Task Force lists downtown issues

Thu, 12/12/2019 - 5:15pm
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Each year, the members of the Old Harbor Task Force offer their assessment of how things functioned, and what can be done differently, in the Old Harbor section of town during the peak summer season. Their most recent assessment noted: “a number of concerns were raised where we feel the town can and should do a better job next summer.” The Nov. 20 memo was addressed to the Town Council and Town Manager Ed Roberge.

“There were the reoccurring concerns that have been written about in previous years. At the top of the list were the bathrooms at the Visitor’s Center. They have been overused for many years and it is time they were upgraded. It is very important that upgraded bathrooms be included in this year’s capital budget,” the letter states. Town departments are currently developing their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The town budget will be voted on at the Financial Town Meeting in May.

The OHTF is also recommending that a water bottle filling station be installed outside the bathrooms at the Visitor Center. There have been two water bottle filling stations installed in town, one at the Nicholas Ball Park, located adjacent to the statue of Rebecca, and at the Solviken property on Corn Neck Road.

Another recurring issue has been trash containers in the business district. “We need additional pickups on major weekends and the cans themselves must be washed on a regular schedule over the summer,” the letter stated. “The OHTF supports putting in new trash compactor cans throughout the downtown area and adding an additional smaller Dumpster in the Interstate parking lot near where the boats are anchored in the inner harbor.” Block Island Recycling Management has installed two new solar-powered trash bins that double as trash compactors in Old Harbor as a pilot program to see how they work and if more should be installed around town.

The members of the OHTF were also concerned about the proliferation of cigarette butts.

“Cigarette trash throughout the downtown (especially in the parks) area remains a problem. Since they fall in the cracks and stick there, they are not cleaned up when the crew goes through in the early morning. The committee did not like the looks of the black cigarette containers placed in the parks, especially as there is no smoking in the park…and this sends mixed signals,” the letter stated. “If the Town decides to use them again next year, perhaps we could be consulted next year regarding the placement of these black cigarette containers. Also, we wonder if the cigarette butts could be vacuumed up?”

This concern dovetailed with the condition of sidewalks in the downtown area.

“We would also recommend purchase of a sidewalk cleaner/polisher that would remove cigarettes, gum, sticky soda and ice cream, believing that if the sidewalks and terraces are clean to start with, people will be more likely to keep them clean,” the letter noted. “The sidewalks downtown need some tender-loving care. Some of the yellow handicap pads are broken and are now a trip hazard. Several of the water ‘caps’ stick up and are also trip hazards. Perhaps one or two members of the road crew could inspect and repair these sidewalk issues over the winter.”

The level of vehicular traffic was a major topic of discussion this past summer, which the members of the OHTF also noticed.

“The OHTF felt that traffic and congestion downtown was worse than last year. Midday, when all the boats arrive at about the same time, traffic backup on Water Street (also affects traffic flow on Weldon’s Way) is bad. It can take five to 10 minutes to get through town. We would love to see the Town Council work with the boat companies to stagger the arrival times so that pedestrians don’t overwhelm the streets and sidewalks,” the letter stated. “Also, the police must do more to direct traffic and pedestrians to allow for a smoother flow of cars and people. It is not enough to have the police just greet the boats. Could Interstate employees help the police manage the flow of traffic (both car and pedestrian)?”

Also impeding the flow of traffic, the letter stated, “are mopeds and bicycles. Bike riders are not obeying the stop signs and should be ticketed. Mopeds are clogging up the roads, especially on Weldon’s Way where training is taking place on the public right of way. Enforcement of moped training on private property must begin in 2020.” The Town Council is currently considering new language in its moped ordinances that would prevent moped training on public rights of way. That language will be discussed at the Council’s Dec. 18 meeting.

The members of the OHTF also believe that new modes of transportation, such as electric scooters, need to be restricted.

“There is no way our roads can support another mode of transportation. Rental electric scooters operating here would be a major health and safety issue. Our roads do not have room for the traffic that is using them now and electric scooters would just do more to clog up the system. Electric scooters skidding on the sand on the roads is a danger to the rider,” the letter stated. “Many other towns have had a major problem with riders just leaving the scooters wherever they wished. We strongly recommend the TC continue to ban electric scooters.”

Another concern, which has also been a topic of discussion at Historic District Commission meetings, is signage in the downtown area.

“We continue to be concerned with the large amount of merchandise displayed outside the various stores giving a cluttered and careless look to our streetscape and taking away from the architectural integrity of our lovely Victorian buildings. Enforcement is a must when merchandise creeps on to the sidewalk and blocks pedestrians from passing,” the letter stated. “The committee is also bothered by the ‘pop-up’ blue tents this year. Last year there was one, and this year there were four... how many next year? Are they desirable? Are pop-up tents allowed? Should they be regulated?”

Lastly, the members of the OHTF said they were pleased with the current town hall-style meetings that were held on the future of the Visitor Center. Roberge held three public forums on the topic, which covered staffing, finances and issues related to the physical structure of the building.

“We are pleased the Visitor Center is getting some needed attention. The space is too small for the number of visitors needing information. We like the idea of an outside kiosk that has maps, dining recommendations, taxi listings and beach information,” the letter stated. “Once the OHTF finishes our current projects, perhaps we can help with the outside landscaping of the Visitor Center which needs more shade and additional seating. Refurbishing the Visitor Center must be a line item in the next capital budget.”

The members of the Old Harbor Task Force are Chair Margie Comings, members Julie Fuller, Kathy Szabo, David Graham, Sean McGarry, Susie Wright, Pat Doyle, Debbie Howarth, Jessie Edwards, Steve McQueeny, and Karen Duale.