Cutting the Gordian Knot of Five Corners - or not
Who has the right of way at Five Corners?
"Anybody to the right of you," said a VTA bus driver.
"It doesn't appear to be anyone," said an Island Transportation tour guide, who just uses the defensive driving techniques that he was taught for buses.
Navigating the Vineyard Haven hotspot takes patience, focus, and a touch of finesse. But perhaps here more than anywhere else on the Island, confusion often prevails over established traffic rules.
At Five Corners, three roads have stop signs and two do not. Neither Beach Street, which runs from the south end of Main Street to Five Corners, nor Beach Road, which starts at the intersection and runs along the shore toward Oak Bluffs, have stop signs, and cars entering the intersection from them have the right of way.
These two Five Corners conduits are part of the state highway system. Bob Gregory, a state traffic engineer, said that in situations like Five Corners, traffic engineers try to determine whether there is a more heavily trafficked road than the others and give that road right of way. In many cases, said Mr. Gregory, that's a state road.
State Police Sergeant Neal Maciel, who has directed traffic at the infamous intersection, believes that stop signs on the state highway would impede traffic because cars would be forced to stop where they wouldn't have normally. He believes that there is a problem with pedestrian crossings that can be fixed only by a traffic light or by an officer directing traffic.
Mr. Gregory said that from a traffic engineering perspective, holding up traffic on the busy state highway to yield to cars from side streets may not always be the efficient thing to do. He said, "If traffic is moving along the state highway, it's probably better to keep that flow." If traffic on Beach Street or Beach Road is backed up so much that those cars can't get across the intersection, he said, then that is the time to yield the right of way to cars on side streets.
Photo by Alex Bell
Elisha Rabbitt of Martha's Vineyard Insurance in Oak Bluffs knows who has the right of way at Five Corners, and he said that if an accident were to occur there, legal right of way would trump common courtesy.
Jimmy Morrissey of Harbor Taxi said that his taxi company briefed him on the Five Corners situation before they put him in a cab. They instructed him to roll slowly through the conduits with no stop signs, and to stop where there are stop signs. However, his opinion as an off-Island driver is that there should be a traffic light to put safety first.
Mr. Gregory said that a traffic light at a five-way intersection would not be fun to design, and might not even be more efficient.
Mr. Gregory also said that Massachusetts seems to have "more than its share" of five-way intersections. In Braintree, a five-way stop that is traffic-heavy on all approaches has a traffic light; Mr. Gregory has heard stories of drivers parking while at the intersection to get coffee and returning to their cars before traffic has moved in their lane. He said that over the years, he's seen practically every solution proposed for Five Corners.
Henry Stephenson, member of the Tisbury planning board and the Island Plan steering committee, favors removing Beach Street Extension from the intersection. He thinks that this dead-end is basically like a parking lot. If it were removed from Five Corners but accessible from another street, the intersection would become a normal four-way stop.
Wayne West of Stagecoach Taxi thinks that the traffic problem manifest at Five Corners starts at the ferry terminal, where he usually picks up passengers. He said that reversing the direction of one-way Union Street and allowing taxis to exit that way after a ferry comes in would expedite taxi service and alleviate stress at Five Corners. Mr. Stephenson said that he would support a plan to reverse Union Street this winter, as an experiment.