Concern over traffic and parking problems in Edgartown’s historic town center has spread all the way to Boston.
To Northeastern University, specifically, where a group of transportation engineering students have tackled the town’s traffic situation as part of their senior project.
Early this week Capstone Consultants — seniors Peter Ellison, Alex Fagnand, Keith Hall, Kevin Levesque, Dan Merrow — and their advisor, Dr. Daniel Dulaski, gathered at the town hall to present preliminary ideas for improving traffic flow in the town, including eliminating some parking downtown in favor of more parking on upper Main street, adding bike boulevards and pedestrian roadways and changing part of upper Main street to a one-way street out of town.
The project “is the culmination of four and a half years of academic experience and real work experience [for the students],” said Mr. Dulaski. The group was charged with looking at the traffic situation from the perspective of not just summer visitors, but residents paying high gas prices and families who want to bike into town.
Other Northeastern groups are doing similar evaluations in Boston’s North End, Milton, Quincy, and Blackstone.
The students made two site visits to Edgartown to take pictures, count traffic, and measure sidewalks. On Tuesday, they presented their preliminary ideas to representatives from the police department, the planning board, and the town’s business community. After gathering feedback, the group will revise its plans and come back to present final ideas in early April.
The students, all of whom said they’d never spent extensive time on the Vineyard before visiting in January, had to face problems and solutions specific to Edgartown, like the narrow brick sidewalks that force pedestrians into the street, and an influx of summer traffic. Project manager Kevin Levesque said the group aimed to bring more people into downtown Edgartown by making it more accessible to cars, bikers, and pedestrians.
One main problem the group identified was the existing “dead-end” traffic pattern in town, which leads cars straight down Main street. Unsure where to go, they said, drivers end up at the waterfront and are forced to turn around, causing unnecessary congestion.
Suggested improvements included extending the Island’s bike network into downtown Edgartown and providing more comprehensive and uniform signage to direct visitors to their destinations.
The preliminary solution would reconfigure the traffic flow by converting upper Main street, north of Pease’s Point Way, into a one-way road leading out of town. In turn, Cooke street would become a one-way street leading into town.
Parking would be eliminated on South Water street, and by restricting traffic, Mayhew Lane would turn into a pedestrian area, and Davis Lane would become a bicycle boulevard, guarded by semipermeable barriers that delivery trucks could still pass through.
To help traffic problems around the Chappaquiddick Ferry, the team proposed live camera feeds showing ferry queues, real-time queue updates, and a text message system that would alert passengers when they need to get back in line.
Unused traffic lanes around Memorial Park would be converted into long-term reverse angle parking, and parking on lower Main street would be designated short-term parking. The traffic plan would eliminate about 74 parking spots, they said, but new parking created would even things out.
The plans were well received by those in the audience, and the students were peppered with positive feedback — and lots of questions.
“I think you’ve touched on a lot of the good things that could happen,” said Christina Cook, owner of Christina Gallery. She and other audience members said parking is a key point of concern, including employee parking during the summer season and the availability of parking for customers.
Police chief Antone Bettencourt recalled that Cooke street was once a one-way street leading into town, and the only problem was the two-lane set-up led to problems as traffic turned onto Pease’s Point Way. “You guys took away that double lane thing and I think that’s huge,” he said, adding that Memorial Park is underutilized and adding parking there might bring traffic to businesses at the upper part of Main street.
Edgartown highway superintendent Stuart Fuller said that when Mr. Dulaski contacted him in the fall to ask if the town had any problem areas, downtown Edgartown sprang to mind. “Downtown traffic is always a problem in the summertime,” he said.
In exchange for the proposals, the town pays for the group’s expenses. Those costs are less than $1,000, Mr. Fuller said, compared to the $50,000 to $75,000 that similar studies normally cost.
Edgartown also has experience working with students on their senior transportation projects; a few years ago, a group created a proposal for bike paths on Chappaquiddick.
“We’ve got a unique situation,” he said, and the Island provides a chance for students to study issues in rural areas.
As for their proposals, “I think they are all good ideas that are worth considering,” he said. When the group comes back with their fine-tuned ideas, he said, they will also include detailed cost estimates. The town has no obligation to accept the ideas, he said, though they could choose to adopt all or parts of the design.
The students said the hands-on project has been an educational experience.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” Mr. Levesque said as he and other team members answered questions and explained details of the plan. “Everybody’s been very receptive.”
Mr. Ellison said he likes Edgartown, “but I think these improvements could make it a lot better, too.”
“It was a lot of fun,” Mr. Merrow said. “It was different, actually being able to redesign a town.”
The project is also quite the study in various modes of transportation, as the group travels to the Island via two-hour car ride, ferry, and taxi. “It’s quite a commute down here,” Mr. Merrow said.