A new report released this week by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission lays out an ambitious plan to fill in the gaps in the network of bike paths that runs through the three up-Island towns to create a continuous loop with better access to downtown areas while avoiding dangerous intersections like Five Corners in Vineyard Haven.
The 70-page report, prepared by a private engineering firm, takes a preliminary look at potential alternatives to eliminate the gaps in coverage while enhancing the safety of the current network of bike paths — otherwise known as shared use paths.
“While the Island has an extensive network of shared use paths, there remain major gaps in the network that prevent continuous travel throughout the Island,” the introduction to the report states. “The bike paths provide direct links between the down-Island towns, but stop at the perimeter of the downtowns and, notably, do not connect to the ferries or most of the bike rental shops.”
It continues: “The sidewalks unusually extend between town centers and the shared use paths to accommodate most pedestrians, but these are inadequate for most bicyclists, resulting in bikers being forced into the roadway at the very places where the roadway are most congested.”
The report calls for seven new segments to fill in the path network.
One would connect the Beach Road path in Vineyard Haven to the path along Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road; another connects the path along County Road to the one near Sunset Lake in Oak Bluffs; another connects the path along Sea View avenue to downtown Oak Bluffs; and another connects the path along the perimeter of Edgartown to the downtown area. another connects the path near the Lagoon Pond drawbridge to the County Road path.
Another would connect the path along Meshacket and West Tisbury Roads to the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, while still another would connect the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
Each segment has a different plan to provide safe access for bicyclists; some call for new paths alongside the road with a vegetative buffer, others call for secondary paths that cross private property or wooded areas, while some segments call for bikers to ride along the existing roadway.
The Beach Road to Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road connection, for example, calls for a 10-foot path to be built along the southern side of Beach Road with a five-foot separation from the roadway.
The path would then continue along Beach Road to the Saltwater Restaurant, where one option is to build a path around the back of Tisbury Marketplace and connect with Lagoon Pond Road, where cyclists could access downtown and the ferry terminal. Another option is to have the path run up through War Veteran’s Memorial Park and eventually connect with Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. Other options would be to run a new path up Skiff’s Lane.
Another segment calls for a new path to be built along Eastville avenue in Oak Bluffs that veers left on Towanticut street before taking a right onto New York avenue. Another plan calls for creating a new segment that will connect the existing path along Beach Road in Oak Bluffs to Sea View avenue and the downtown area. The path coming into town runs past Mediterranean Restaurant and ends abruptly in front of Farm Pond, suddenly forcing bikers into the roadway.
One option would be to eliminate the short segment of sidewalk on the eastern side of Sea View avenue that ends abruptly, and extend the path on the western side. Another option is to build a six-foot sidewalk along the eastern side of Sea View avenue and an eight-foot bike path on the western side.
Another option is to build a 10-foot wide path through Ocean Park that connects with Lake avenue downtown; another is to create a new perimeter path through Waban Park that connects the southern Nashawena Park dirt road with Circuit avenue.
Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London said an overhaul of the Island’s shared use path network is long overdue.
“We have 37 miles of bike path right now that are generally very good, but there are some parts that clearly have issues. One big problem is they start and stop, and then start and stop again, and that leads to a dangerous situation. When you have all the cyclists on one side of the road, and off of a sudden the path just stops, it is a recipe for trouble,” he said.
Mr. London said the study was the first step, and voters in each town will decide what new paths they want to build.
“This will take quite a while, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made. But I feel like we have the road map now to where we want to go. It will be up to the individual towns to do the work on their own, but they will have options now,” Mr. London said.
Oak Bluffs resident David Whitmon, an avid biker and member of the bicycle and pedestrian committee and joint transportation committee, said he had yet to read the bike path study. Although the plan may improve safety in some areas, he said, more should be done to fix the existing bike paths instead of building new ones.
“What we have now aren’t even bike lanes, and they are not suitable to be shared by pedestrians and bikers. As it stands now the paths that are supposed to be separate from the roadway aren’t even separate . . . I have seen them used as passing lanes, turning lanes, parking areas for bus companies,” he said, adding:
“If you stop and look at the buffer between the road and the path in most areas, you will find that they are just a muddy mess. The vegetation has died off long ago, and now its hard to tell the roadway from the path,” he said.
Mr. Whitmon touched on the frequent debate between cyclists who are in favor of bike paths and those are against them. He said most serious bikers, including himself, do not like to use bike paths, especially shared paths.
“As it stands now, riding on the roadway is safer than riding on the shared paths, it’s not even close,” he said.
Mr. London agreed with Mr. Whitmon’s points about improving the existing bike paths. But generally, he said most bike riders are safest on paths.
“There is range of skills and needs out there. Mr. Whitmon would probably prefer to stay on the road then take a pathway through the woods, but then again I would not want to take my 10-year-old child on a bike through a crowded downtown area. And those are both right answers . . . we have to work to find a balance for everyone,” Mr. London said, adding: “We are faced with a big challenge on the Vineyard. We have a growing road network with limited space, while at the same time people don’t want winding roads and traffic lights. So how do we manage an increasing number of people who want to move without limitations . . . one of the answers to get more people to ride their bikes.”