As the gateway to the Island, there is tremendous importance to the area along Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. The state and Massachusetts Department of Transportation have recently offered to invest over $1 million in improving the infrastructure of this thoroughfare, which happens to be classified as a state highway. This is why it is vitally important that we do it right when it comes to reorganizing the artery.
There are various plans which address needs of Islanders to walk, bike, and drive along Beach Road. The area was not designed as a wide road, and many of the businesses are right up against the limits of the road or even into the road itself. There are a myriad of poles planted into what would have been sidewalks, and traffic has increased exponentially since it was built.
The state has a plan for new sidewalks, the residents and business owners want the telephone poles to go and the town recognizes that the split zoning that was created is far too restrictive and is calling for a visioning process to change that. These are all good things.
We can have an improved roadway, improved cycling, walking and driving experience if we do it right, but the danger is that we make the same kind of mistake we made when the waterfront bylaw was written almost 20 years ago. It can be changed. What we get when we re-do the road will likely be permanent.
Some are advocating for a single user path, which is a wide area on one side of the road only, and no sidewalks on the other side. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is looking at this option in a myopic view of creating a chain of such paths across the Island and putting this as a priority. However, this is a trade-off of epic proportion where the needs of pedestrians who walk along the north side of Beach Road are shortchanged. It ignores the reality of the cruise ship passenger needs, the old and the handicapped, and emphasizes as its rationale the needs of inexperienced bikers and children on bicycles.
While bicycling can be challenging, let us not forget that Beach Road is flat. And let us not forget that forcing cyclists onto the south side of Beach Road forces them into a myriad of cars and trucks pulling in and out of driveways and parking lots, while the north side is relatively safe. And let us not forget that aesthetics would clearly be better served with sidewalks on both sides.
The consideration we give to pedestrians should be thought through. Some say that no one walks on the north side of Beach Road. This is untrue and is a necessity for people for many reasons. Beach Road also has the potential to become a tree-lined boulevard with shade for everyone, whether walking, biking or driving. We have a choice. Let’s make the right choice.