Old Harbor Task Force shares ideas with Council

Mon, 12/20/2021 - 7:15am

The Old Harbor Task Force gave a report to the Town Council on December 6 and presented a host of problems and solutions for the downtown area. Chair Margie Comings was available to answer any questions of the council, which had received the written report in the meeting packet, but there were not many questions asked.
In the written report, the OHTF applauded the steps taken by Police Chief Matt Moynihan to deal with traffic issues by directing traffic when boats arrive and having additional Community Service Officers on-hand to assist residents and visitors. The OHTF suggests codifying these duties and responsibilities to ensure the “increase in civility and in better-behaving tourists” continues. The OHTF said in its report it is prepared to “pay what it costs” by “funding these needed changes in the operating budget.”

To help with traffic congestion, the OHTF suggests increasing the cost of the ferry’s car rate. “It is currently cheaper to bring a car over to the island than to leave it parked in Point Judith for a few days,” the report said. Seasonal fluctuations in car pricing á la Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were suggested, although the OHTF also wrote changes “must not adversely affect residents and the island commuter car rates.” Council Member Keith Stover agreed, saying that it is possible to have ferry rates “that reflect the goals of the town.”

The round trip ferry rates for vehicles under 17 feet long from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard between May 15 and September 14 are $192 on Monday through Thursday, and $230 Friday through Sunday. The round trip rates for vehicles under 17 feet long during the same period from Hyannis to Nantucket are $492 Monday through Thursday, and $550 Friday through Sunday. Interstate’s round trip rates are $77.20 for standard vehicles and $95.40 for full size vehicles, year round. (The Town Council met with Interstate Navigation on December 8, see related story on page 1.)

Mopeds were also mentioned as contributing to congestion, with the OHTF suggesting a reduction in the total number of rentals allowed. The task force acknowledged that there was less congestion on Weldon’s Way, less honking, and fewer mopeds on dirt roads this summer, but suggested there was more work to be done. Other ideas included more training for renters and more safety rules such as no sandals, no kids on mopeds, one rider per moped, and shorter hours of operation. The OHTF also suggested a tax on moped rentals with the proceeds divided between the medical center and rescue squad.
The Town Council did attempt to adopt some of these measures for last summer, including reducing the hours of operation and expanding the training, but the measures were struck down by the courts. The negotiated agreement between the moped owners and the town is up for renegotiation in 2022, and some changes could be discussed then.
The OHTF came out against rental electric scooters, recommending that the town ban them, but said more study should be done on electric bikes. After further study is done, the task force recommends either approving rental electric bikes with a series of regulations governing their use, or banning them from the island as well.
The task force recommended the town continue with the shuttle service next year, but with a few changes. “The cost of the shuttle was too high, and therefore, not cost effective for riders.” The task force recommends lowering the cost, possibly to free, increasing the service to seven days, and expanding the route to go around the island.
The OHTF had some ideas to address the parking nightmare that is Old Harbor in the summer, including establishing “employee” parking at the school or town hall for summer workers and a shuttle service to bring them to town. Other possible parking areas that were suggested were working with the Manisses to use its restaurant parking from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., develop parking on Chapel Street, provide separate parking areas for mopeds, and start planning for a parking garage.

The task force also recommended increased street lights and sidewalks, especially on Weldon’s Way, Chapel Street, and Old Town Road from Chapel Street to Town Hall.
A reorganization of the Visitor’s Center was also suggested, with an outside information booth with maps, brochures, and lists of businesses, staffed by volunteers and paid staff. A secondary information booth at Nicholas Ball Park was also suggested.