GREAT BARRINGTON — Residents of a local neighborhood would have to get used to a new traffic flow in their community as part of a series of planned improvements to Lake Mansfield Road.
Under the plan, Lake Mansfield Road would be changed to a looping traffic pattern around the lake, which would have two entrances and one-way traffic to minimize the risk of accidents.
The change is part of the Comprehensive Improvements Plan recently unveiled by the Lake Mansfield Improvement Task Force.
The public got an early look at the plan last week when task force Chairwoman Christine Ward and Great Barrington Town Planner Chris Rembold presented it to the Planning Board. The task force will present the plan, which has been in development for six months, to the public at 7 p.m. July 27 at the Fire Station on 37 State Road.
Lake Mansfield Road, which was built in 1944, snakes around one end of the lake and has suffered erosion and wear and tear over the years from the lake itself and cars parking along the side of the road. Runoff from the road goes directly into the lake, and the asphalt is buckling into the water in places.
The deteriorating and narrow roadway connecting the beach to Hollenbeck Road to the south will be repaved and converted into a one-way northerly road. Christian Hill Road to the north will remain a two-way road.
Ward said the task force tried to involve the public as much as possible from the beginning and that a one-way route was the best option. It's an idea that has been floated, and rejected, a number of times in the past.
"We tried to get the word out to everyone. The online response was great; our surveys got more and more attention," she said. "It was important for us to understand the townspeople's priorities for lake use."
Rembold said the plan "concentrates on three focus areas that have significant impact on how the entire space is utilized: Lake Mansfield Road, the recreation area parking area near the beach, and the boat launch on the southern end of the lake."
The boat launch will have a catch basin constructed to collect sediment and debris from the roadway, he said.
"The boat launch experiences severe erosion from roadway runoff; it's the primary cause of deterioration," he said. "We have to catch the runoff."
The parking lot will be readjusted for better traffic flow and more parking.
There also will be an area that will allow for overflow parking that will be left unpaved to preserve the natural beauty of the site.
But it was the changed traffic pattern that will present the greatest challenge to some local beachgoers.
Residents of the neighborhood known as "The Hill," which roughly encompasses the area from the old railway station up to the lake on the north and on to Alford Road on the west, will have to leave by way of Christian Hill Road to Division Street, and then loop around Alford Road to get back home.
"I think you're asking for trouble with traffic going faster and bicycles and pedestrians," said Planning Board Vice Chairman Malcolm Fick.
"Bicycles have to obey traffic rules," Ward replied.
"Right, but they won't." Fick said.
Board member Jeremy Higa, himself an avid cyclist, agreed.
"No recreational cyclist living in the neighborhood is going to want to bike all the way around to get home," he said. "They'll take the shorter route."
Selectman Ed Abrahams, attending as a member of the public, asked if it was possible to redo the plan for two-way traffic.
"Two-way [traffic] will have land-taking and right-of-way headaches," Rembold said.
Fick said he had been opposed the one-way pattern — even noting that he had signed a petition in support of maintaining two-way traffic.
"But looking at this, I think they did a great job and this is the best option," he said.
Board members also asked about the possibility of constructing a boardwalk along the road. Ward and Rembold said they felt a walkway on the riverbank was a better idea.
"Lake Mansfield is one of the few lakes in the area without anything built into it," Ward said. "There's a great deal of uninterrupted natural space and tree line for such a densely populated area. Natural habitat is celebrated. People like not having anything built on the lake."