A new sidewalk and fresh paint are in store for Skiff avenue in Tisbury as town officials attempt to make the road safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and cars. On Tuesday night the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, on behalf of the Tisbury department of public works and planning board, held a public meeting at the Tisbury Senior Center to present shared-user path options for two areas: Skiff avenue and a section of Beach Road from Wind’s Up Watersports to Saltwater Restaurant. The two areas were identified in a 2008 commission-sponsored study as gaps in the town’s down-Island network of shared-user paths.
Town officials and residents, in particular those of Skiff avenue, joined Tuesday night’s discussion on ways to connect the shared-path system.
According to the commission’s study, the section of Skiff avenue beginning at Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and ending at Causeway street is in need of improvement. Public works director Fred LaPiana said the town is planning to resurface the road and wanted resident input on how to best accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, motor vehicles and parking before moving forward. The town passed a roads and sidewalk borrowing article three years ago that raised $1.8 million for maintaining and resurfacing roads when necessary.
The road currently has a five and a half foot sidewalk on the south side, parking available along the south side, two travel lanes and a four and a half foot vegetative buffer on the north side. The commission presented four new options, which ranged from having two separate bike lanes with no parking available, to having a shared-user path with no sidewalk and extending the pavement over the vegetative barrier.
Skiff avenue residents in attendance were adamant about keeping both the sidewalk and the parking along the street.
“People want to keep the sidewalk because it’s so heavily used,” said Abbe Burt, who has lived on the street for 12 years. “And we have single driveways. If you have visitors, there is no place to park except the other side of the street.”
Residents also expressed concern that a shared-user path for both pedestrians and bicyclists would be unsafe.
“We can’t put walkers and bikers together,” said Ms. Burt. “Walkers are chatting and don’t know the rules of the road.”
Even a shared path for bicyclists raised eyebrows, as residents and officials imagined the difficulties of downhill bicyclists speeding next to uphill bicyclists slowly teetering up the hill.
After more than an hour of back-and-forth discussion, Mr. LaPiana took charge and asked, “How many want to keep the sidewalk?” Most raised their hands and none opposed. “So is it okay if we redo the sidewalk?” Again the majority agreed.
Mr. LaPiana said the department would start ripping up the old sidewalk today. The entire project will cost about $75,000.
Tisbury planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson then suggested implementing a “sharrow” lane option, which would preserve sidewalk space and parking on the street, narrow the travel lanes, and add an uphill bike lane without requiring additional pavement.
The sharrow — a portmanteau of the words share and arrow — is a bike decal with two arrows that will be painted in the downhill car lane every 200 feet, indicating that cars must share the road and that a bike route exists ahead.
The majority of the residents voiced an inclination for this option, although some expressed apprehension that the option was unlikely to be either effective or safe.
“The sharrow thing sounds like something a traffic engineer would devise,” scoffed planning board member Dan Seidman. “You’re talking about a 100 to 300-pound person to a two to three-ton vehicle. Seems destined for disaster.”
Clark Hanjian, a Skiff avenue resident and a regular cyclist, agreed.
“I’d be delighted with any of the options except the sharrow, that’s the one thing that kind of scares me to think about.” He said, however, he currently bikes down the road in the same fashion he would if the sharrow were put in place.
Residents ultimately agreed to try the sharrow option for a summer and reconvene in the fall to discuss its successes or failures.
“We would like to see the town start with a minimally invasive plan,” said Ms. Burt. “Try with the markings on the street and see how it would work.”
Mr. LaPiana said the public works department will put off resurfacing the road until next fall in case a new plan involves widening the existing road.
In May the department will paint the sharrow lane, the bike lane and the center line with thermoplastic, a melted-plastic compound with a reflective property. The department only receives the thermoplastic once a year in the spring.
As for the Beach Road shared-user path, the commission proposed putting the path on the south side of the road.
The idea was quickly opposed by Tisbury resident Frank Brunelle, who questioned the safety of putting the path next to 15 driveways on the Lagoon side of the road, as well as pedestrians’ accessibility to Vineyard Haven harbor.
“Northside is where the cruise ships come in,” said Mr. Brunelle. “People come in and want to go into town, and they would have no buffer or sidewalk.”
He continued: “A shared-user path doesn’t make as much sense as having two sidewalks,” he said. “We’d want pedestrians and bikers to move on both sides of the shore.”
“We need to bring in the big guns in terms of design,” said Mr. LaPiana. “We need to get a dynamic of how this property is being used. We have to look at all customers being served. It will be a little bit of planning effort rather than just design effort. We have to address layout issues as well as road issues.”
Mr. Stephenson said the planning board, with the help of the public works department, will take the lead to find funding and develop a contract for an outside firm to help design an extensive plan.