilmark, said. “It’s pretty clear to me that it’s not going to be 30, 40, 50 years ago ever again.”
Since Chilmark has to balance the interests of year-round residents, like fishers, and visitors, Poole said it was time the town got serious about improving Menemsha’s layout and bettering it as a place to visit, especially its walkability.
“Right now, you kind of run the gauntlet to try to get across the street over to the market to pick up your takeaway order,” he said.
Several other people also spoke up for a need to improve pedestrian safety in Menemsha.
Colin Ruel, an artist at Ruel Gallery, said the corner cars turn past the gallery toward the fish markets is a risky area due to low visibility and some drivers driving too fast. Ruel said while he doesn’t want to potentially destroy the “funky, weird, cross-in-the-street strangeness … [and] rough style” that makes up Menemsha, a speed bump would be beneficial.
Chilmark harbor advisory committee member Deborah Hancock expressed doubt over whether the speed bump would solve the problem, and also pointed out it could be dangerous to cyclists, who might not see it. “I think it might be more to the point, although I know it might cost the town more money, to have some of the people — traffic people or the police — perhaps stationed at one end of the corner and another,” she said.
Nettie Kent, a jewelry maker at Ruel Gallery, suggested a crosswalk be put in place to make it safer for pedestrians.
When former select board member Warren Doty asked if people utilized the wooden walkway next to the dunes, Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi said while people used the walkway, it’s not nearly as popular as just the middle of the street or the harbor side of Basin Road.
“One thing I’ve been considering when we’ve been talking about the replacement or fix of the commercial bulkhead on the eastern side of the harbor is the possibility of putting in a pedestrian walkway,” Rossi said, pointing to the walkway in front of the harbormaster’s office or Menemsha Texaco.
Some attendees suggested that additional signage could help, although Rossi said he sees many of the signs already in Menemsha being ignored.
Another matter discussed was trash. Poole said the takeout menu at a couple of the Menemsha eateries attracted a lot of people, but the accumulation of trash has become an issue.
“Trash by itself … it’s going to be difficult to tackle and make any significant progress on, without addressing some of the larger Menemsha issues,” he said. “Numbers of people, what brings them there, layout, pedestrians, all that stuff. Trash, I think, especially related to food waste, goes with that.”
Health board member Janet Buhrman agreed with Poole, suggesting the creation of a committee to look into the trash issue, and to potentially co-operate with other towns to reduce on-Island waste. She also pointed out that the amount of trash and costs to manage it continues to increase. “We have an opportunity, as a small town, to really be a model, and maybe even a leader for the Island on how we handle trash,” she said.
Menemsha Fish Market owner Stanley Larsen made a point that many local businesses are now using recycled products; he said it would be beneficial to have a composting station to make sure compostable material doesn’t end up in the trash.
Discussion continued and other issues were raised, which Malkin said might be forwarded to the appropriate town body after the matter has been looked over by the select board.
Malkin made a point that many of the changes experienced and being considered were driven by the increase in the population of and visitors to Martha’s Vineyard and Chilmark. Malkin said Menemsha was a finite area, being pressured by the number of people who go there, alongside some of their behaviors, all of which will need to be discussed further by the town.
“What we do, if anything, about that is going to come at some cost, one way or another,” he said. “Whether it’s the character of the town and of Menemsha, or whether it’s to facilitate visitors to Menemsha. And that becomes the horns of the dilemma that we, as a town, have to address.”