Editorial: A daunting task, but developing safe cycling routes is essential

Editorial: A daunting task, but developing safe cycling routes is essential

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The sad death on July 6 of a bicyclist on State Road in Vineyard Haven has spurred discussion and some action on bicycle safety and the need for well-planned routes for bikes, and indeed for walkers, strollers, in-line skaters, baby-carriage pushers, dog walkers, etc. It’s especially important to find ways to bridge the gaps between heavily and variously used existing bike paths. Those gaps, as for example along Beach Road in Vineyard Haven to the Steamship Authority, or from the Steamship Authority to the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven bike path, are dangerous, confusing passages, not only for visitors but also for bicycle-riding Islanders. That some energy has been injected into the issue of safety for bicyclists is good news.

Today, there are 37 miles of shared use paths on the Island, Times writer Steve Myrick explains in his news report this morning. Seven remaining gaps limit cyclists and pedestrians from advancing safely through the downtown areas of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown, and between existing roadside paths and the paths in the State Forest. Over the years, patchwork development of paths resulted in a conundrum. The places where paths are most needed — in the narrow, congested downtown areas near ferry terminals — are precisely the places with the largest gaps and where the difficulties of creating bike routes are immense.

So, we must be forgiven for despairing at the long, expensive, contentious process that Mr. Myrick details in his news article. That expansion of safe bicycle routes has been off the front burner for decades is perfectly understandable. No one among us who would like to breathe free would wade into such a swamp of obstacles.

But improving routes for Islanders and visitors who wish to travel safely by means other than the automobile — and enjoy themselves while doing so — is a noble undertaking. And, it’s vital in several ways. First, although even horrifying events fade in the consciousness of the general public, the memory is never extinguished, and the prick of conscience that accompanies the memory is relentless. We welcome visitors. Indeed, we need visitors, and we hold ourselves out as a hospitable and complementary resort for them.

Bring us your city-weary multitudes, we say, and Martha’s Vineyard will revivify you. And, we don’t forget, naturally, that they are the fundamental key to our economic life. Martha’s Vineyard summer resort must please visitors and increase their economic patronage, or economically, we’ll wither.

Many of these visitors are our friends and beloved family. And, apart from visitors, we Islanders favor reducing the use of the automobile and saving money by doing so.

“That’s too bad, that we can’t provide a system that people can come and enjoy the beautiful Island. We keep telling them not to bring their cars. Let’s provide them an option that’s safe. That would seem to be a win, win, win, win, win situation,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission senior planner Bill Veno told Mr. Myrick.

Expanding safe, pleasant, non-auto passages ought to be near the tip top of the planning — and doing —agenda. And, just think: From a planning and regulatory point of view, doing so will require saying yes, do it, rather than the more customary, no, that’s not allowed. Someone in authority has got to like that.