GREAT BARRINGTON >>Lake Mansfield Road will remain a two-way street — at least for the time being.
That was the result of a 90 minute workshop by the Select Board and members of the public on the Lake Mansfield Improvement Program.
But Great Barrington resident Carol Nobel issued a cautionary reminder to participants about the deteriorating state of the road, and the problem of runoff depositing sediment into the lake.
"I think if you took a vote, there would be a majority of people in this room in favor of two-way traffic because of the convenience," she said. "But these important environmental issues override our convenience."
The room seemed evenly divided. Proponents of both traffic schemes received applause. The discussion, moderated by Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton, was respectful.
The crowd listened to a presentation this week by Boston-based landscape architect Kyle Zick on the plans for the road and the lake. Zick's proposal envisions a one-way road running from south to north, separated from a pedestrian and bike path on the lake-edge by a dividing strip.
This is not the first time the town has proposed making the road one-way. Ideas surrounding one-way, two-way, and no access have floated for decades around the road, which has been in a state of extreme deterioration for the past 15 years. Previous attempts to change the traffic flow have been met with resistance, although this time the town appears confident it can reach a solution.
Zick emphasized the importance of one-way traffic on the road in his presentation. He thanked residents for their responses to the three surveys on the lake's future.
"For a Boston project, we get 75, 80 responses," he said. "Great Barrington gave us 649."
Zick told the crowd it was a challenging process to meet all needs for the road and to get the maximum use out of the land. He said that the plan now, which has a 12-foot-wide road and a 5-to-6-foot pathway for pedestrian and bike traffic, would have the highest benefits for lake health.
But not everyone in the room was buying it. Nadine Foster, of Dehon Road, showed up with a petition — bearing 1,400 signatures — to keep the road two-way.
"We want our voices to be taken into consideration," she said. "A lot of people in town don't understand why there's a change; there's a lot of nostalgia for the road."
Kevin Guerrero agreed.
"Previous proposals were rejected based on the majority of the town wanting the road to remain two-way," he said. "I have to be convinced."
"Well, if you want to have recreation and protect the environment, you can make it a one-way road," Stanton said. "If you don't, you can have it as a two-way."
That was Dale Abrams' argument.
"Loads of people use the lake," he said. "In the 15 years I've been here, the use has only grown. I'm a naturalist and I've seen the change."
Abrams conceded the road acts as a valuable cut-through for residents seeking to avoid downtown traffic. But, he said, changing the route to a one-way would allow for half this convenience to be kept with the benefit of the lake's long-term health.
"I can live with giving up half of my convenience," Abrams said.
Michael Simmons, the self-described "newest resident" in town, echoed Abrams' view on the convenience of the two-way traffic pattern.
"My convenience is so unimportant [compared] to safety and the erosion factor," he said. "I would opt for the powers that be, if it is safer and better for the lake to have one-way traffic, have one-way traffic be the solution."
Residents also raised concerns about the safety of driving by the lake in the winter, hospital access, and the bike lane. Stanton took a firm position on the last point, telling Zick that, no matter what, his plan needed to allow for two-way bicycle traffic on the road.
The Select Board chose to take no action, in part because of the concerns raised by members of the public and the clear distaste for such a drastic change in the traffic for the road, but mostly because of the uncertainty around funding and how to test the project.
"There's a huge opportunity for us, on both sides to get this done," Stanton said. "We have to do something about this in the near future."