New Transportation Plan Is Roadmap for Easing Congestion on Vineyard

By CHRIS BURRELL

The danger zones and hot spots on Island roads are all laid out in a transportation plan unveiled last week by the Martha's Vineyard Commission.

The plan calls for a host of remedies that range from increased home delivery of mail to the construction of new connector roads to alleviate pressure on some of the worst and most heavily-trafficked stretches.

Improving safety and reducing congestion now top the priority list in this latest update of the Martha's Vineyard Regional Transportation Plan, a 77-page document headed for a public hearing and comment session August 13 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the MVC office. The full text of the report has been posted on this paper's web site at www.mvgazette.com.

The commission and a broad-based team of planners, town officials and volunteers rewrite the transportation plan every three years, and while it may sound like a rehash, the document is full of facts and figures that validate the frustrating and all-too-common experience of battling the summer traffic jams in any of the three down-Island towns.

The real question remains what to do about all the cars and traffic.

"We've studied this a lot, but there's no consensus on a solution," said MVC executive director Mark London at a meeting last week at the Oak Bluffs School where he gave an overview of the new plan.

Surprisingly, with such a hot-button topic as summer traffic on the agenda, the meeting drew just a trickle of people.

The plan targets the seven worst areas of traffic congestion on the Island. None comes as any big surprise - all are in the three down-Island towns - but some of the possible solutions are already generating discussion.

With the most trouble spots of the three towns, Vineyard Haven appears to be ripe for some radical moves. The plan calls for considering connector roads that would allow motorists to bypass the intersection of Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and State roads.

Recommendations on the table include the possibility of connecting Carroll's Way to Holmes Hole Road or cutting from Sanborn Way over to the Tisbury Park-and-Ride.

Another congested zone in Vineyard Haven is the upper State Road corridor. One antidote to the traffic problem there was to build a new commercial road parallel to State Road.

But Mr. London also focused on the connection between development and traffic.

"Do we want more strip development along these roads?" he asked. "As development has centered in these areas away from town centers, we see more dependence on the car."

While Mr. London followed the progression of themes in the plan, such statements couldn't help but touch off discussions about related issues such as the urgent parking problems in the downtown business districts.

Quickly conceding that the Island is unlikely to embrace mainland-style parking garages, Mr. London turned to the topic of satellite parking areas and the park-and-ride lots currently operating in both Edgartown and Vineyard Haven.

But there are pitfalls even in that solution, he said.

"If you want to get around Five Corners and take the Park-and-Ride bus that gets caught in the same traffic, you're not going to be happy," he said. "We need dedicated paths for transit buses."

Charles Carson of Edgartown, one of the few residents to show up for the transportation meeting, called for a more user-friendly park-and-ride system modeled after the Steamship Authority shuttle that transports passengers between Falmouth lots and the Woods Hole ferry terminal.

"If you have an early morning ferry, you can't depend on the bus service at the park-and-ride," said Mr. Carson.

Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel said his board has worked to improve the system. "It's a work in progress and we need to build confidence," he said.

When one woman rose her hand and asked where the Tisbury Park-and-Ride is located, it was clear that advertising and better signage might be one place to start if planners want to keep cars away from Five Corners.

But the ferry isn't the only drawing card for traffic into that notoriously jammed-up intersection.

Bob Clermont, the owner of a car and moped rental business near Five Corners, said the Vineyard Haven post office is more responsible for traffic congestion at the intersection than the SSA. Mr. London agreed. "More door-to-door postal service would eliminate gridlock," he said.

While the plan offered some specific solutions for Vineyard Haven, there was little relief offered for the two bad traffic zones in Edgartown - the Triangle and Upper Main street. It was a case of a plan suggesting yet another plan and a study.

In Oak Bluffs, the two trouble spots identified were the foot of Circuit avenue and the ferry terminal and the blinker intersection of Barnes and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven roads. Planners and officials have been working on a revised traffic layout near the Steamship terminal.

And the blinker intersection is already slated for action - a roundabout. This intersection is renowned not just for traffic congestion but, more importantly, for serious safety concerns.

Mr. London explained that a joint regional transportation committee has already earmarked federal funding to build a roundabout in 2005. That committee is also hoping to use leftover funds from that project to improve the dangerous intersection at Old County and State roads in West Tisbury.

Every year, the Island receives between $250,000 and $330,000 in federal money, generated by a tax on gasoline. "We identify projects that can be funded by this and use criteria for setting priorities," said Mr. London.

Clearly, that new set of criteria this year makes safety concerns paramount, whether it's for motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians.

The plan offers no panacea. Fewer cars and an expanded bike path would be a huge help, but the forecast also shows the pressure building.

Every Island household now owns approximately 1.82 vehicles, up from 1.16 vehicles in the 1990 census. There are approximately 25,000 cars registered on the Island and no way to know how more are here that are registered off-Island.

And traffic is only expected to increase. At what was once the blinker intersection - now a four-way stop - a total of 1,484 cars pass through on a peak hour in the summer. By 2010, that number could increase to 1,806 vehicles per hour, a 22 per cent jump, according to a traffic study commissioned two years ago by Oak Bluffs selectmen.

Transportation planners are looking for feedback to their plan. The public hearing is August 13, and people can also send their comments via e-mail to rtp@mvcommission.org.

To read the Martha's Vineyard Commission's, Regional Transportation Plan, click here
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